For now, NATO can sit back and watch Soviet-East German spat

The nice thing about the current Soviet-East German spat, as far as NATO is concerned, is that the West doesn't have to react to it. Chances are therefore good this time around that the alliance can avoid the kind of disputes over economic sanctions and other responses that plagued the West after Poland declared martial law in 1981.

This at least is the tentative view of several allied diplomats who have been tracking the latest developments.

''Whenever the Germans bestir themselves, no matter about what, there is a whole ripple of anxiety,'' commented one. ''The closest are the French. But by the time it crosses the Atlantic there are hardly any ripples left except for a certain intellectual community.''

To be sure, Germans as a whole do still seem suspect to the right wing of American conservatism (though no longer to the Reagan administration nor, more notably, to the French government). With some Americans and some Frenchmen there is still a lingering fear that in any East-West German cooperation the West Germans are going to get bested.

Moscow's conspicuous obverse worry that East Germany is going to get bested allays Western fears somewhat, however. And so does the timing of East-West German chumminess. Bilateral German protestations of peace have a rather different ring in August 1984 - after NATO has successfully begun deploying missiles to counter Soviet SS-20s - than they did in October 1983. Now, however, they tend to reinforce resistance to the current Soviet campaign of confrontations.

Put another way, as long as the Reagan administration was emphasizing East-West conflict, European calls for detente were out of sync with Washington. But once the Reagan administration began stressing peace in January of this year - and the Kremlin became the side stressing conflict - European calls for detente were out of sync with Moscow.

Under these circumstances, momentum is on the side of the West no matter what happens. If East Germany and the Soviet Union's other East European allies now stick it out and win Moscow's grudging toleration of continued European detente, the West's current policy of stressing peace will be strengthened (even as NATO missiles continue to be deployed).

If, on the other hand, the Kremlin insists on coercing its allies back into line, the spat between Moscow and East Berlin will balloon into a real argument. And this would enhance the West's security by increasing Soviet inhibitions about any joint Warsaw Pact attack (or threat of attack in any crisis) on Western Europe.

A challenge to Western unanimity might arise over West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Gen-scher's proposal that East and West Germany jointly endorse renunciation of the use of force in Europe during East German leader Erich Honecker's visit here next month.

Other Western allies have already agreed (if unenthusiastically) that such a declaration could be part of a package at the Stockholm disarmament conference. It would therefore seem unlikely that a major row would develop by having the two German states jump the gun.

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