West Europeans are worried -- and a bit relieved. Disagreement at the meeting in Reykjavik between United States President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev could prove politically explosive throughout Europe, analysts here say. The issue is particularly important for West Germany's and Britain's conservative governments, which face elections in early 1987. Antinuclear opposition parties in both countries, which call for withdrawal of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, expect their efforts will be boosted by the lack of an arms control agreement this weekend.
But other Europeans, especially the French, seem secretly pleased. They feared that a potential superpower deal would have weakened the US's commitment to their defense.
The mixed sentiments emanating from the continent are, to a certain extent, predictable. At Reykjavik the superpowers negotiated, without Europeans, about issues which affect Europe. The Soviets understand this quandary, and already have begun to take advantage of the unavoidable points of friction, analysts say.
Soviet Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yuli Vorontsov wrote an article in the Sunday issue of the Le Monde newspaper, urging Europeans to pressure Washington for an arms agreement. ``In the solution to the problems of European security, the Soviet Union counts on the participation'' of ``all the countries of Europe,'' he wrote.
Of all US allies, the West Germans seemed to be the most upset by the bad feelings generated from the Reykjavik meeting. Without superpower d'etente, it will be difficult for Bonn to pursue its foreign policy of Ostpolitik: warming relations with East Germany and making profits from trade with the East bloc. [But, after US Secretary of State George Shultz met with NATO ministers in Brussels yesterday, West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher seemed less gloomy than he had been earlier. Mr. Genscher said it was absolutely vital that negotiations on medium-range missiles continue on the basis of progress made in Iceland.]
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl could lose some ground in next January's election. Against widespread opposition, Dr. Kohl campaigned for deployment of US nuclear weapons in Germany, arguing that only deployment could force the Soviets to dismantle their missiles. Now his opponents can denounce that position, arguing that the US's insistence on continuing its space-based Strategic Defense Initiative program (``star wars'') has led to an escalation of the arms race.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has also supported US defense policies that are unpopular in her country. She faces an opposition -- currently ahead in opinion polls -- which wants to scrap nuclear arms.
But while the lack of an arms control agreement boosts the European antinuclear movement, it also reassures Europeans that the US will not abandon them. When the decision to deploy new US nuclear weapons in Europe was taken in 1979, the goal was seen as primarily political: to comfort Europeans about the linkage of West European security to the US nuclear arsenal.
A reduction of US nuclear weapons would have ``eroded the `coupling' effect'' between the US and Europe which was achieved by deployment, says journalist Jerome Dumoulin, an arms control expert.
Along with this fear, the Europeans worry that the Soviets could have gotten the better end of a deal. In the European view, an agreement to let each superpower keep 100 intermediate-range nuclear warheads would leave the Soviets with a vast arsenal of smaller range missiles capable of reaching most of the same targets. [In Reykjavik, a conditional agreement was reportedly reached on cuts in shorter-range missiles. But implementation of any such agreement remains uncertain.]
Other European worries relate to their own nuclear weapons. The Soviets recently dropped their demand that French and British nuclear weapons be counted along with US ones. But officials in both France and Britain, which are proceeding with massive weapons modernization, fear a US-Soviet arms control agreement could jeopardize these programs in the future.
``In a couple of years when Paris [deploys] some 500 nuclear warheads against the 100 remaining SS-20s [Soviet medium-range missiles],'' says Le Monde's Michel Tatu. ``Mr. Gorbachev will have no problem denouncing the `disproportion' created.''