After much consulting with key European allies, the Reagan administration has received several unmistakable messages. These messages from the British, the French, and the West Germans come down to one point: In its eagerness to block the Soviet Union, the administration may be overstating the military factor.
Military approaches are not sufficient to solve most of the world's problem, these allies are saying.Economic solutions and negotiated political settlements must be sought as well.
The West European say the point applies to El Salvador, where the Reagan administration has placed great emphasis on the military side of the conflict.
When it comes to the rest of the world, the Europeans' stress continues to be on keeping military approaches in balance with the search for political and economic solutions. The West Europeans say that:
1. The administration should not cut American aid to developing countries at a time when many West European countries are contributing a much greater percentage of their gross national product to such aid than is the US.
2. The administration must continue to seek nuclear arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union. Otherwise, it will be difficult for West European governments to gain the necessary domestic political support for continuing NATO defense efforts. Those efforts include the deployment of new American medium-range nuclear weapons to West Europe. Without a Western commitment to arms control, attacks on such defense measures from the West European left may grow more effective.
The West Europeans tend to believe that Soviet President Brezhnev's recent speech contained both positive and negative elements. On the minus side, it is seen as a soviet effort to divide the Europeans and Americans. But on the plus side, it is seen as a sincere expression of Soviet interest in arms-control agreements. As such, the Europeans think it ought to be welcomed.
3. In the Middle East, the administration must continue to push for a solution to the Palestinian problem. Efforts to build Western defenses in the Gulf will be undermined, unless there is an equal emphasis on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian question in particular. The Gulf and Arab-Israeli questions cannot be separated.
Although they agree on the essentials of all these points, there are some differences among the Europeans. The West Germans, for example, place less emphasis on the Palestinian question and a link between the Gulf and Palestinian questions than the British and French do.
Early indications from the Reagan administration have been that it will place increasing emphasis on what it considers to be a Soviet threat to Western oil supplies from the Gulf and less emphasis than the Carter administration did on negotiations over Palestinian autonomy.
In an appearance on the ABC television program "Issues and Answers" March 1, Britain's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, declared that the Gulf and Palestinian questions are "interrelated." But she said that West Europe's continuing efforts to address the Palestinian question were meant to be "complementary" to those of the United State and were not designed to undercut American efforts.
Although Mrs. Thatcher did not comment on it, key Western European nations now are said to be more ready than they were previously to complement American defense efforts in the Gulf by Making available some of their own forces if a crisis erupted there. Britain is apparently not adversein principle to contributing troops now based in Europe should a crisis occur. According to German sources, even West Germany, which repeatedly has emphasized its strictures against the use of its armed forces outside the NATO region, may at some point be willing to provide naval backup support.
When it comes to European diplomatic initiatives on the Palestinian question, the Europeans and Americans are reported to have come, through consultations, to a better understanding of each other's differing perspectives.
On El Salvador, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig has shown considerable sensitivity to European concerns. Haig repeatedly has emphasized the need for political and economic reform in El Salvador, in addition to a need for American military aid. The West Europeans have made it clear to Haig that they consider the El Salvador government, some of whose military officers stand accused of supporting assassination squads, to be as unsavory as the leftist guerrillas who oppose that government.
Haig also has seen a need to make clear that there are limits on how far the US intends to go in providing military aid to El Salvador.