Two new statements from President Reagan on arms control, planned for this week, are likely to trigger an intensified Soviet-American struggle for West European hearts and minds.
Arms control experts here expect that any immediate Soviet response to a new interim arms control proposal from President Reagan will include strong criticism. The criticism, they say, would be aimed at encouraging doubts about the Reagan arms control strategy in Western Europe, and in West Germany in particular.
It is in West Germany next December that the US is scheduled to begin deploying new Pershing II missiles designed to counter, under a longstanding NATO alliance plan, mobile and highly accurate Soviet SS-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe. The NATO allies argue that by deploying a total of 351 SS-20 launchers, carrying 1,053 warheads, along with other less sophisticated missiles , the Soviets have gone beyond purely defensive needs to an offensive capability.
Soviet concern for now appears to be focused on the Pershing II missiles. Some State Department officials say that the Soviets seem to be resigned to the fact that some, if not all, of the missiles will be deployed in West Germany, despite what are expected to be widespread demonstrations against the deployment. But even if the Soviets expect deployment to begin, they may see an advantage in stalling for some months at the Geneva negotiations with the US on medium-range nuclear missiles in the hope that stalemate in the talks will contribute to West German unrest. If that unrest were to go far enough, it might further ''polarize'' West German politics and eventually create new rifts in the Atlantic alliance.
Even if the Soviets deliver an immediate ''nyet'' to a Reagan interim arms control proposal, however, it still makes sense to Washington, from a public relations point of view, to offer a proposal. West European leaders have been calling for such a proposal in the hope that it will show that the Reagan administration is serious about arms control, and defuse some of the opposition to the NATO decision to deploy new American missiles in West Europe.
White House officials told reporters that President Reagan will make a televised statement here on Wednesday concerning the negotiations over medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe. He is expected to follow that up on Thursday with a longer address touching on the same subject before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
The President's new proposal is expected to call for reductions in the Soviets' medium-range SS-20 missiles in return for limitations on the planned deployment of American missiles. In the administration's view, the trade-off would be based on the principle of equality. The Soviets argue that equality already prevails, because the British and French have medium-range missiles targeted against the Soviet Union and because the Americans have medium-range, nuclear-bomb-carrying jet aircraft based in Europe.
Paul Nitze, the chief negotiator at the talks on intermediate-range missiles, was widely reported to have delivered a new proposal to the Soviets on Tuesday, the last day on which US and Soviet negotiators met before breaking for a lengthy recess. The two sides are scheduled to return to the Geneva talks two months from now.
Defense Department officials are convinced that not until the NATO allies demonstrate that they have the will to deploy new American missiles - and perhaps not until they actually begin deployment - will the Soviets respond and negotiate seriously.
Whatever the Soviet reaction might be, a new Reagan proposal may be coming none too soon. President Reagan's image in certain sectors in Europe as ''trigger happy'' and not serious about arms control appears to have been reinforced by disarray in the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, by disclosure that the chief negotiator at the strategic arms reduction talks in Geneva proposed a purge of the agency's personnel, and by the President's own recent proposal to place a greater emphasis on antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses.
One recent visitor to Western Europe, Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R) of Maryland, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that ''thoughtful people'' whom he talked with in West Berlin were disturbed by the president's ABM proposal.
''They were disturbed by the fact that just as we've decided that European security is to be assured by attack weapons (the American Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles), the President has introduced a whole new philosophy of defense,'' he said.
On the other hand, Mathias said an exploratory approach apparently agreed to last year by Ambassador Nitze and his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky, showed that the two sides may be not be as far apart in their negotiations as is generally supposed.