Western Europe is moving to avert a crisis with the United States. Following the European Community's decision Monday to restrict the activities of Libyan missions and diplomats, six European nations have begun expelling Libyans. West Germany announced yesterday it would order the Libyan embassy in Bonn to cut its staff by half. In a separate action, France joined Britain and the US late Monday in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning the US raid on Libya.
The Reagan administration wants stronger action still. White House spokesman Larry Speakes says the allies will be asked to take ``additional measures'' to isolate Libya at next month's economic summit in Tokyo.
It appears that such pressure may well work. Until the US attack, Western Europe had refused even to specify Libya by name as a supporter of terrorism. After the attack, the European Community's slow processes were galvanized and the 12 nations agreed to take action against Libya.
They acted for two main reasons: Europeans want to prevent relations with the US from deteriorating, and their own attitudes toward terrorism are noticeably toughening.
``European governments underestimated the depth of American public revulsion to Libya,'' says Paul Wilkinson, a specialist in terrorism at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. ``Now they realize that they must cooperate in order to avoid long-term damage to the alliance.''
France provides the best example. Its refusal to let US planes fly over French airspace for the raid produced an outpouring of anti-French feeling in the US. The telephone at the French Embassy in Washington rang off the hook, and there was a stream of letters and telegrams.
A worried French government backtracked. It supported the US in the UN. Prime Minister Jacques Chirac told the New York Times that he ``didn't like the misunderstanding between France and the United States,'' and that France ``always supported the American position, because we are in the same family and we defend the same values.''
[The French weekly Canard Encha^in'e reported yesterday that US planes in fact flew across the Pyrenees mountains, which form the border between France and Spain, on their route to Libya.]
Prime Minister Chirac's statement is not mere rhethoric. Europe is cracking down on terrorism.
``Unlike five to 10 years ago,'' says Professor Wilkinson, Europeans now realize that they no longer ``can shrug off the dangers of terrorism.'' Even before the US attack, he says, ``governments were taking a firmer line against terrorism.''
For this reason, many Europeans agreed with the need to take action against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. But they feared that the US bombing would strengthen Colonel Qaddafi rather than hurt him.
This reasoning lies behind West German opposition to the military action. But it also helps explain President Reagan's assertion that some European allies, particularly France, favored ``a major action'' against Libya.
``You should either get rid of Qaddafi or forget about him,'' says Daniel Hermand of the French Institute of Military Affairs. ``Otherwise you raise his stature and risk making him a hero to his people.''
Mr. Hermand's statement suggests that the present strains in the alliance do not stem from a fundamental disagreement, as seemed the case only days ago. He and other European experts hope the Tokyo summit will help clear up the misunderstandings.
It may be easier for some European countries to take stronger action in Japan than at European Community meetings. With 12 countries represented in the community, a lowest-common-denominator decision is often all that can be reached. Just as important, the southern Mediterranean countries of Spain and Greece, which have been among the most reluctant to take action against Libya, will not be present at the summit in Tokyo. Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said yesterday that not a shred of evidence had been presented to him linking Libya with terrorism.
``A common, long-term policy is emerging slowly and painfully, consisting of political, diplomatic, and economic measures, designed to ensure that there are real long-term costs to any state which insists on pursuing the sponsorship of terrorism,'' says Wilkinson. ``This means denying such states technology, services, and export markets essential to their well-being.''
Separate national interests could still torpedo such a common plan. Philippe Moreau Defarges of the French Institute of Foreign Relations says that Paris remains preoccupied with the fate of its eight hostages in Lebanon. He believes the French government will refuse to take any action that might put them in danger.
The long-term concern for some in Europe is the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is trying to use the Libya raid to portray himself as a peacemaker in Europe. Instead of confronting the US over Libya, he has put forward a flurry of disarmament proposals.
``Many here feel that the United States is playing Rambo, and the Soviet Union a calm, considered, and wise man,'' says Lorenz Bollinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Bremen. ``We fear war and the US appears to be the warmonger.''
Almost any aggressive US action will produce such jitters among the allies. So far, though, the Libya fallout has not jeopardized the commitment of the Europeans to NATO and its fundamental role: defending Europe from Soviet attack. As long as the alliance averts a prolonged spat, most experts expect, common concern will hold the alliance together.
``Libya remains a secondary issue,'' says Mr. Moreau Defarges. ``The important problems facing the alliance are the Strategic Defense Initiative and the relationship with the Soviet Union.''