West German industry is eager to participate in America's research into space-based defense. But firms are holding back, pending assurance that they can have commercial access to the technologies involved. The Bonn government should therefore stop vacillating and get on with a framework agreement with Washington that would ensure such access and participation.
This is the view of retired Gen. Franz-Joseph Schulze, chairman of last week's symposium in Cologne on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly known as ``star wars.'' The conference brought together what General Schulze thinks was ``the most potent German-American group'' ever assembled.
Beyond the concrete benefits, collaboration between the United States and Europe in SDI research and development could even help integrate the NATO alliance, Schulze suggests, while failure to cooperate could widen the US-European technology gap, heighten European feelings of inferiority, and therefore increase American-European strains.
Schulze explained in an interview that the symposium sponsored by the (West) German Strategy Forum and the American Center for Strategic Concepts deliberately avoided strategic issues and focused instead on technology. American speakers, including Lt. Gen. James Abra-hamson Jr., the director of the SDI program; Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb; and Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense, briefed top executives and researchers from more than two dozen West German armaments firms and institutes on the status and prospects of SDI, popularly known as ``star wars.''
The Americans reported that SDI research is proceeding even faster than anticipated, especially in the technologies needed for last-stage ``terminal defense'' against missiles, an area crucial for Europe in its potential for shielding against shorter-range Soviet missiles. The message was clear: West German companies should start moving if they don't want to get left behind US firms -- and even French and British firms.
Ironically, although the Bonn government has been the most positive of the three major European governments in public rhetoric about SDI, it has been the most reserved about participation by its national industries.
The French and British governments have expressed the most public misgivings and even opposition, but individual French firms have already signed SDI contracts, and the British Embassy in Washington has recently added to its staff four specialists in SDI technologies to help British companies win contracts. In this context the West German government is being urged by SDI enthusiasts to get on the bandwagon before it's too late.
Schulze doesn't claim the Cologne symposium helped speed up decision-making in the split Bonn government. At this point a real decision is not expected until September, when a mixed government-industry team will travel to the US for a final assessment of the prospects for West German cooperation in SDI.
Schulze does think, however, that West Germans learned a lot at the conference about US willingness to cooperate with Europeans and especially West Germans and about the ``ways and means'' the US is proposing. In describing the US position, Schulze expressly included Perle as one of the advocates of European participation despite his reputation here as a man who wants to reduce the flow out of the US of dual-use military and civilian technology.
Schulze is optimistic that a US-German memorandum of under- standing could avert the kind of sudden reversals that so upset West German firms in the past. He cites the example of the Specialty Metals Act, an out-of-the-blue congressional ban on buying weapons with foreign-made components that temporarily invalidated a number of mutually advantageous US-German weapons agreements three years ago.
If Washington and Bonn signed a framework agreement, Schulze believes, that sort of nasty surprise could be avoided.