The NATO nations will intensify their discussions about third-world crises outside the immediate NATO defense area. And the US is moving partway toward meeting its allies' emphasis on the importance of domestic economic and social stability in third-world countries.
Some participants in the two-day NATO foreign ministers' conference in Rome May 4 and 5 judged this third-world issue to be the second most important subject discussed at the conference.
The most important was President Reagan's decision, revealed May 4, to proceed this fall with European nuclear arms control talks with the Soviet Union.
NATO consultation on areas outside of Europe has greatly increased in the months following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. The final NATO communique indicated that this consultation will be strengthened.
The foreign ministers' discussions also stressed, however, that many third-word crises do not originate in the East-West confrontation and need Western economic rather than military aid for their resolution, participants said. In their final communique the NATO allies further explicitly praised "genuine nonalignment" as "an important factor for stability in the world."
This recognition, concurred in by the US, represents a considerable evolution from initial Reagan administration reactions to North-South issues. These included cutting foreign aid drastically and tending to view third-world nonalignment as a moral flaw in the face of East-West confrontation.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher addressed this question with the most passion, conference sources indicated. He repeated his thesis that genuine nonalignment favors the West rathe than the East.
Especially since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Genscher told his colleagues, the third world has increasingly recognized the bankruptcy of Soviet policy in underdeveloped countries. It would be folly to discourage the turn of many third-world nations away from a pro-Soviet bias toward real nonalignment by insisting that these nations then side with the West. Instead, Genscher urged, the West should capitalize on what it has to offer the underdeveloped countries in the way of economic aid. This would make the strongest contrast to the Soviet third-world policy of only military aid or intervention.
At his concluding press conference US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. himself referred to the importance of helping developing countries with the "nation-building assets which are so essential for their aspirations." He contrasted this with Soviet activity in the third world, "which is primarily based on provision of arms," seeking a "pervasive influence." And in "many instances" developing a "client state relationship."
Haig also termed this first meeting of NATO foreign ministers since Ronald Reagan became President as "one of the most important that the alliance has held ," especially in the "transatlantic context." It provided an opportunity to present Reagan's "fundamental approaches" to foreign policy and security issues. Haig said he was pleased by the strong European approval of these policies, and he stressed the "continuing unity and solidarity" within the alliance.
European diplomats also emphasized the continuity of Reagan's developing foreign policies with past US and alliance policies. There was some initial European concern that Reagan might institute ideologically right-wing policies instead, but the Rome conference has made it clear that this will not be the case.
In expressing relief about the developing Reagan foreign policy, one European diplomat noted that alliance policy is like a large tanker. You can't suddenly turn it around without causing shudders. (Or, as another European diplomat states, you can't suddenly say, "April fool! We have a new policy!") In other issues, the foreign ministers repeated their welcome of Spani sh membership in NATO, without conditions, when Spain wishes to join.