West Germany approves of this weekend's search for Euromissile arms control in Reykjavik, Iceland. But as the Western country that would be most directly affected by any settlement from the forthcoming pre-summit meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union, it has several concerns as the superpowers enter the tough end-game phase.
Two of Bonn's worries could cause some strains with Washington: the potential threat of a Soviet buildup in shorter-range nuclear weapons below the longer-range intermediate-range forces (INF) that would be limited in any Euromissile deal, and West German insistence that the Netherlands implement its promised cruise-missile deployment even under the reduced total INF numbers now being negotiated.
But first, the approval. ``To get rid of these systems [Soviet SS-20 missiles] -- it's a contribution to more security in Europe and Germany,'' commented an adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He was referring to the fact that under the deal now in view, limiting both East and West to 100 INF warheads in Europe, the Soviet Union would have to dismantle more than 800 SS-20 warheads, while the West would have to dismantle or withdraw only about 140 warheads. This 100-to-100 deal, he suggested, would reduce the threat raised by the Soviet buildup of SS-20s in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The aide went on to say that ``it would be an enormous success'' if Moscow came to such a settlement so soon after the tough Soviet campaign in 1983 against West German and NATO deployments. Then, the Kremlin insisted that NATO have no INF missiles in Europe at all, while the Soviets be allowed to keep European launcher numbers equal to (and warheads triple) the British and French national forces.
Within its broad approval of Euromissile arms control, Bonn does have reservations. Its main concern is that no new ``gray zone'' arise below the 1,000- to 5,500-kilometer INF range that would be limited in any ``interim'' agreement. The problem of a ``gray zone'' last arose in the 1970s, as the Soviets began rapid buildup of SS-20 missiles with ranges just below those of the missiles limited by the strategic arms limitation (SALT) treaties. The US was relaxed about this Soviet surge toward European-theater nuclear superiority until then-West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt pressed the US to do something about the new threat. NATO's controversial 1979 decision to deploy new NATO Euromissiles was the result. What the Germans now worry about is that, while the Soviet INF threat would be effectively neutralized by a 100-to-100 warhead deal in Europe, the Soviets might now try to reconstruct a special European threat by a massive buildup of the shorter-range missiles whose numbers would not be subject to agreed limitations.
``You would have the '79 to '85 situation all over again,'' commented another senior government official.
Indications are that although the West German Defense Ministry remains unhappy about this potential risk -- and will certainly raise the subject at NATO's Special Consultative Group meeting this week -- Washington and Bonn will be able to coordinate the Western positions in this regard. The US has already told Moscow it wants to freeze numbers of 500- to 1,000-kilometer-range missiles. (Moscow is refusing so far.) The West Germans, while they want negotiations on the 150- to 500-kilometer range as well, are not requesting that this be made a precondition for INF arms control. After an internal squabble in which the chancellory favored the Foreign over the Defense Ministry, Bonn now seeks only a binding commitment by the superpowers to open such negotiations soon after any Euromissile deal is cut.
US-German positions presumably can also be finessed in the procedural issue of allied consultations in the arms control process, as well as on the substantive issue of a 100-to-100 level in Europe. There was discomfort in Bonn as the US gave its reply to the Soviet 100-to-100 INF proposal of last June without first informing Bonn of the content of the US response. But West German uneasiness about this is outweighed by the history of close coordination of views during the past four years of talks and by a basic confidence in the US negotiators.
``I know Paul [Nitze, presidential adviser on arms control],'' said Kohl's aide. ``I know how serious he is about getting a serious arms-control result. He knows us very well. He knows all the Europeans, especially the Germans. . . . I trust him. I do not distrust him at all.''
Substantively, West Germany would have preferred a higher INF level -- in part because this would have allowed the West to keep in its own mix a higher number of fast Pershing II ballistic missiles relative to slow cruise missiles. If the present Western ratio is preserved, this would mean maintaining only the very small number of about 18 Pershing IIs, with a flight time to Soviet targets of about 10 minutes as against the cruises' several hours. The Soviet INF, by contrast, would consist entirely of SS-20 ballistic missiles, with their 10-minute flight time to West European targets.
But Bonn is prepared to live with the 100-to-100 level so long as the West does not forfeit the Pershing IIs altogether and so long as the principle is maintained of ``non-singularity,'' or spreading the political and military risks of deployment over several countries.
``We ask and we will ask for two conditions,'' said Mr. Kohl's aide. The first is continuation of the present mix of weapons. The second is ``missiles in five countries.'' He explained, ``We are not ready to accept that anybody else, whether this will be the Netherlands or Italy, Britain or Belgium, can say, okay, now we can get rid of all these devils and missiles [but the] Germans are forced to keep them. This is impossible.''
The question of Dutch deployment has not yet become a bone of contention between Washington and Bonn, but the potential is there. This issue once soured relations between the Carter administration and West Germany.