US Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle's tart advice to Bonn to cut credits to East Berlin and spend its money on weapons instead has upset the conservative government here. Conservatives welcomed Mr. Perle's past snipes at West German Social Democrats in and out of power on the same general theme of wimpishness in defense. But since they consider him something of an ally, they tend to regard his criticism of their own policy as crude intervention in Bonn politics and as slipping over from antileft into anti-German territory.
The outrage of Social Democrats at Perle's interview with the Neue Osnabr"ucker Zeitung over the weekend has therefore been par for the course. More noteworthy are the injured tones of such Christian Democrats as Willy Wimmer, head of the conservative MPs' defense working group, and Hans Stercken, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee.
And other government spokesmen have argued that payments to East Germany help stabilize and moderate confrontation on the central front.
Behind the row is the longstanding irritation by American hawks over NATO burden-sharing - and the new spotlight that October's superpower summit in Iceland cast on the West's conventional inferiority to the Soviet bloc in Europe.
The old quarrel simmered down with the coming to power of conservatives in Bonn in 1982. Nonetheless, the general view remains among American hardliners that the West Europeans are freeloaders who spend too little on defense and too much on social welfare.
In the case of West Germany, American hawks tend to suspect as well that Bonn is too keen on d'etente with East Germany and will sacrifice security needs to placate the East.
These two themes came together in Perle's remarks. The payments to East Germany that he referred to include ``swing'' credits for trade, delivery of export goods in return for the release of East German political prisoners, and funding of various highway and railroad projects in East Germany between [West] Berlin and West Germany. These all help increase East Berlin's willingness to let East German citizens travel west, Bonn contends.
Europe's view, in contrast to the American hawks' view, is that the NATO alliance serves American as well as European purposes in keeping the bulk of Moscow's best troops tied down in Eastern Europe.
In addition, Bonn argues that it has consistently fielded the largest army facing the Soviet bloc on the central front, that it has conscription, and that it has the burden of hundreds of military exercises on its soil, as well as the heaviest concentration of nuclear weapons per capita on earth.