For the third time is as many months, America's European allies are attempting in their usual separate ways to display more than moral support or neutrality for US foreign policy.
After years of East-West detente and public preoccupation with domestic economic pressures, support for confrontation policies has not been automatic. But lately, the allied response to US calls for solidarity in the Afghan and Iranian crises, and the recent NATO nuclear-missile deployment, has been generally positive.
Most European countries have agreed that the Iranian, Afghan, and nuclear issues have direct consequences for them. European options for direct and concrete reactions are seen by many government officials and commentators as more limited than the options open to the United States. However, there are signs of increasing allied willingness to take a tough stance in international power politics.
Commenting on the Allied Commander Bernard Rogers said Jan. 9 he found it "encouraging that some countries are starting to implement measures to make their displeasure clear to the Soviet Union . . . That they will not condone" such soviet actions. But he added that it was up to each country to judge how it would react in keeping with its national interests.
This is a major shift from the deep division displayed during the 1973 war in the Middle East. Most European NATO allies at that time refused to assist the US support for Israel and chose instead to court Arab oil-producing countries. It is also a change from the disarray evident in the alliance following the August, 1968, Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.
This change has been made possible partly by the emergence of more conservative governments in many European countries in recent years. The same public and political opinion trend that has given a slight edge to more conservative policies during this period is also showing new willingness to take sides with the United States.
The most notable example of this shift has been the support shown by the new British government of Margaret Thatcher. Similar, if less visible, positions have also come from Germany, Italy, and some of the smaller NATO countries.
There is obvious hesitation about taking economic or monetary measures against the soviet Union or Iran that could backfire against the fragile European economies. But the European community (EC) has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the US embargo on grains shipments to the Soviet Union. It also moved immediately to cut off its small food-aid program to Afghanistan after the soviet intervention there.
While more consequential joint measures by NATO and the EC are still bogged down in consultations, some individual countries are beginning to take cautions steps.
The British are anxious not to jeopardize major deals with the Soviet Union and its import of important raw materials from that country. Nevertheless, the government has been outspoken in its condemnation of the Afghanistan episode.
Prime Minister Thatcher reportedly berated the Soviet Ambassador to London, and a February visit by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has been shelved.
Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Minister, is currently on a hastily arranged tour of the troubled region. His trip, designed to emphasize and discuss the Western support of these countries, was to take him to Turkey, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India.
A main objective of British diplomacy, Strenuously advocated by the opposition Labour Party, is to avoid the alienation of India by one-sided strengthening of its regional rivals, Pakistan and China. British support of the Sultan of Oman is also crucial to that state's guard over the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.
The Almost all-out British support of US diplomacy is not matched by Germany, which is highly sensitive over its relations with East Germany and the soviet Union. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is still slated to meet with Soviet President Brezhnev and East German leader Erich honecker in the Next couple of months.
West German Foreign Minister HansDietrich Genscher has been given the task of castingating the Soviet coup in Afghanistan. But during a trip of Spain this week, Mr. Schmidt also reportedly urged Madrid to speed up its possible entry into NATO and discussed the future of this year's meeting of the European security conference in Madrid -- a key state in East-West detente now thrown into doubt by the Afghan affair.
The French position in the wake of the Afghan crisis is more ambiguous. Recently, President Valery Giscard d'Estaing seemed to be moving closer to the US position on Iran. But official and opposition political statements on Afghanistan have been divided. Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet said the Soviet action dealt "a very severe blow to detente." He added that France was awaiting additional Soviet explanations.
Most French political parties have attacked the soviet moves. But communist leader Georges Marchais seemed to isolate his group from other European communist parties by taking off on a highly publicized visit to Moscow.