Former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt has set the cat among the pigeons with his recent Moscow trip, his uncritical transmission of Soviet peace of avowals, and his open skepticism of American arms-control intentions.
BRandt himself is basking in the afterglow of his warm personal reception by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. And some of his colleagues are speculating that Brandt might become a "peace chancellor" alternative to incumbent Helmut Schmidt.
But opposition Christian Democrats (openly), American diplomats (privately), and Schmidt's entourage (very privately) are all working that Brandt's performance is simply adding luster to Soviet-peace propaganda. They're also concerned it may be fueling popular West German opposition to new NATO nuclear weapons and postponing Moscow's eventual hard decision as to whether to negotiate seriously about European nuclear arms control.
On his early July Moscow visit Brandt heard Brezhnev's elaboration on the Soviet president's previous moratorium offer for European medium-range nuclear weapons. This offer -- rejected by the West as not serious -- would trade a Soviet halt to further additions to the 160-add triple--warhead 3,000-mile range mobile SS-20 missiles already deployed and targeted on Western Europe.
With regard to a Western moratorium on technological development of the as-yet non-existent equivalent NATO weapons, Brandt came back from moscow with the Soviet modification that the West would now have to waive development, but only deployment of these weapons for the Soviet Union to stop adding to its own deployments.
In prominent TV and magazine interviews in West Germany, Brandt described this and other modifications in the Soviet position as showing "new accents" which were "materially different" from previous Soviet positions. He portrayed Brezhnev as a man who "trembled where world peace is concerned" and declared that Soviet leaders "still don't know what the Americans want."
Brandt once again held up the goal of undefined "zero option" arrangement in medium-range nuclear weapons that by implication might leave the Soviet Union with numbers of its SS-20s in place while not permitting the West to install anything comparable. His moscow visit has dominated the WEst German media for almost a week.
In addition Brandt spoke favorably of the Soviet proposal for a Scandinavian nuclear-free zone. (Currently there are no nuclear weapons in Scandinavia by national policy rather than by international agreement. Neither good Soviet neighbor Finland, neutral Sweden, nor NATO members Norway or Denmark permit the stationing of weapons on their territory. The Norwegian government has not ruled out introduction of nuclear weapons in case of Soviet attack however and has refused to endorse any nuclear-free European zone that would not include the neighboring, very heavily Soviet- armed Kola Peninsula.)
Brandt -- the Nazi resister, the mayor of West Berlin during the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Nobel Peace Prize chancellor who conducted West Germany's Ostpolitik (detente with the East) in the early 1970s, the German penitent who spontaneously fell to his knees at Warsaw, the Socialist International chairman -- finds enormous resonance in the European media and within the West German Social Democratic Party (SPD) organization (as distinct by SPD parliamentary caucus).
The SPD bureaucracy, which longs for a way to fulfill the party's traditional pacifist instinct, is embracing the Brandt viewpoint as a possible way to escape painful support for new Western nuclear weapons. It is hoping Brandt's personal emissary to the United States, SPD Vice-Chairman Horst Ehmke, (Brandt apparently didn't trust the West German government to transmit his impressions accurately, noted one government official ironically) will convert Reagan.
Similarly, youthful European peace activists -- who seem persuaded that NATO is inventing the Soviet threat and who cast Reagan administration hard-line statements against Brezhnev's repeated professions of peace -- welcome Brandt's message.
Reactions from the Schmidt government by contrast, have been notably muted. Publicly, Schmidt and government spokesmen have not criticized Brandt's journey. Schmidt heard out Brandt on the Brezhnev proposals during a 90- minute tete-a-tete July 7. Afterwards government spokesman Kurt Becker said laconically that the exchange confirmed the West German opinion that superpower negotiations on the European nuclear weapons would take place.
Becker had uttered similar faint praise on Brandt's return from Moscow in describing the latest Soviet position as a "repetition and reworking" of the old moratorium bid. And Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has stressed that the key issue is not the American will to negotiate (since the US has already pledged its readiness), but the Soviet will to negotiate a balance or else remove the threat of the SS-20s.
The constraints on the government are obvious. Schmidt has portrayed himself as a strong advocate of peace and can hardly fault Brandt's peace yearnings. Foreign Minister and Free Democrat leader Genscher -- already the bete noirem of the Social Democratic left wing for his brakes on coalition social reform and Ostpolitik -- cannot challenge Brandt without calling down the wrath of the SPD left wing.
Away from the public constraints, however, government circles express much more dismay at the Brandt initiative than reserved official comments would indicate. These circles suspect Brandt of trying to use the peace issue -- which they say Brandt approaches "emotionally," while Schmidt approaches it "rationally" -- in a bid to become chancellor again should Schmidt stumble.
These people resent Brandt's flirtation with the anti- NATO nuclear weapons movement in West Germany, (Brandt supports the "two-track" December 1979 NATO decision to rearm against the Soviet SS-20s while negotiating -- but he is an agnostic on the statistics of the Soviet threat. He repeats the Soviet assertion of an existing 1 : 1 medium- range nuclear balance in Europe as readily as he repeats the NATO assertion of 3 : 1 Soviet superiority.) They fear that this flirtation is lending Brandt's considerable political weight to a movement that has never quite been legitimized.
In the pre-Brandt government reasoning, the anti-NATO nuclear movement reached its apogee at the Lutheran conference in Hamburg at the end of June. There some 60,000 mostly young people marched in a demostration against the planned weapons. In a televised encounter in Hamburg Chancellor Schmidt debated protesters and argued that the new NATO weapons planned for the mid-1980s are essential to offset the 480 Soviet SS-20 warheads already targeted on Europe. The Chancellor's mail after this encounter showed him to have won significant public approval.
Moreover, some of the planned West German demonstrations against NATO nuclear weapons have fizzled -- and government circles believe that protesters have abandoned their idea of marching on nuclear sites and possibly daring US Army guards to fire at them. The government hope, therefore, was that the normal competition of other issues would upstage the nuclear weapons issue, and that the weapons' acceptance by the silent majority would carry the day.
Now the Brandt impetus to the issue threatens to upset this expectation. Brandt's impact on these Social Democrats that count the most -- the number of parliament -- is more limited than it might have been because they are now dispersed during the Bundestag'ssummer recess.
American diplomatic sources express some concern that Brandt's exercise may actually hinder rather than promote real arms control. That is, it could reinforce Soviet hopes of defeting the new NATO nuclear weapons through domestic West German opposition -- without Moscow's having to reduce Soviet medium-range weapons or negotiate any agreed East-WEst balance. For traditional diplomatic reasons, however, Americans are just as cautious as the West German government in publicly challenging Brandt.
No such inhibition restrains the opposition conservatives. Deputy parliamentary party leader Manfred Woerner bluntly charged Brandt July 7 with becoming more and more of a "danger to NATO." He accused Brandt of conducting his own foreign policy outside of and against the west German government. He warned that Brandt will split NATO if he promotes a nuclear-free zone in Northern Europe.