Europeans are enthusiastic about the nomination of Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. for Us secretary of state -- despite known policy differences between Mr. Haig and Europe.
Characteristically, one top West German diplomat summed up the reaction by recalling that he had observed a week ago to a friend that General Haig would be good "because he knows us well." The friend retorted, "Is that good or bad?" -- and the diplomat laughed heartily as he recalled the riposte.
So far at least, the key Europeans -- the West Germans -- think General Haig's intimate knowledge of them is good. "The best SACEUR [NATO commander] we've ever had," "iron-willed," "a differentiating mind," "an analyst of world affairs," "an excellent brain" were some of the descriptions of Mr. Haig from various West German diplomats who have had dealings with him.
Gen. Haig and the West Germans do know each other well. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt gave a gemutlich retirement dinner for the general last year, and the pair had two hours of wide-ranging farewell discussions.
When Mr. Haig was appointed NATO commander, Europeans had misgivings about this refugee from the collapse of the Nixon administration. He soon proved himself a political general in the best sense, however, galvanizing public support for a NATO that had almost been forgotten in the bonhomie of detente, focusing on the alliance's military modernization and restructuring that had been neglected. This, the West Germans and other Western Europeans appreciate.
There are, however, conspicuous policy differences between Haig and the linchpin West Germans. They concern the superpower military balance, arms control, and West Germany's contribution to NATO.
In SALT II testimony, for example, the general advocated US military superiority over the Soviet Union and criticized the signed, but not yet ratified, SALT II treaty.
West Germany, by contrast, has supported the strategic superpower balance (rather than American superiority) that was enshrined in the 1972 SALT I treaty. It has explicitly urged American ratification of SALT II. It has also consistently endorsed a European security policy of East-West balance at the lowest possible level of weapons -- i.e., with as far-reaching arms-control agreements as possible.
In the issue of defense funding Haig is second to none in wanting NATO members to fulfill their 1978 pledge of annual military budget increases of a real 3 percent.Bonn came close to that figure this past year, but in the present economic slowdown and budget squeeze has earmarked only a 4.4 percent monetary rise for 1981 -- no real growth at all when adjusted to inflation. Carter administration officials have criticized this -- and have not been pacified by West German pledges of an eventual real increase close to 3 percent through the customary supplementary budget later in 1981. Haig presumably will feel the same disappointment.
A foreshadowing of possible Haig-West German clashes might also be seen in Haig's apparent sharing of a certain suspicion that West German-Soviet relations are too friendly. This suspicion repeatedly clouded West German-US relations during the stewardship of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
General Haig never expressed fears, as did Brzezinski, that West Germany might succumb to "self- Finlandization." He did, however -- either out of conviction or out of a desire to put pressure on the West Germans -- privately express fears in early 1979 that Bonn, out of excessive deference to Moscow, would not accept new NATO nuclear weapons on West German soil capable of reaching Soviet territory.
This was at a time when the Schmidt government was already working to develop the sensitive domestic consensus for acceptance of these weapons. Such a consensus was in fact confirmed in December 1979 and led to the NATO decision that month to deploy the new weapons.