Moscow tries to sidetrack NATO missiles, split alliance
New light has just been shed on the big diplomatic question of the month: Did West German Chancellor Schmidt really achieve anything substantive in his talks with Soviet President Brezhnev in Moscow last week?
Mr. Schmidt claims that he secured a possible opening for talks on controlling "Euromissiles" -- nuclear weapons based in Western Europe and targeted on the Soviet Union, and vice versa.
But two intriguing newspaper articles this week, one in West Germany's Die Welt and the other in Pravda, suggest that Moscow's overall aims still include:
* Delaying or preventing the installation in West Europe of US-built Pershing II and cruise missiles, now planned for around 1983. These missiles are superior in technology and guidance mechanisms to anything the Soviets have.
* Maneuvering relentlessly to drive a wedge between the United States and its Western European allies within NATO -- particularly West Germany.
These Soviet aims are made plain by leaks printed in Die Welt July 7 and by an article in the Soviet party newspaper Pravda July 8. The latter partly confirms the former.
Pravda wrote: "The Soviet Union will not allow the US and the NATO bloc to break the strategic equivalence. If the US deploys additional American missiles in Western Europe, the Soviet Union and its allies will take all measures to restore the balance thus upset."
NATO considers that "the balance" has already been upset -- by the Soviet deployment of more than 100 SS-20 missiles armed with nuclear warheads and targeted on West Europe. More SS-20s are in the Soviet pipeline. It was to counter this threat that NATO decided last December to install 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe targeted on the Soviet Union.
Die Welt, quoting what it said were official but confidential notes on the Schmidt- Brezhnev talks, had Mr. Brezhnev warning the West German Chancellor about the likely Soviet response if NATO went ahead with deployment of the new missiles.
"I assure you in all certainty," Die Welt quoted him as saying, "that if such American rockets are stationed in Western Europe, the Soviet Union and its allies will take measures to restore the balance."
The initial Soviet reaction to the December decision was to say that unless NATO dropped the cruise-missile plan, there could be no East-West talks on the overall control of Euromissiles. The latter do not come within the framework of the SALT agreements, which cover only intercontinental missiles launchable by the Soviet Union and US at each other from their own territory. Mr. Schmidt, in the front line in Europe, wants talks on limiting Euromissiles.
In Moscow last week, Mr. Brezhnev relented somewhat on two points: He told Mr. Schmidt that Euromissile talks could begin without NATO first making a U-turn on its cruise-missile plan; and he is also reported to have softened his insistence that SALT II ratification by the US Senate would have to precede such Euromissile talks.
But he did apparently attach some new conditions more likely to be acceptable to the West Germans than the US.
The leak in Die Welt -- deplored by a Bonn government spokesman, who reserved the right to take legal action against the newspaper -- filled in some other purported details in last week's Moscow discussions. Mr. Schmidt is said to have asked Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko why the Soviet Union wanted to limit any Euromissile limitation talks to US forward- based nuclear weapons, excluding French and British nuclear weapons. Mr. Gromyko reportedly replied that it was the American weapons that concerned the Russians.
Mr. Brezhnev, apparently playing on European fears that the US might hesitate to expose its own cities to nuclear attack, even if nuclear exchanges developed within Europe, reportedly commented that the Americans were counting on being "on the other side of the ocean even in a nuclear war" and would not be worried what happened to their European allies.
If Europeans speculate about being sold down the river by the US the US speculates in turn about being sold down the river by a Europe too easily scared or seduced by an increasingly powerful Soviet Union. With Washington ostracizing Moscow because of Afghanistan, Carter administration eyebrows were raised first by French President Giscard d'Estaing's surprise meeting with Mr. Brezhnev in Warsaw last month and then by German Chancellor Schmidt's journey to Moscow last week.
Perhaps remembering that, and perhaps mindful of the elections that both he and Mr. Schmidt have to face within 12 months, President Giscard said during his current state visit to West Germany:
"Our membership of [the North Atlantic] alliance in no way prohibits the emergence, or rather reemergence of a European presence, acting in its own way and for its own ends, in the great debates which stir the world."