The Russians would like nothing better than to drive a wedge between the United States and its West European allies. It comes as no surprise that, as they grapple with the tiger they have created for themselves in Afghanistan, they are telling the West Europeans they must choose between detente in Europe and solidarity with the US. No doubt the collapse of the five-nation foreign ministers' meeting to coordinate Western response to the Afghan intervention was greeted with glee in the Kremlin.
Moscow mistakes, however, if it counts on provoking disunity within NATO ranks. And so do those observers in the West who think they see the makings of a dangerous split. Everything points to basically solid allied cooperation on Afghanistan. A limited trade embargo and grain embargo against the Soviet Union appears to be holding.The French are making a significant contribution by deploying their fleet in the indian Ocean. The West Germans are helping bolster the economy of Turkey, a strategically important NATO ally. There is also the prospect West German and France will join the US in a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. In light of these and other actions, President Carter was able to say in his press conference that there now exists "a remarkable degree of unanimity" among the allies in the present crisis.
This is not to deny that US-European relations are marked by occasional strains and, certainly, differences of opinion. The Soviet grab of Afghanistan, the revolution in Iran, and ferment throughout the Middle East have brought different perceptions to the fore. Thus, the United States feels that West Europe and Japan must begin to assume a greater responsibility for defense. Now that the Soviet Union has become a global superpower and is asserting itself more in areas of the third world, the American argument goes, the US no longer should be expected to be the sole protector of the allies' interests outside Europe. Europe, after all, which sits cheek by jowl with the Russians -- and imports so much oil from the Persian Gulf -- has an even greater interest in checking Soviet expansionism.
The Europeans, for their part, still have their misgivings about the leadership of Jimmy Carter. They find his foreign policy often erratic, unpredictable, amateurish. In the Afghan crisis they are generally supportive of Washington's countermoves but believe the US has overreacted in its rhetoric about war, stressing military action without sufficient preparedness to back up the "cold war" words. The Europeans necessarily look at detente differently; they have more economic dealings and personal links with Eastern Europe and therefore far more to lose from a precipitate slide in East-West relations.
What is needed in the aftermath of Afghanistan is not merely better coordination and planning in such periodic crises -- and President Carter indicated that the flap over the foreign ministers' meeting was due to failure to communicate adequately. The West's whole policy of detente must be reexamined. Not necessarily with a view to dumping it, but to clarifying it and perhaps revamping it to accord with the post-Afghanistan times. In addition to the crucial issue of defense, some relevant questions already are being asked: How much technology should the West sell to the Russians without exacting a political price? How dependent should Europe become on trade with the East? How can the Europeans project more political power in the world? What can they do to aid energy independence? What should be long-term strategy for deterring further Soviet aggression, including policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?
These are issues which the West Germans and others are prepared to address as consultations continue. They are dictated by a fast-changing world and they will require careful thought and discussion. In the meantime, the disagreements which arise in the course of day-to-day relations should not be exaggerated. These are normal "in house" disagreements, so to speak, and not the result of a falling out of friends. In the long run, the prospect of more unpredictable Soviet behavior is bound to weld the free world even more closely -- not tear it apart. The Russians would do well to bear that in mind.