As it acts to fulfill a campaign commitment to a foreign policy based on consistency, strength, and leadership, the Reagan administration confronts a series of problems and opportunities with allies in Western Europe. Immediately facing the administration is the lack of synchronization between its own perspectives and those of the Federal Republic of Germany toward the Soviet Union, a condition that is in part the legacy of past American policy.
For more than a decade, successive administrations of both political parties in Washington have sought to convince allies that detente and arms control served their interests as much as they did those of the United States itself. Accustomed to the pursuit of such policies by the US and by their own governments, West European publics will assess the extent and durability of the commitment of the administration in Washington to new directions in foreign policy.
Conceivably, those political forces in Western Europe, in power and out of office, that are in harmony with the basic thrust of the Reagan administration will be strengthened as the depth of the American shift in course sinks in, though its effects cannot be fully felt overnight. But a more resolute American policy may ease the task of governments in Western Europe that must cope with threats from the left in domestic politics.
Although Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany face substantially different domestic problems, each nevertheless will find it difficult to meet the 3 percent real growth in defense to which NATO members have committed themselves. Despite the manifest desire of the Thatcher government to make real increases in defense commitments to NATO, Britain will lack adequate economic resources for a greater defense effort until such time as there is a transformation from decline to growth -- which has eluded successive British governments. Mrs. Thatcher's problems stem more from severe economic constraints than from the modest revival of antidefense sentiment in Britain and in the now dominant left of the Labour Party, whose deep split for the moment diminishes the prospect for coherent opposition to her government's policies.
In contrast, Chancellor Schmidt faces a challenge of growing proportions from the vocal left wing of his party (SPD) in the Bundestag at a time of rising economic problems, including balance of payment deficits, for West Germany. The left wing of the SPD is placing pressure on Chancellor Schmidt to withdraw support for the NATO decision of Dec. 12, 1979, to station ground-launched cruise missiles and the Pershing 2 in Western Europe.
In the late 1970s West European governments, especially France and the Federal Republic of Germany, intensified intergovernmental consultation leading toward the harmonization of foreign policy, motivated in part by a desire to fill a gap left by the alleged deficiencies or inadequacies of recent American alliance leadership. In recent months, however, differences have emerged between France and the federal republic on East-West relationships.
In the French view, relations with the Soviet Union are gathered as a foreign policy problem; in the federal republic the pursuit of Ostpolitik is a domestic political issue which holds potentially far-reaching implications for German foreign policy and for European security. Because of the commonality of interest between Paris and Washington in, for example, theater nuclear modernization, French policy will be designed to lessen the impact of the pressures being exerted by the left in the federal republic to reverse Chancellor Schmidt's commitment to NATO nuclear modernization.
No less important are the security interests of allies in the Persian Gulf where Western Europe's dependence on oil exceeds that of the US, and the Reagan administration must decide whether to sustain existing defense burdens in Western Europe while assuming additional commitments elsewhere; or whether to press European allies to greater efforts to enable the US to earmark forces for contingencies outside the geographic perimeter of the Atlantic alliance. American plans for a rapid deployment force have evoked considerable comment in Western Europe, just as there is growing interest in the US in the potential contribution of European allies to such a power projection capability.
If, as critics assert, present US rapid deployment capabilities are too heavy to lift and too light to fight, the question is asked, both in Washington and Western Europe, what contribution can our allies usefully make? West European intelligence sources, as well as knowledge of the Persian Gulf, including its terrain, history, and peoples, resulting from the active European presence in the region until recently, represent for the US a series of potentially valuable assets. Britain, West Germany, and France have each a demonstrated capability for the effective use of special military units -- as in the British rescue of hostages from the Iranian Embassy in London, the German release of hostages from the hijacked Lufthansa airliner in Mogadishu, and the projection of French military power to Central Africa. What role, therefore, can West European allies usefully play independent of, or as part of, an American rapid deployment force in contingencies in which common interests are at stake?
Such issues are far from resolution. Considerable diplomatic skill on both sides of the Atlantic, together with mutually consistent policies by the US and its allies, will be needed if the alliance is to respond to the challenges ahead and if the new administration is to evolve an alliance policy based on consistency of pur pose.