The confused multiparty elections held in the Netherlands May 26 failed to produce a clear winner, but one loser may be the planned deployment of new NATO nuclear weapons on Dutch soil.
Nobody will know, however, until the leisurely Dutch coalition-building takes place in the coming months -- and maybe not even then.
For the time being Prime Minister Andreas van Agt is expected to stay on. His Christian Democrats lost only some of their votes and have emerged as the largest single party in parliament. Their center-right coalition with the Liberal Party lost its bare majority, however, and now has only 74 seats in the 150-seat house.
In the longer run either a broadened center-right or some center-left coalition could emerge. Either case would represent a strengthening of the weight of opponents of NATO's planned deployment of 48 medium-range cruise missiles in the Netherlands in the mid-1980s.
As a mood favoring unilateral nuclear disarmament has spread -- opinion polls show a two-thirds majority rejecting the cruises --the government has hedged its original acceptance of these weapons. It postponed a final decision on Dutch deployment until December 1981 and (like the Labor Party) sought to win acceptance of the new weapons by getting some of the old battlefield nuclear weapons removed from the Netherlands.
In this attempt, however, the government has so far failed to persuade even the hard core of 10 nuclear opponents within the ruling Christian Democratic Party.
Any final Dutch rejection of the new weapons would increase the difficulties of the Belgian government in seeking approval of its parliament for new NATO nuclear deployments in Belgium. Belgium has been in a limbo similar to the Dutch one ever since NATO members agreed to the new nuclear deployments in December 1979.
The nightmare of NATO planners is that some domino effect from any Dutch-Belgian rejection might then make Italy question its commitment to the new weapons. Any defection of all three would remove the precondition that Bonn insisted on for the new planned West German deployments: concurrent deployments on the territory of at least one other NATO member on the continent. The only remaining nation that is designated to have the new weapons is noncontinental Britain.
Observers do not really think that a Dutch-Belgian defection would have a chain reaction in Italy. The nuclear pacifist movements of Protestant northern Europe have not spread to the Roman Catholic south. But the instability of Italian politics -- with the latest government resignation only a few days old -- gives outsiders some uneasiness.
The Dutch Labor Party -- the largest party in the outgoing parliament -- made a poorer showing than the Christian Democrats and now holds only 54 seats. It apparently surrendered votes both to the moderate center and to the radical left. The radical left opposes not only new NATO deployments, but also Dutch membership in NATO.
During the campaign the Labor Party itself moved in an antinuclear direction. But it still backed a compromise acceptance of the cruises in return for removal of other, battlefield nuclear tasks from the Netherlands.
All three major parties -- the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, and Labor -- gave up votes to the smaller parties. Dutch analysts attribute this to a sluggish economy as much as to the nuclear weapons issue.
Among the smaller parties the center-left Democrats 1966 (D'66) made the best showing, more than doubling its representation to 17 seats. D'66 opposes the new NATO nuclear weapons but not NATO membership as such.