The US left the fireworks to Greece at the winter NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels. Washington, while still desiring more defense efforts from its European allies, now prefers to emphasize the positive rather than bewail the negative.
''Before, we had the feeling we were out of tune,'' commented one official from a smaller NATO country, in noting the change in the American tone. ''And,'' he added, ''it's very difficult for any band to get going if the bass drum has a different beat.''
He attributed the change of atmosphere both to President Reagan's welcome peace speech of Nov. 18 -- bringing the American position more into line with prevailing European views -- and to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and his team's exposure to Europe in their travels here in recent months. This European official found Weinberger now has more understanding of European difficulties with finances and with the antinuclear movement.
As a result, perhaps, this biannual two-day ministerial session was marked by less acrimony than some previous meetings - except for the dramatic haggling of Greece that held up the communique long past the planned finale Dec. 9. Greek Prime Minister and Defense Minister Andreas Papandreou, in the view of other NATO nations, was seeking maximum publicity for hisufjump1dispute with Turkey by delaying agreement on the final communique.
The US did not get the increased infrastructure spending it had hoped for at this meeting. But American criticism of this failure has not been couched in the terms heard earlier of doubting the whole European commitment to NATO.
The US has been especially interested in getting allied ''facilitation'' of American power projection in the Mideast through its Rapid Deployment Force. This entails two things: first, direct assistance in such areas as the quick granting to the US of overflight rights in support of any military action in the Mideast; and second, Europeans filling in gaps in European defense caused by any diversion to the Mideast of American units normally earmarked for European reinforcement in an emergency.
In these areas NATO cooperation has greatly improved in recent years, according to American sources - even if infrastructure remains below desired levels. ''I think the Department of Defense always tries to get a little more than possible and feels miffed if (it doesn't get it),'' noted one US official. ''But that's a zigzag on a curve, and the curve didn't exist three years ago.''
He cited particularly a ''greatly raised consciousness of Western Europe about things outside the classic NATO area.'' He attributed this development to shock among the NATO allies at their own disarray after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, European feelings of oil vulnerability after the Iran-Iraq War broke out, and the prolonged Soviet threat to Poland in Western Europe's backyard.
The official saw this ''raised consciousness'' not only in greater readiness to give overflight rights on the part of West Germany, Portugal, and Italy, but also in European efforts to speed up mobilization of reserves in wartime, prepositioning of equipment for American and Canadian reinforcements in emergencies, and planning to assign civilian aircraft and other assets to military use in time of hostilities.
He also cited the close bilateral -- amounting to multilateral -- cooperation of the US, French, British, and Australian goverments and navies in the Persian Gulf after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, French naval activity in the Indian Ocean, and improved naval lines of communications in general.
On prepositioning, Canada and Norway have just announced -- after five years of discussion -- agreement on prestocking of material in northern Norway for a lead battalion of 1,000 Canadian troops. The US is also accelerating prepositioning agreed on last year for 10-12,000 US troops in central Norway; it might complete the program within 1982.
West Germany and the US will also sign a memorandum of understanding by the end of the year for wartime ''host nation support'' for any US units brought into Germany, according to German sources. This does not go as far as Washington wished in financing relocation of US forces nearer to the East-West German border, or in providing additional peacetime German payments for American forces currently stationed in Germany.
Even in the latter case some accommodation is being worked out, however, according to US sources, with Bonn willing to contribute more if payments can avoid the historically laden term of ''offset payments'' or any kind of title that could make the Germans liable to equal claims for financial support for the other European troops stationed on German soil.
France's cooperation with NATO is also said to be very good, even though Paris withdrew from NATO's military wing under Charles de Gaulle. France is an active member of NATO's political council, and has military officers assigned to its political staff at NATO headquarters. It also participates in military exercises with NATO countries.