West Germany's opposition Social Democrats increasingly deny charges that they depart from the Western security consensus or endanger NATO's defense capability. Such charges have been leveled at them by American, British, and French officials and West German conservatives ever since they rejected deployment of new medium-range nuclear missiles on West German territory in 1983. Their vehement denials reflect the distress such charges continue to cause the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Alfons Pawelczyk - member of the SDP's executive board and deputy head of its committe on security policy - points to what he terms a recent great political success: a consensus between the West German parties on security issues, which underpins public support for the burden of defense.
In an interview, Mr. Pawelczyk contrasted the broad agreement of the 1980s with the deep ``rifts'' of the '50s, when the conservatives initiated, and the Social Democrats fought, German rearmament; and with the '70s, when the Social Democrats initiated, and the conservatives fought, the Ostpolitik of d'etente.
Now, he says, ``We give the [NATO] alliance - and that I think is the most important contribution we have given - a fully united Federal Republic on issues of foreign and security policy.
``[Before], there were rifts cutting right through the population. But the large political parties both times understood how to bring the public and the political parties themselves together on these issues,'' Pawelczyk says.
``Today we stand on completely solid united ground. The overwhelming majority has accepted and understood the essential elements of Eastern [d'etente] and Western [alliance] policies as a single policy, even though we are a divided land.''
Pawelczyk urges Bonn's allies to appreciate this consensus. He warns against setting a double standard for judging West German Social Democrats and conservatives, and also against degrading the SPD and thus driving it to the sidelines.
Pawelczyk heads his party's subcommittee on arms control, and this month he began a series of meetings with soldiers to discuss Social Democratic views on defense.
He cites the SDP's record, during its 16 governing years between 1966 and 1982, of building up the country's armed forces to a troop strength of 496,000. Postwar conservative Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had only promised equipping them with modern weapons.
Pawelczyk also cites the SPD's assistance to Turkey, when the need arose, and its initiating of NATO's ``double track'' decision to offer arms-control negotiations even while preparing for deployment of new Euromissiles in the mid-1980s.
He further cites Social Democratic advocacy, while out of office in 1983, of a maximum defense share of the budget of 18.4 percent. He notes that the present center-right government does not exceed this figure.
What troubles West Germany's allies is not the Social Democratic Party's record in office.
Rather, allies are concerned about leftist party positions taken after the SDP lost power which repudiated the defense policies of their own centrist chancellor, Helmut Schmidt.
Pawelczyck was one of only 13 out of several hundred delegates at the 1983 SPD convention to vote with Schmidt for stationing new NATO Euromissiles in West Germany.
One allied diplomat in Bonn, greeting SPD claims to consensus with some skepticism, noted, ``The SPD, for obvious reasons of its own, wants to give a greater idea of consensus. Having been in left field and having been wrong both in predictions and prescriptions, [the Social Democrats] want to bring themselves back to the mainstream without having to admit past errors.''
He and a number of his colleagues say they hope the Reagan administration's success in negotiating arms control, and the SPD's desire to win middle-of-the-road voters in the next general election in 1991 will eventually enable moderates like Pawelczyk to nudge the party back to the center. But it isn't there yet, he says.
Beyond broad agreement on Western alliance and Eastern d'etente, Pawelczyk identified the issues to explore for measuring consensus or controversy as conventional restructuring of the Army, and short-range missiles. Allied diplomats would add to the list nuclear-free zones and the overall legitimacy of nuclear deterrence.
On structural reform of the Army, Pawelczyk contends that the center-right government in Bonn is now doing unsystematically what the SDP has long been urging the defense minister to plan for. That is, letting total troop strength drop, turning numerous brigades into cadre units, and depending on rapid mobilization of reserves.
Yet West Germany's allies - who got so disturbed when the SDP in 1983 called for such adjustments to future manpower levels - take no offense when the West German conservatives go in the same direction, he remarkes.
In regard to short-range missiles (not included in last year's Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty that eliminates the 5,500-to-1,000 and 1,000-to-500-kilometer-range missiles), the SPD flatly rejects modernization and wants to get rid of them, according to recent comments in parliament by SDP Chairman Hans-Jochen Vogel.
The Bonn government says it opposes modernization now, but could approve it once NATO has worked out a ``comprehensive concept'' of post-INF arms and arms control that might include the possibility of negotiating those weapons away.
On nuclear-free zones, the SPD has made a joint proposal with the East German Socialist Unity (Communist) Party that a 150-kilometer nuclear-free corridor be established along the East-West dividing line. This, argues Pawelczyk, would do away with the danger that a conventional war might escalate to use of nuclear weapons so quickly that it would become nuclear war without a deliberate decision ever having been made to do so.
On the overall legitimacy of nuclear weapons, the Bonn government (reluctantly) and NATO (emphatically) maintain that nuclear deterrence, or prevention of war, is what has kept the peace in Europe for more than four decades. The SPD contends (along with President Reagan, Pawelczyk points out) that its ``moral aim'' is eventually to eliminate nuclear weapons in agreement with the East.