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W. Europe cool to 'no first use' plan

The Union of Concerned Scientists' ''no first use'' of nuclear weapons proposal is meeting with little enthusiasm in Europe - either from governments or from grass-roots peace movements. Spokesmen for both rejected the UCS proposal within hours of its being made public.

European antinuclear activists - rather more than American nuclear freezers - tend to mistrust all but the most minimal defense efforts. In the past they have suspected ''no first nuclear use'' proposals by establishment or ex-establishment figures of being no more than a ruse to increase conventional armaments. Furthermore, the antinuclear activists give top priority to blocking the deployment of new NATO nuclear missiles. The UCS, by contrast, while opposing planned NATO deployments of the Pershing II (as a potential first-strike weapon) does not oppose deployment of the slower cruise missile. It believes as well - in a position that is not popular in the peace movement - that NATO must maintain nuclear weapons to deter any Soviet use of nuclear weapons.

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European governments, for rather different reasons, are also disinclined to support a policy of ''no first use'' of nuclear weapons. The perennial superiority of Warsaw Pact over NATO conventional forces - as well as the relative cheapness of nuclear over conventional weapons - has led NATO to rely for three decades on a nuclear response to any Soviet-bloc attack. Although the Soviet's strategic parity and theater nuclear superiority have now made a NATO resort to nuclear defense unrealistic, European governments do not want to give up their nuclear fig leaf. Nor do they see how they can increase defense expenditures, as the UCS suggests, in the current recession.

The West German Defense Ministry, which rejected the UCS proposal, called such restraint impossible without adequate conventional defense. For West Germany, an important part of the increased conventional defense proposed by the UCS is also anathema. This is the construction of passive field fortifications on the border between West and East Germany, which even the incumbent conservatives have repeatedly rejected.