Hamburg — Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt talks like a man who is evolving from his past American focus toward primary concern with European independence from the US. More than ever, he stresses the need for joint French-German leadership to make Europeans strong enough to be ``self-determining partners,'' not ``opportunist clients'' following the US.
This evolution of a man widely seen in the late 1970s and early '80s as Europe's foremost statesman is important, not because Mr. Schmidt leads a lot of political troops (he no longer does), but because he is an intellectual litmus. Where he goes, much of the moderate center in Germany is likely to go, too.
Schmidt's sense of Europe, as expressed in an interview in English, seems occasioned less by an innate vision of European greatness than by exasperation with America's self-absorption.
A listener feels the disappointment of a spurned suitor, a man whose own political acumen somehow never engaged America's interest, its might, or its very un-European sense of unlimited possibility. Schmidt regrets the passing of the US East Coast elite with its ties to Europe and the rise to power of Sunbelt Americans who forget that, in a nuclear world, they have ``constituencies'' in Europe too.
Certainly the growing European orientation of this Hamburg pragmatist springs from no romantic streak. Schmidt, now publisher of the weekly Die Zeit, is impatient with the kind of rhetoric enshrined in the recent ``European Act'' of unity agreed on by European Community (EC) member states. He dismisses this text as ``a toy for people like [West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher and [former Italian Foreign Minister Emilio] Colombo.''
His words express not only his scorn for Utopias but also his lingering bitterness toward Mr. Genscher, the politician who toppled Schmidt in 1982 when he took his small Free Democratic Party out of coalition with Schmidt's Social Democrats to form the present center-right government.
Schmidt's Europe, by contrast, is very concrete. Two years ago, he proposed integration of the French and German armed forces under a French commander. And he still wants the Europeans to form a real common market and take the further steps he envisaged with then-French President Val'ery Giscard d'Estaing when they founded the European Monetary System six years ago to harmonize their capital controls - and even their central-bank policies. By this means, he wants Europe to defend itself against erratic dollar rates, against the next inevitable oil crisis, and against the huge American debt and drain of European investment and jobs to the US through President Reagan's ``super-Keynesian deficit spending.''
Schmidt is fairly pessimistic about the likely prospects, given what he sees as the myopia of European governments in strategic planning and their fixation on the ``day-to-day struggles'' and with the next general election. He would hope, however, that the original EC six - West Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) - could push ahead with greater defense and economic integration.
He excludes the British from this common venture ``because they don't want to be included'' and also, he implies, because they are still too wedded to their special relationship with the US. He deliberately includes the Italians, despite Paris's preference for French-German dominance on the Continent. But he clearly sees the motor for Europe in French-German initiatives.
Currently Schmidt measures the inadequacy of European foreign policy by the timidity of Europe's response to last month's superpower summit in Iceland. He would not shy away from Euromissile arms control, as European governments are doing.
Nor would he worry about Soviet superiority in shorter-range missiles and conventional forces if the tentative Iceland deal is carried out, scrapping all intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Instead, he would press the Americans to go through with arms control and to restrain their strategic defense in order to seal a comprehensive agreement.
He is not at all troubled by potential loss of the nuclear guarantee of those American weapons that put Soviet territory at risk from West European bases. Indeed, he believes that the NATO Euromissile deployment begun in 1983 - a move that he personally supported but that his party repudiated - has already served its purpose in convincing the Soviets of NATO's resolve and in making the Soviets willing to negotiate away their own SS-20s.
He contends further that the shorter-range Soviet nuclear weapons based in Eastern Europe rather than the Soviet Union are not suitable for political intimidation - and that the East-West conventional imbalance has been exaggerated.
In line with this, he thinks European conventional forces by themselves could deter the Soviet Union from attack or blackmail without requiring the American nuclear umbrella. And if American pressures grow to pull GIs out of Europe, he would say ``the sooner the better'' and would welcome the impulse this would give to the French call to European duty.
Schmidt believes that even the six original EC countries ``among themselves are strong enough in manpower to hold off any Russian force and to deter any Soviet marshal from pondering conventional attack. And the nuclear weapons on our side, whether they are French, British, or American, in my view, have only one function: namely, by their existence to deter the Soviet side from using theirs.''
He contends further that ``so-called tactical nuclear weapons'' are no good for war-fighting, ``because once you explode the first two or three of them on German soil, as far as the Germans are concerned the war will be over. The latter sentence is of enormous weight, not being understood by American politicians or generals. The war would be over. German soldiers would try to get home in order to look whether their wives and children or their parents are still alive or not and wouldn't really bother much about the rest.''
Does Schmidt then support a NATO policy of no first use of nuclear weapons? As a goal, yes. But, ``for the time being, I would endorse a formula of `no early first use' as long as French and German forces are not unified.''