As Western Europe rejoices in the Soviet release of American journalist Nicholas Daniloff, its hopes are high for progress in arms control in next week's pre-summit summit in Iceland. And in West Germany, the country on the front line with the Soviet bloc, hopes are especially high for normalization at last in bilateral relations.
``Public opinion in Europe gets mistrustful when the two superpowers are in contact. But it gets even more mistrustful when the two superpowers are not in contact,'' summed up a senior European diplomat, explaining both public and governmental enthusiasm in Europe for a second superpower summit.
As seen from this side of the Atlantic, the greatest boon would now be superpower nuclear arms control that would lessen confrontation and increase stability both on the strategic and European-theater levels. As European diplomats describe it, such arms control would reduce fear of nuclear war among European voters and help maintain the political will to defend their democracies adequately.
``An agreement [on limiting intermediate-range nuclear forces, or INF] would be of enormous political importance for this country,'' observed a senior West German official. Taking press reports as an example -- and specifying that he was not himself speculating about the likely outcome of superpower negotiations -- the official approved potential European INF reductions to about 100 warheads on both sides, so long as the present ratio between cruise and Pershing II ballistic missiles is preserved and several European countries (and not just West Germany) continue to deploy them. ``Then the burden, at any rate, of this sort of weaponry in Central Europe [would be] enormously alleviated.
``And if you then maybe come to some substantial reduction also of intercontinental [warheads] and at the same time accept negotiating on more short-range [nuclear systems] and then in the next step conventional weaponry, then indeed after those 40 years of stockpiling one layer over the other . . . this trend could be turned around.''
In no country would such a turnaround in the arms race be more welcome than in West Germany. The public on this spot of land with the highest per capita concentration of nuclear weapons in the world had nuclear jitters in the early 1980s, when the Soviet Union and NATO notched up their INF. And the center-right government here is banking on neo-d'etente -- and new Soviet overtures to Bonn -- to help its reelection bid next January.
Indeed, in a striking development, Soviet-West German relations now show the most movement of any of the Kremlin's bilateral ties in Western Europe. While courting London and Paris, Moscow froze Bonn out from 1983 on. The freeze was punishment for West German deployment of new American missiles and also reflected a Soviet grudge as Moscow celebrated the 40th anniversary of its victory over Hitler last year and kept equating the West Germans with the Nazis. Soviet press treatment of West Germany in general and Chancellor Helmut Kohl in particular bordered on the scurrilous.
A Soviet shift first became evident last July, when Moscow invited Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to Moscow. At that point, it became clear that the Kremlin realized that its appeal of the early 1980s to antinuclear publics in Europe over the heads of their elected governments was a dead end -- and that any European policy dealing only with London and Paris while excluding Bonn was also a dead end.
Moreover, as diplomats describe it, it looked more and more as if Moscow intended to try for a serious modus vivendi with Washington -- and this removed much of the incentive for confrontation with West Germany. In addition, the Kremlin apparently became convinced that Chancellor Kohl would win reelection in January in any case and that it made more sense to court him before rather than after the vote.
At this point the new Soviet amiability toward West Germany has gone so far that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is expected to visit Bonn early next year.