While Washington remains mired in ideological disputes, the West German government is quietly shaping a down-to-earth policy for the post-detente 1980s. Its goal: to get safely through 1984 without summoning the dogs of (cold) war.
Its main thrust: to offer the Kremlin leaders new incentives to join in lowering current tensions, rather than heightening them.
This would include dangling some attractive economic and political carrots in front of the East bloc - as well as making an effort to work out with Bonn's allies a revised approach to the Geneva Euromissile talks.
In line with this, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government this week will sound out the Reagan administration in Washington about formulating a common policy that might include a new Western proposal at the Euromissile talks.
Up to now, one of the main stumbling blocks in Geneva has been Moscow's insistence on including British and French missiles in the Euromissile count. The West insists that these are national deterrents rather than part of NATO's Euromissile framework.
To get around this, the thinking here now runs to devising some new arms control forum at which the French and British (and possibly Chinese) could represent their own nuclear interests - without requiring the Americans to negotiate for them.
If Moscow agreed to such a conference, excellent, it is said here. If not, the onus would be on Moscow for rejecting it.
In broad terms, policymakers here see strong incentives for the Kremlin to join in such a lowering of tensions at this point. And they hope that these considerations will outweigh the Soviet desire to express displeasure over what is soon likely to be the fait accompli of NATO's new missile deployments.
In brief, these incentives are seen as both psychological and economic. Moscow would like to escape the world obloquy it has fallen into after shooting down a civilian plane. It would like to restore its peaceful image.
Moreover, it would like to avoid destabilization of its East European empire through falling living standards. This is problematical in a period when both the Soviet Union and East Europe are hard pressed economically - and the only immediate solution is Western credit. West Germany is ready to provide such credit for East Europe . . . so long as the Soviet bloc keeps relations civil.
What the Germans have in mind is to enmesh the Soviet Union and East Germany in a Kissingerian web of ties - but without inflated expectations.
No Nixonian peace-for-our-generation is envisaged by Bonn's conservative government. No Brandtian transformation of East Germany through detente. All that is hoped for is a modus vivendi that will get East and West through the present period of confrontation without serious damage.
Currently NATO is scheduled to deploy its new Euromissiles beginning in December (if there is no prior arms control agreement). If the Bonn plan works, the Russians would protest, but not break off contact. The antinuclear protesters in Europe would discover that Armageddon is not unleashed after all. And both domestic politics and foreign relations would return to normal once the initial deployments have become old hat - and the hyperbole of the American presidential election is past.
Speak softly and carry a Pershing II, Teddy Roosevelt might have called the concept. But it immediately raises two questions:
Will the Americans play along?
And will the Soviets play along?
A senior foreign policy official here is optimistic about American interest in such a pragmatic policy - and does not exclude Soviet interest in it either.
In implementing the policy, Bonn has been beavering away to preserve East-West communications. It made strenuous efforts to end the marathon Helsinki review conference in Madrid this month on a note of cooperation rather than recrimination.
It is urging the European disarmament conference in Stockholm next January to take up the Soviet proposal for yet another East-West nonaggression pact and turn it into an agreement that would cover cases like Afghanistan. It is inviting participants from both East and West to a conference on acid rain next year. It is keeping alive the prospect of a return visit to Bonn by Soviet President Yuri Andropov after Chancellor Kohl's visit to Moscow last July.
Most conspicuously, West Germany is also nurturing every possible tie with East Germany and is injecting even more deutsche marks than usual into its Eastern neighbor's economy.
Thus, Bonn has just stroked the East German ego by arranging for the Bundestag (parliament) committee on intra-German relations to visit East Germany officially for the first time - and for a West Berlin mayor to visit East Berlin officially for the first time.
Bonn is also keeping the welcome mat out for East German state and party chief Erich Honecker's coveted trip to West Germany at some point.
Then, too, West Germany has extended 1 billion marks credit ($380 million) to East Germany this year and is prepared to extend more if East Germany behaves. This is an especially effective lever, since Moscow is sharply cutting its oil subsidies to East Europe this year and has turned down East German and other East European requests for new loans, according to West German sources.
Missiles or no missiles, East Germany basks in this sort of relationship with West Germany. It has indicated a readiness to negotiate a bilateral cultural agreement, after balking for eight years at the West German condition of acknowledging Bonn's authority to speak for West Berlin.
Most important, it has signaled - after three years of digging in its heels - that it will make some gestures in the two areas of greatest concern to West Germany: lowering the $10 per day per person exchange requirement for all Western visitors to East Germany, and lowering the age at which East German retirees may visit the West.
East Berlin was ready to make these gestures at the Madrid windup, according to West German sources, and would have done so had the Soviet shooting down of the Korean airliner not spoiled the atmosphere.