Helmut Schmidt's balancing act between defense and detente has been steadied by an unexpected political force: his own, often unruly, younger party members. At their recent gathering, the Young Socialists elected as their chairman a moderate rather than a left-winger. The election of Willi Piecyk marks the end of a decade in which the "JUSOs" -- as members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) youth organization are nicknamed -- have prided themselves on advocating policies distinctly to the left of the SPD government mainstream in disarmament, nuclear, and environmental issues.
The strong JUSO opposition to nuclear power and and industrial pollution remains following the May 30-June 1 congress in Hannover. So does the routine congress resolution to renege on the NATO decision to deploy new nuclear weapons in three years.
But the sting has been taken out of the frequent JUSO criticism of Chancellor Schmidt's security and arms-control policies. And, at the same time, the apparent swing toward moderation has weakened the opposition Conservatives' argument that Chancellor Schmidt must conduct increasingly anti-American politics to humor the left wing within his own party.
The JUSOs have thus come closer to the position of their parent party. Last December's SPD convention gave a resounding 80 percent majority approval to the tandem policy of deploying new long-range nuclear weapons in NATO in three years , but also trying to negotiate lower nuclear levels by both East and West in the interim.
This SPD (and simultaneous NATO) policy decision owed its acceptance to the increased Soviet threat from new SS-20 mobile missiles -- and to the thorough political groundwork of two senior Social Democrats: Chancellor Schmidt himself parliamentary leader Herbert Wehner.
A flurry of speculation about a possible weakening of Chancellor Schmidths own commitment to the new weapons arose when Mr. Schmidt, at an April election rally, urged an interval of several years of nondeployment of long-range theater nuclear weapons by both East and West. Official explanations after the speech stressed that what Mr. Schmidt had in mind, however, was no freeze of the present East-West disparity, but a Soviet reciprocity in nondeployment during the three years of NATO nondeployment before the West's new weapons enter serial production.
Nonetheless, as this year's election campaign has heated up, West Germany's opposition conservatives have accused Mr. Schmidt of yielding to the pressures of a "Moscow faction" of JUSOs and other in the SPD -- and to Soviet intimidation and cajolery following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Schmidt government vehemently denies all these charges and inferences and declares that partnership with NATO and the US remains the cornerstone of Bonn's foreign policy. But the Chancellor also has pressed ahead with all contacts with the Soviet Union and especially with Eastern Europe that Moscow has been willing to allow.