In West Germany, trade with Soviets makes good marks
Brussels — ''Economic relations between the Soviet Union and the Federal Republic of Germany,'' a leading West German newspaper said recently, ''are too important for either side to allow them to be affected by political or military issues.''
To many American readers, that statement in Der Tagesspiegel would seem naive , even irresponsible. To readers in Western Europe - and more significantly, to most politicians - it was only common sense.
Differences over how to handle (or not) the question of trade with the Soviet Union and the rest of the Eastern bloc - whether to consider economic relations apart from political and military issues or as an integral element of them - have troubled the transatlantic friendship since President Reagan hit out in late 1981 at European firms participating in the building of the Soviet natural-gas pipeline.
At the Williamsburg economic summit this summer, however, the United States administration showed the first signs of letting the Old World go its own way, minimizing East-West trade in the discussions and approving a final communique saying only that ''East-West economic relations should be compatible with our security interests.''
Since then, a confidential NATO study has reaffirmed what appears to have become a softening of the US administration's stance on the issue.
What this shift in US thinking means, according to some analysts, is that trade between the East bloc's trading community, Comecon, and Western Europe could take off - especially as the economic recovery takes hold on this side of the Atlantic.
While Soviet-US trade fell in the first six months of 1983 to its lowest level in a decade, trade between the 10 European Community countries and the Kremlin has skyrocketed.
The Soviet Union's trade with the Netherlands, for example, rose in the January-June period by 30 percent over the same period last year. With Italy, it jumped 15 percent, with France 11 percent, and with Britain 13 percent. Sales by West Germany - Moscow's largest trading partner in the West - rose by nearly 50 percent.
That overall upward trend could continue despite the deployment of new US nuclear missiles in several West European countries beginning later this year, diplomats and economic analysts say. West German Economics Minister Otto Lambsdorff, for instance, has said that the possibilities for selling more food, machinery, equipment for modernizing factories, transportation gear, and chemicals to the Soviet Union appear excellent.
For its part, rather than penalize West European governments for supporting missile deployment, the Kremlin is likely to continue to encourage commercial ties with Western Europe - even as deployment begins.
''The reason is simple,'' said an EC trade specialist. ''The Kremlin needs trade with the West to keep its economy going.'' EC statistics show that Soviet trade with the West, particularly the Community, represents about 30 percent of Moscow's total trade, while EC trade with Moscow accounts for only about 7 percent of its overall trade.
Kurt Becker, writing in the West German newspaper Die Zeit, said recently that a ''temporary'' Soviet strategy, once deployment begins, could be twofold.
First, according to Becker, the Soviets would impose ''quasi-sanctions'' against Bonn and other West European governments for supporting deployment - ''up to and including intimidating speeches reverting to cold-war terminology.''
But second, the Kremlin would support a ''tacit continuation of cooperation, especially economic, which is of substantial importance to the Soviet Union.''
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who discussed boosting bilateral trade with Soviet leaders in Moscow last month, seems ''keen to maintain as much cooperation between Bonn and Moscow in sectors other than arms,'' Becker wrote.
That view is shared by many commentators here. But they emphasize that West European leaders realize that they would be ''cutting their own throats'' if they were to push sales of equipment and technology to the Soviet Union that had clear military applications.
Few analysts believe East-West trade - especially between the EC and the Soviet Union - will ever reach the point of being able to significantly influence the international political climate.
Even as a means of maintaining the social peace in the West, it has been overrated, according to the analysts, who add that no more than 350,000 jobs were created in the 24-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development by East-West trade in the 1970s. That is less than 0.5 percent of the 30 million now unemployed in the OECD area.