West German parties revel in missile debate on TV
In a microcosm of the fight that will wrench West Germany for the rest of this year, the conservatives, Social Democrats (SPD), and fledgling Greens all reveled June 15 in their first parliamentary clash over missiles since the March election. And the SDP used the occasion to back further away from support for new NATO Euromissiles.
Gone are the pre-Green days of soporific debate in the Bundestag (parliament). Gone may be the foreign-policy consensus that has been such a striking feature of West German politics for the past 20 years. From backbench catcalls, a parliamentary confrontation developed that contrasted sharply with the habit of all West German parties and movements of preaching only to the converted.
Such free-for-alls probably won't affect the missile deployments due to begin in December, or the mass protests against the missiles in the fall. The center-right government has a clear majority and is committed to stationing them if there is no prior American-Soviet arms-control agreement.
The increasing appeals to the public gallery will, however, affect the nature and extent of political polarization in NATO's linchpin country of West Germany. And they will thus affect the character of East-West relations under the Kremlin succession - and of the sometime battered West-West solidarity.
For the black-and-white supporters and opponents of the missiles - the conservatives and the Greens - there was little new in the Bundestag debate except the chance to bait each other before television cameras. Defense Minister Manfred Worner repeated the government view that the strongest incentive to Soviet compromise on arms control is a NATO resolve to proceed with the December deployments.
He argued that Moscow must finally recognize legitimate European security needs. And he twitted the Greens with being more concerned about Soviet security than about West Germans' security.
For their part, the fledgling Greens - in parliament for the first time on a platform that opposes both new NATO deployments here and West German membership in NATO - again attacked the planned NATO missiles as a potential US first-strike weapon against the Soviet Union.
Green security spokesman Gert Bastian said the Soviet SS-20, less accurate than the US-supplied Pershing II, presents no comparable new threat, while the vulnerable Pershings would turn heavily populated West Germany into a prime Soviet target.
While the conservatives and the Greens clearly relish the chance to challenge each other, the Social Democrats have their hands full just keeping their own party together.
The gap between moderates (like ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) and left wingers (led by Saarland SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine) is not as wide as the split that proved so disastrous for Britain's Labour Party. But party pressures have already pushed the SPD to a much more ambiguous position on NATO's 1979 missile decision. And this alienates the SPD's traditional supporters among middle-class workers, while winning no points among young Green supporters.
In this dilemma, the SPD is postponing any final missile decision until its November convention. It is giving numerous signals, however, that the November decision will be a flat rejection of the new missiles.
The first signal - an emphasis on sea-based rather than land-based Euromissiles - NATO governments say, would send a dangerous message to Moscow that European NATO members were not sufficiently committed to the common defense to allow new missile basing on their own territory.
The second signal was SPD disarmament spokesman Egon Bahr's statement that the party is no longer bound to support the deployment half of NATO's talk-and-deploy ''two-track'' policy. Present NATO governments consider Moscow at least as recalcitrant as Washington. They wish the SPD would put the same pressure for serious negotiation on the Soviet adversary as on the American ally. In the Bundestag, Bahr did warn the Soviet Union against giving another twist to the arms spiral by replying to new NATO deployments with new short-range Soviet missiles in Eastern Europe. But his main target was Washington.
To American and other NATO diplomats here the most disappointing indicator of the SPD shift is the role of ex-Chancellor Schmidt in the security debate. He was the first Western leader to decry the Soviet buildup of SS-20s from 1977 on, and he forced his party to support NATO's talk-and-deploy decision by threatening to resign if it didn't. He said nothing at all in public about security issues, however, from the time he was toppled in a coalition switch last October until the end of May.
What Schmidt finally said a few weeks ago - both in an SPD caucus and in a major newspaper article in Die Zeit - was to endorse the informal ''walk in the woods'' probe of the American and Soviet arms control negotiators last year. That tentative package projected ceilings of 75 three-warhead Soviet SS-20s targeted on Western Europe (with 225 warheads) and 90 SS-20s targeted on Asia, vs. 75 four-missile NATO cruise units (with 300 European warheads.) The package was first rejected by the Soviets, according to US sources familiar with the negotiations, and then rejected by the Americans.
Some brake on the leftward shift of the SPD is coming from the party's longtime trade-union supporters. In recent days union leaders were instrumental in blocking the SPD from endorsing a general referendum on the missiles, a constitutional ''right of resistance'' to the missiles, or Lafontaines's call for a general strike against deployments. These issues will come up for further consideration in the SPD board meeting in late June, however.