How West will face East at arms talks
Divergent in tone but agreed on tactics. This is the state of transatlantic relations going into the Stockholm conference opening Jan. 17. ''I think the process (of allied consultation that has just been completed) worked very well,'' says an aide to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. ''We will have a common package of proposals'' at Stockholm.
The emphases are, of course, different in the different capitals. Washington seems to think the Soviet Union (and the European peace movements) have suffered a defeat with the successful year-end stationing on schedule of the first of NATO's new Euromissiles. It is the Soviet Union that walked out of the superpower nuclear arms control talks, and it is up to the Soviet Union to return. Moscow deserves no help from the West to get out of the nonnegotiating corner into which it has painted itself.
Besides, with the continuing uncertainty about President Yuri Andropov's health and the Soviet leadership in general, this is not a time when the Kremlin can make far-reaching decisions - and therefore not a time for Western overtures. There is no point in pressing a ''dialogue'' if the Soviets don't yet have anything to say.
Furthermore, Washington believes, public expectations should not be raised falsely. The Stockholm conference is commissioned to talk about ''confidence-building measures.'' Period. There is no way a 35-nation melee can substitute for one-to-one superpower bargaining in substantive arms control.
The West German emphasis is less technical and more political - in the sense of striving to shape future events rather than just react to them. Bonn shares the analysis that the Soviets suffered a defeat when their strenuous political efforts to block deployments failed, when West Germany, Britain, and Italy went ahead with stationing, and when the Belgian government finally committed itself to take planned cruise missiles.
(Bonn detects a recent Soviet deemphasis of the Soviet ''countermeasures'' that seem to be frightening West German targets far less than the East German and Czechoslovak hosts of the new short-range missiles.)
Bonn also figures, like Washington, there is no need for the West to help Moscow ''save face.'' The Soviet Union is a big boy now, the Germans believe, and can get itself back to the negotiating table when it is ready.
The West Germans believe as well, however, that the Soviet walkout from the Geneva arms control talks has put Moscow on the defensive before European public opinion - and they would like to keep it there by highlighting and maintaining the momentum of the West's peace initiatives. They note that the Stockholm conference itself was a Western proposal (originally French, with energetic West German efforts over the past two years to persuade Mr. Reagan to go along with the idea).
They think the conciliatory ''signal from Brussels'' at last month's NATO foreign ministers meeting was important - especially for calming public opinion in a year when NATO Euromissile deployments are going to proceed, and protest against them is far from dead. The West Germans particularly welcome Mr. Reagan's intention to give a conciliatory speech on Monday, the day before the Stockholm opening.
They would like it even more, though, if he would declare his willingness to resume arms control negotiations with the Soviets at any time, in any forum. Otherwise, they fear, the Soviets themselves will at some point take the initiative and perhaps propose a merger of the Euromissile and strategic talks.
Then the allies will hem and haw, they imagine, and probably in the end accept - but in the process Moscow will come out looking like the active peace-seeker.
More broadly, Bonn has something of the old Kissingerian view of engaging the Soviet Union in a network of entangling relationships. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in his Stockholm preview statement, has stressed that the West doesn't want to confine its contacts with the Soviet Union to missiles, but would like to see the conference become the ''environment for confidence building on a broader foundation,'' including economics, culture, cooperation in fighting pollution, and ''building the entire complex of East-West relations.''
To this end the Germans would like to see the NATO study of East-West relations due in May - the first such study in 15 years - develop a comprehensive concept of East-West cooperation as well as confrontation.
In between the Americans and the West Germans are the British, who would like the Stockholm conference to go beyond technical discussions to perform a kind of holding operation in East-West contacts until the superpowers can get their relations sorted out. They, like the West Germans, would like to see the allies develop an overall framework for East-West relations that would encourage Western overtures to Moscow when the Kremlin leaders are ready for them.
But the British take a dim view of hectic Western proposals to lure Moscow back to arms control talks, say diplomatic sources here. They think that if Moscow wants to merge talks on medium-range and strategic weapons, it's up to Moscow to propose such a forum.
The different emphases could conceivably generate frictions some months into the Stockholm conference. At that point Europe might incline toward more allied flexibility, America toward more firmness.