Reagan's honeymoon with Europe is over. The time for arguing about who does which housekeeping tasks is at hand. This at least is one analogy that could be drawn as Europe's key leader, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, visits Washington May 20-23 for the first time since Ronald Reagan's inauguration.
The basic vows of partnership between the American and European governing elites have been made. Reagan is committed (the West Germans believe) to enter arms-control talks in good faith before the end of this year. West germany is committed to higher defense expenditures (and may even deliver its 3 percent increase, ironically, because of oil price hikes).
While these vows were being made at the NATO foreign and defense ministers' meetings in Rome and Brussels recently, --
His discretion sprang in part from European-American convergence in assessing the Soviet threat, in part from recoil at alliance disarray after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in part from tactics, and in part from sheer euphoria that Ronald Reagan was not Jimmy Carter.
Schmidt was determined not to antagonize Reagan early on as he had antagonized Carter. And he ignored the ideological rhetoric of some members of Reagan's team to wait for concrete policies.
So far Schmidt has been rewarded; in Bonn's judgment Reagan's foreign policies have all been refined in the direction of common sense -- insofar as they have been formulated.
A reciprocal restraint came to be exercised by the Reagan team. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has taken pains to praise the West German contribution to NATO defense. And Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has settled down to more routine administration of defense.
Now, however, the period of special deference is over.
It is not that Schmidt is going to start warning against American militarism. Nor, given Schmidt's tough stand against those Germans who incline toward nuclear pacifism, are Reagan officials apt to accuse Schmidt of neutralism.
Chancellor Schmidt, however, is going to make clear the limits of West German accomodation to American policy -- in not letting the US "veto" West Germany's pending gas-for-pipeline deal with the Soviet Union; in not paying Bonn's perceived financial means; and in at least registering European discomfort with America's high interest rates.
On the American side it may be expected, too, that there will be some backlash from the hard-line opponents of arms-control talks, at West Germany's successful lobbying for these talks -- and at Haig's strong use of this lobbying in bureaucratic infighting.
BEyond this, there are all the tough questions that haven't begun to be addressed in American-European relations.
What actually will be the substance of the US (but also joint Western) negotiating position in the European nuclear arms-control talks? How will the US focus on superpower military confrontation be reconciled with the European focus on regional, economic, and social instabilities in the third world? Or in the Mideast?
Under what circumstances is Western military action appropriate in the Mideast? Is the American Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) a deterrent, a tripwire, a counterrevolutionary constabulary? How will Europe support this militarily and politically -- and is Europe supposed to lend automatic support, no matter how the RDF is used?