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Great Decisions '82; Western Europe and the US: frictions among friends

When Hans X. spent a year at Bowdoin College in Maine in 1949-50, he studied American literature, American history, and American government.

The United States was the land of unlimited opportunity, the benevolent occupier of Germany, the rich uncle, the fountainhead of Germany's heady new democracy and freedom. Hans returned to West Germany an Americanophile and became a diplomat with rich, friendly contacts with Americans.

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When his son Peter spent a year at Bowdoin in 1980-81, he studied American slave history with a black professor. America was a land of repression, a pinchpenny at social welfare, the Goliath of Vietnam, a dangerous superpower that wanted to throw its weight around in El Salvador and perhaps fight a nuclear war to the last European.

It was no richer than West Germany. Its jeans and rock music and casual abundance were no novelty. Peter returned, if not an Americanophobe, then at best a sharp critic of American civilization.

This German generation gap is matched by a somewhat different American generation gap: between all the Toms and Bobs from Middletown and Walla Walla who brimmed over with curiosity as conscript GIs in occupied Germany - and their neighbors' sons (and daughters) from across the tracks who now serve as volunteer soldiers but hardly get to know their German hosts.

Together, these two generation gaps suggest some of the difficulties of US-West German relations in the new world of the 1980s.

And they also suggest difficulties in the overall US-Western European alliance, since America's bilateral tie with Western Europe's strongest nation economically, militarily (in conventional forces), and politically (in impact on coordinated European policy) is the most decisive relationship of the entire Western alliance.

Thus, the difference in views about the Reagan administration - between the Hanses who deal professionally with it and the Peters who have an aversion to it - is a significant one.

The older generation of foreign-policy professionals regards the Reagan administration as willing to learn, reasonably flexible, and at least readier than the predecessor Carter administration to consult with European allies in the process of making policy.

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These professionals withheld judgment after Ronald Reagan's election. They said explicitly, we know that rhetoric isn't policy, and we will react only to concrete policy, not to inflated rhetoric. And then they proceeded to help modify Mr. Reagan's concrete policy as it developed on one issue after another: the French proposal for a European disarmament conference, El Salvador, European nuclear arms control talks, Namibia, to some extent the Mideast.

By now there are common or compatible American and Western European policies on all of these issues.

The Peters don't see this evolution, however. They view the Reagan administration as rigid and ideological. Their views were shaped by the Vietnam war rather than the Marshall Plan (or even by the current Polish repression, so long as Soviet troops don't actually march into Poland).

In the US the situation is different, if only because Americans as a whole are much less aware of West Germany than the Germans are of America. Public inattention toward West Germany is changing, of course, but not necessarily for the better.

Over the past 21/2 years quite a few Americans have become conscious of their most important European ally, primarily as a block to a tough American reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and to Polish martial law. In the American disillusionment with detente, West Germany has been seen as being soft on the Soviet Union.

Never mind that Bonn signed on to America's high-technology embargo and boycotted the Moscow Olympics, or that Bonn's ambassador in Tehran was the key behind-the-scenes negotiator for the release of the American diplomatic hostages in Iran.

The things that stick in memory instead are: Defense Minister Hans Apel's attempt to wriggle out of the agreed 3 percent NATO defense spending increase; some Social Democrats' apparent assumption that Washington is as great a danger to peace as Moscow; and former national-security ddviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's suspicion that Bonn is heading for ''self-Finlandization'' and is already acting as if it were ''neutralist.''

But, of course, the critical stratum for perceptions of West Germany is not the general public in America. It's what the Bonn government has analyzed as political ''middle management.'' This doesn't mean the State Department middle management that in Reagan's first year deliberately threw the weight of Europe into the administration's bureaucratic infighting.

It means instead the freshman congressman who votes huge increases in American military appropriations and huge cuts in social welfare -- and doesn't see Bundestag members doing the same. It means the Wall Street Journal editorial writer who condemns Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's ''stance toward Moscow'' as the product of ''a demoralized leadership whose best vision of West Germany's future is as a Finlandized, industrial vassal of a totalitarian empire.''

The result of this dichotomy is a good working relationship among most of the foreign policy professionals on both sides of the Atlantic, congruence in American and European assessments of the Soviet threat, and even a certain congruence in basic policy - but a wide gulf between American and European public and parliamentary perceptions.

A number of US congressmen regard the West Germans as getting a free ride on defense. A number of West German Social Democrats worry that Washington is mirroring Moscow in a dangerous decade, bankrupting itself diplomatically and economically, and reducing foreign policy to raw military might untranslated into strategy.

A segment of the American public is enjoying a wave of self-righteous conservatism (especially after Poland). A segment of the West German public is enjoying a self-righteous aversion to a self-righteous America.

All of this leaves the two allies with an urgent need to sort out their common priorities in the role of Europe in security consultations, European nuclear deterrence, evaluation of the Soviet threat, and the designing of policies to counteract that threat.

On the role of Europe in formulating security policy the American attitude is roughly:

''We put a shattered Western Europe on its feet after World War II. We established a Western military alliance and a political and economic order that preserved peace in Europe for three decades. We assumed the defense of Europe when the Europeans had no resources. We did all this willingly, without begrudging our sacrifices. We benefited from it, but so, surely, did the Europeans.

''Now the Europeans have an economy that equals America's. West Germany and Denmark have a per capita production as high as America's; Norway has a higher per capita income. The Europeans could well finance their own conventional defense. Yet they are unwilling to do so. They won't cut their excessive social welfare to pay for their own defense. And when we prod them to do so, they accuse us of being militaristic.

''Moreover, the West Germans especially are unwilling to share the political responsibility for defense policy, out of fear of offending an increasingly strong Soviet Union. They want business as usual, trade as usual, East-West German contacts as usual, even after Soviet action in Afghanistan and martial law in Poland shattered detente. They won't make the Soviet Union pay a price for Afghanistan, or Poland. They want to keep Europe as an island of detente and leave the dirty job of punishing the Soviet Union to us.

''Besides, the Europeans leave all the NATO leadership to Washington, then criticize whatever Washington decides, without offering any better initiatives of their own. In particular, a Europe that is much more dependent on Mideast oil than the US is leaves it to the US to keep the pipelines open - and then snipes at a US president when he announces a Rapid Deployment Force.''

The contrary West German position runs roughly like this:

''We already support on our territory one of the world's highest concentrations of troops, nuclear weapons, and annual maneuvers, in a densely populated country the size of the state of Oregon. We have maintained popular support for this burden - but we could not do so if the social cost became too high. We field one of the world's best manned, trained, and equipped armies, with trained reserves that could double its strength in a few days.

''For historical reasons we cannot increase West Germany's weight within the alliance without upsetting our allies as well as our adversaries. We already give disproportionate military and economic aid to Turkey, and substantial economic aid to third-world countries, and this helps stabilization much more than any equivalent increase in guns and ships would do.

''Despite Europe's large contribution to our mutual defense, military leadership in the West has to remain with the US. Only the superpower within the alliance has the strength and the resources to take this role. We want to be consulted; we don't want to be presented with faits accomplis. But we are in no position to take initiatives.

''In this whole area of consultation the American and European foreign policy professionals are making herculean efforts to coordinate their moves. They were frightened by the West's disarray after the invasion of Afghanistan, and they don't want to repeat that experience in the wake of the Polish crackdown. They are trying hard -- and this explicitly includes the Reagan administration - to expand policy consultations.

In the crucial issue of nuclear arms, the basic problem is the new Soviet superiority in theater nuclear weapons. In the late 1970s the Soviet Union reaped the reward of its decade and a half of military buildup.

For the first time it acquired real parity with the US in strategic superpower-to-superpower weapons. For the first time it acquired with its SS-20 mobile missile what the West German Defense Ministry defined as superiority in ''Eurostrategic'' weapons, European-based and targeted missiles and planes in the 1,000- to 4,500-kilometer (620- to 2,800-mile) range. This came on top of the conventional superiority in Europe that the Soviet Union has enjoyed ever since the 1950s.

Given this situation, Mr. Schmidt became concerned about the new Soviet nuclear superiority in Europe and prodded the US to do something about it. The US responded, and the famous NATO ''two-track decision'' of December 1979 was the result.

The US would build, and West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Britain would deploy, 572 Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles. At the same time the US would press ahead with negotiations with the Soviet Union to limit those Eurostrategic weapons to an East-West balance at the lowest possible level. These negotiations finally opened Nov. 30 -- after much prodding of Washington by Bonn.

Here public opinion again enters the picture. After Afghanistan, American public opinion moved very much toward the view that detente was a Soviet trap to get the West to lower its defenses. SALT I had failed to block the Soviet military buildup of tanks, submarines, and SS-20s in the late 1970s. SALT I had failed to establish Henry Kissinger's cherished code of conduct and restrain Soviet adventures abroad. SALT I had failed to stop Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan from going down the drain.

What Americans had assumed to be the basic trade-off of detente - Soviet import of Western technology in return for Soviet foreign policy restraint -- therefore came to look suspect. The question was posed whether Western sales of technology weren't turning from a Western carrot to induce Soviet moderation into a Soviet stick to extort political cowardice from recession-ridden capitalist economies. SALT II was put on ice (although the Reagan administration , like the Kremlin, has quietly observed all its provisions).

At the same time that this conversion was occurring in the US, some important segments of European public opinion moved in the opposite direction. It came to suspect the US and NATO's new nuclear weapons, precisely because of America's abandonment of SALT II -- and also because of the tough-cowboy rhetoric of Reagan and his team.

El Salvador revived memories of Vietnam. Reagan's early public charge that the Russians would lie, cheat, and commit any crime revived memories of the cold war. Occasional echoes of the Republican Party platform goal of American military ''superiority'' rather than ''parity'' sounded to Europeans like nostalgia for an unrestorable past -- a nostalgia that seemed a nightmare both in its lack of realism and its belligerence.

When old British nuclear pacifists, Dutch Christians, German Protestants, and junior German Social Democrats looked at the specifics of NATO's planned new missiles then, what they saw was an American shift in favor of real nuclear ''war fighting'' and not just deterrence in Europe. To them this smacked of sparing the US and the Soviet interior, while pulverizing Europe.

The arms-control efforts of the 1960s and '70s seemed to have failed. Some of the original nuclear angst of the 1950s returned. In Britain the anti-NATO nuclear movement was spectacularly resuscitated. In Holland, in a new climate in which foreign policy was democratized and was no longer governed by the Atlantic Coast internationalist elite, the Dutch government was forced to postpone (at best) its approval of the new missiles. In Bonn a quarter million Peters and Petras turned out to protest the new American weapons.

Chancellor Schmidt was forced to open a tough campaign to convince his Social Democratic constituents that steadiness in carrying out the new NATO deployments is the only way to preserve deterrence and make the Russians negotiate arms limitations seriously. He was forced to threaten that he would resign if the erosion in his party goes so far as to prevent deployment on German soil of the Pershing IIs and cruises.

He has been greatly helped by the opening of the US-Soviet arms control talks , by Reagan's final peace offensive speech of Nov. 18 (offering a ''zero option'' on the European nuclear arms control negotiations) - and, so far, by the sobering demonstration of the fragility of liberalization in Poland.

Poland poses its own tests to Western cohesion, however. The analysis and rhetoric of Washington and Bonn have diverged conspicuously since martial law was declared in Warsaw Dec. 13. In the absence of conclusive evidence either way , the West Germans regard Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski as a man who took this step to avert the worse fate of an outright Soviet invasion; the Americans (apparently joined by the French, British, and Italians) regard Jaruzelski as little better than a Soviet puppet.

The West Germans think Jaruzelski is still trying to preserve something of the 1980-81 reforms, against the opposition of more orthodox Polish leaders more beholden to Moscow; the Americans think that objectively he is doing the Russians' dirty work, whatever his own motivations.

The West Germans -- and here it is Bonn that is joined by Paris, London, and Rome -- think economic sanctions against the Soviet Union (as distinct from those against Poland) accomplish little beyond making the West feel righteous; the Americans think that failure to institute sanctions against the Soviet Union would give the Kremlin altogether the wrong signal.

Curiously - considering all the public rancor that has accompanied these analytical and proscriptive arguments between the US and West Germany - the actual policies toward Poland by these two countries and their major allies have been virtually identical. In what is probably the most effective move, all Western allies have stopped new economic credits and suspended rescheduling of Poland's $27 billion debts to the West.

All are removing food and humanitarian aid from Polish government distribution and directing it to private channels instead, to make sure the military regime doesn't get credit for the aid. All are demanding an end to martial law, release of detainees, and resumption of the dialogue in Polish society.

At the same time both West Germany and the US have signaled - bravely, given their budgetary strains -- that they would give Warsaw a carrot of economic aid if the demands were fulfilled.

In the case of Poland, as in other major issues, America's and Western Europe's professional diplomats have so far succeeded in reconciling sometimes contradictory transatlantic approaches to East-West relations into compatible day-to-day policies. The question remains, however, how long this professional harmony can withstand the divisive emotional pressures on both sides.

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