Many of those long schooled in US-West European relations have said that during 1980 more profound rifts and more serious mistrust developed between the two branches of the Atlantic family than at any time since World War II and that , unless all parties act with the greatest circumspection, the situation is likely to be even worse in 1981.
To those like myself, who have been following this relationship with great attention for forty years, anxiety about differences within it are an old story, but one that never went deep or lasted long. The bonds of history and interest, coupled with the Soviet threat never long absent from the minds of both branches , have always in the past been sufficient, after a certain amount of acrimonious bickering, to overcome or mask the differences.
Nevertheless the reasons for concern this time are sufficently numerous and extraordinary that a brief survey of what has gone wrong is well worthwhile. A part of the problem stems from personalities. Jimmy Carter, with the best will in the world, was never able to inspire confidence in the Europeans. Ronald Reagan and Alexander Haig should not have too much difficulty in doing better. But the nub of the problem lies deeper -- in real differences of interest and honest differences of perception.
First of all, there is a basic difference in general posture toward the Soviet Union. To the United States, whether it seeks and finds some accommodations with the Kremlin seems important but not essential. To the Europeans, particularly the Germans, a reasonable modicum of accommodation with the power controlling half their continent seems literally a matter of life and death. That is the origin of the argument between Europe and the US about detente. We feel we can get along quite comfortably without it; they do not.
This perceived necessity governs the European attitude toward the Helsinki security process, which interests the US chiefly as a means of harassing the Soviets on human rights, and toward offers of negotiation like Brezhnev's proposal of a summit. The Reagan administration has responded well to the latter, by manifesting an interest but pointing out that time for exploration is necessary.
This perceived necessity also governs the European posture toward arms and arms control. The Europeans, unlike President Reagan, never felt that the SALT II agreement was "fatally flawed," but are convinced that in any case the SALT process must continue. This is primarily because that process is linked to the deployment of new theater nuclear forces, to which the Europeans agreed in December 1979 but only on the understanding that before deployment there would be serious negotiations which might make it unnecessary.
Nothing could do more damage to the alliance than an American attempt to force the Europeans to proceed with the deployment of new weapons before they are ready or before a genuine attempt at negotiation has been undertaken. Many of them feel that a less provocative and more effective signal of Western resolve would be an American return to conscription or national service, which of course they never abadoned and which we usually fail to factor in our comparisons of respective "defense expenditures."
Another area of difference is our attitudes toward trade with the Eastern bloc. Ten years ago many in the Nixon administration subscribed to the theory that the forging of substantial economic links would create bonds of common interest which would make an important contribution to mutual security. The foolish linking of trade to Jewish emigration by the Jackson-Vanik amendment nipped that experiment in the bud as far as the US is concerned, held US-Soviet trade to low levels (except for grain), and deprived us of leverage which might have influenced the Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan.
The Europeans, however, proceeded during detente to expand their trade with the East substantially so that it now makes a significant contribution to their economies and social well-being which is particularly important in time of recession. The wide discrepancy in the importance of Eastern trade to Western Europe and to the US creates another major conflict of interest between them.
Another bone of contention is oil. The economies of Western Europe are vitally, that of the US significantly but not vitally, dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf and North Africa. Yet the US, on the one hand continues prodigally to consume twice as much oil per capita as Europe does and, on the other hand, seems in European eyes, by its reticence on the Palestinian question, to block a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement and thus to risk another oil embargo.
These differences are clearly sufficiently serious that they should be addressed quickly and courageously. Moreover, they cannot be resolved simply by the US barking orders and expecting the Europeans to fall in line. The US is still looked to for leadership, but no longer for dictation. Nothing can be achieved in the alliance without, not only consultation, but genuine unforced agreement.
Americans sometimes show alarm at what they perceive as tendencies toward "Finlandization" in Western Europe. This is pure nonsense. Great nations jealous of their independence even vis-a-vis their friend and ally are not going to surrender it to a state whose political and social system they detest. The superpower that has most reason to fear the march of Finlandization is the Soviet Un ion --as events in Poland so clearly reveal.