Bonn — ``We are being sold down the river,'' began a senior West German policymaker in security affairs. He was being only partly satirical in summing up so harshly the mistrust of superpower arms control that has sprung up among the center-right politicians, bureaucrats, military officers, professors, and journalists who define West Germany's security options and policies. He described this group as ``angered and embittered'' by what they see as American arms control proposals that would jeopardize Germany's strategic security.
Private conversations with a number of these people, as well as some public statements and editorials, confirm this reaction.
The phenomenon has scarcely been noted in the United States. Yet this erosion of West German trust in its allies, and especially in the US, has grave implications for US-West German ties. This time it comes not from the cultural (and countercultural) elite that was out of power when it led protests against the deployment of US missiles in the early 1980s, but from what has been the center-right bastion of pro-American and Atlanticist loyalty over the past four decades, and is very much in power.
The policymaker interviewed shares only some of the prevalent fears. But, speaking as a man of the center and a longtime ally of the US, he believes that the psychological damage in West Germany arising from this perception of abandonment is already immense. And he agrees with the accusation that President Reagan is dallying with German security in order to recover personally from the Iran-contra scandal by rushing to sign a Euromissile arms control agreement.
Handing Gorbachev the key to Germany?
The Americans, he says, ``have handed Gorbachev the key to Germany by agreeing to proposals, the consequence of which means concentration of nuclear deterrence in Europe on the battlefield - and the battlefield is going to be Germany.''
The West German conservative backlash stems from the argument that the elimination of all intermediate-range missiles in Europe that is now in view would undermine NATO strategy of the past 20 years, leave for NATO defense nuclear weapons of such a short range that West Germany would be vulnerable to a much greater ``special threat'' than its allies, and possibly even endanger peace in Europe.
A high-ranking West German military officer, also a veteran friend of the US, used much more bitter language than the policymaker: ``I do not think we are facing a single, isolated step of the American government. My firm opinion is that everything is linked in a well-directed, connected operation.''
The theater nuclear weapons deployed by NATO in Europe in the 1980s could carry nuclear escalation direct to Soviet territory should the Soviet Union ever attack Western Europe and start to win a war with its superior conventional forces. Yet these are the very nuclear missiles that would be removed in the superpower arms control deal that is shaping up, he said.
`We are back to 1969'
``The rose was dead when it was abloom,'' the officer remarked, quoting a German poem. ``We are back to 1969, when the Americans were thinking of the old sequence of priorities: If you have a nuclear war, keep it in geographical control,'' that is, limited to Germany. Getting rid of American missiles in Europe that can hit the Soviet Union ``serves to keep American territory out of the war, and who could blame you for that?''
Returning to the poem, he compared the Euromissile deal with the butterfly that disturbed the air ever so slightly - just enough so the rose felt the fluttering and began to die.
West German dismay began a year ago when Washington - with no advance consultation with Bonn - dropped the West's negotiating proposal of an ``interim'' arms control agreement that would leave 140 NATO and Soviet intermediate-range systems facing each other in Europe and began aiming instead for a ``zero option'' that would eliminate these missiles from Europe altogether. The alarm increased last October as President Reagan proposed at the superpower summit in Iceland (again without consultation with European allies or even any studies of the consequences by his own Joint Chiefs of Staff) a world free of nuclear missiles, which the Europeans deem the best guarantors of their security.
West Germans feel deserted by many allies
Now, as Soviet-American Euromissile negotiations proceed, the West Germans feel especially frustrated because they see a hard-won victory of last year disappearing before their eyes. After 20 years, they finally got the US to write into NATO's nuclear guidelines in 1986 the principle of carrying any nuclear escalation immediately to Soviet territory (rather than just devastating German territory). Yet now the weapons that were designed to assure this response are to vanish.
For some West Germans, a further drop of gall was added as both Britain and France, in their view, deserted Bonn. Britain finally endorsed the American position of a zero option early in the campaign that just led to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reelection; France, after initially prodding Bonn to resist the zero option, just bowed out of the issue, on the grounds that it is not a member of NATO's integrated military command. Bonn fears nuclear nakedness too, but it also fears getting stuck with nuclear deterrence (prevention) of war based primarily on those weapons with a range of under 500 kilometers that would destroy only Germany if used.
Even Kohl talking of allied differences
The West German analysis of this is summed up in the words of conservative deputy parliamentary leader Volker R"uhe, as ``the shorter the range, the deader the Germans.'' And even Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who always play down allied differences as much as possible, allowed himself to warn in veiled language in Parliament: ``There must be no lesser security [zone for West Germany], either as between the American and European allies or as between the European allies themselves.''
More bluntly, following Bonn's reluctant accession to the zero option earlier this month, conservative Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss asserted, ``The whole thing means a decoupling of Americans from Europe.'' Decoupling is the term used to denote disappearance of the US guarantee of European security.
Mr. Strauss has further seen the whole dispute as an occasion to renew his call of the 1960s for West Germany to acquire nuclear weapons, in conjunction with France and Britain.
Retired Deputy NATO Commander Gerd Schm"uckle further declared at the West German commanders' conference of 450 generals, admirals, and colonels this month that ``flexible response'' is obsolete.
Flexible response, which has been NATO doctrine for two decades, seeks to counter Soviet conventional superiority by threatening to escalate any conventional war that NATO was losing to nuclear level - and thereby to deter even a conventional attack right from the beginning.
Similarly, commentator Josef Joffe of the S"uddeutsche Zeitung says he sees in the present situation Bonn's dreaded ``singularity,'' or assumption of greater risk than any of its allies.