When the U.S. and Soviet leaders meet this week in Washington, Western Europe will be looking on like a bashful cheerleader, too nervous to cheer very loudly but too loyal to let the side down.
This ambiguity has led to some confusion. In public pronouncements, all the West European leaders welcome the summit meeting and endorse its probable main achievement--the signing of a treaty to eliminate American and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear weapons, the kind that could strike at the Soviet Union from Europe and at Europe from the Soviet Union.
But many European government officials in private, and many newspaper and strategic analysts in public, say they are resigned to the treaty and express worry about where it will lead. They are also concerned about sounding too much like Cassandra at a time when many people, including European voters, feel a good deal of joy and comfort about the world’s first treaty doing away with nuclear weapons.
There also appears to be a suspicion that Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the dynamic Soviet leader, will outshine the aging, weakened President Reagan and that “Gorbymania” will sweep Western Europe.
A survey of Western European attitudes by Times correspondents here and in London, Bonn and Rome suggests that Europeans hold a wide range of views about the summit meeting and the impending treaty and that these attitudes reflect political realities.
Most Persuasive Voices
The most persuasive voices for eliminating intermediate-range missiles--those with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles--come from West Germany, with its strong peace and disarmament movement and its fear of being the main battleground in any limited nuclear war.
In a recent speech to the Aspen Institute in West Berlin, President Richard von Weizsaecker of West Germany defended the treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev are expected to sign Tuesday.
“The only people who can really be disappointed,” he said, “are those who, contrary to all government statements, wanted to deploy Western medium-range missiles in Europe permanently, and for their own sake, and not as a means to bring the withdrawal of the Soviet SS-20s.”
Weizsaecker also criticized those in Europe who now warn against the possibility of a further agreement to eliminate missiles with a range of less than 300 miles.
“Certainly,” he said, “we Germans are not willing to concede that the only nuclear arms left on the Continent should be the short-range weapons that can be aimed only at German soil, East or West.”
In France, where there is no peace movement to speak of and where voters are proud of their country’s independent nuclear arsenal, the view is far different. Minister of Defense Andre Giraud was heard to mutter “Another Munich” when his government decided reluctantly to support the impending treaty.
Jean-Marie Benoist, president of the European Center of International and Strategic Studies, expressed a prevalent French view recently when he called the impending treaty “a fool’s bargain” because it would give up the American intermediate-range missiles that had “the efficiency and credibility capable of inhibiting all Soviet attacks, whether nuclear or conventional, on Western Europe.”
In general, European officials and analysts appear to have five main concerns about the summit meeting, several related to each other:
The meeting could set off a pell-mell rush to nuclear disarmament.
It might turn into another Reykjavik.
The United States might start on the road toward abandonment of the defense of Europe.
Americans, after the meeting, might accuse Europe of scuttling the treaty and encouraging Senate rejection of it.
The meeting might enhance the image of Gorbachev so much that he will start to set the agenda on the future of Europe.
Many European leaders do not want a nuclear-free Europe, out of fear that North Atlantic Treaty Organization armies, even with U.S. troops on the scene, could not defend Western Europe from any attack by Soviet and East European armies.
For that reason, they would be suspicious, after the signing of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, of any further steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons in Europe. Fear of nuclear war, according to this view, has prevented nuclear war, and it would be foolhardy to eliminate that fear entirely.
On this issue, the divisions within Europe are clear: Britain and France do not want Reagan and Gorbachev to start negotiations toward elimination of short-range nuclear weapons. But West Germany, the probable battleground in any war fought with nuclear artillery, appears ready to discuss their eventual elimination.
Disaster Was Averted
The specter of the October, 1986, summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, makes some Europeans fret. As many Europeans see that last summit, an ill-prepared Reagan, without consulting his European allies, almost swallowed whole the proposals of Gorbachev. Disaster was averted, in the European view, only because Reagan stubbornly refused to give up his Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” project.
“There is a real risk,” London’s Financial Times said in a recent editorial, “that superpower summitry will fail to take West European interests fully into account, as it has done before.”
John Cross, deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said, “There are certainly memories of Reykjavik here, and there will be some crossed fingers in Europe that there are no ad hoc excursions into areas where there have been no consultations, but I don’t think anyone expects a repeat of that.”
A senior British official said: “As we take our seats to watch the summit, everything seems very much in order.”
One major European worry seems to overshadow all the others--the fear that the United States will take steps that lead it eventually to withdraw from its defense ties with Europe. Some European analysts believe that the United States, lacking the option of a limited nuclear defense, would never fire intercontinental missiles at the Soviet Union just to defend Europe from a conventional military attack.
Poses New Problems
Talking about the impending treaty, Prime Minister Giovanni Goria of Italy told an interviewer recently: “We greeted this chance of an agreement with great joy. But we can’t ignore the new problems this poses in European defense. It would be dangerous, following this accord, to think in terms of some kind of reduced involvement by the United States in Europe’s defense. . . .”
There are many European pessimists. The Economist, the influential British newsmagazine, took issue with them recently for looking on the treaty as “Apocalypse Tomorrow” and for believing that “the age of decoupling has arrived.”
The Economist said that the United States is not likely to decouple from Europe so long as its troops are there and so long as its battlefield nuclear weapons remain in Europe.
Many Europeans believe that they must guard against their own pessimism and skepticism, out of fear that American opponents of the treaty will use European arguments to help scuttle it in the U.S. Senate. Europe, according to this view, must not be regarded in the United States as the spoiler, for that, in the long run, might turn many more Americans away from the defense of Europe.
“I’m worried,” a senior British official said, “that some in the Senate might perceive the Europeans as being set as hell to keep the missiles. To block ratification of what has been the No. 1 item on the agenda for years would be absolutely ludicrous. To use the Europeans as an excuse would be even worse.”
Moreover, there is a fear that failure to ratify the treaty would weaken both American leadership and the alliance.
Appealing for swift ratification, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said recently: “There are voices in the United States, those critical of the deal, who maintain that the Europeans are skeptical, that the Europeans feel themselves ignored. I cannot imagine that any reasonable and responsible person can oppose the removal of such a destructive capacity threatening us.”
On top of all this is an uneasy concern that Gorbachev will propose something dramatic at the conference that, if accepted, will work toward the separation of Europe from the United States. Much of this stems from a growing feeling in Europe that Reagan is a weakened, almost crippled leader now, and that all the dynamism at the summit meeting will come from Gorbachev.
“What worries me,” said former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France, “is the temptation to be inventive at summits.”
Grand Gesture Likely
A senior British official said he believes that Gorbachev will probably make a grand gesture at the summit, perhaps on a regional issue like Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf or perhaps by announcing the recall of a Soviet division from East Germany.
This would have a significant public relations impact in Europe. A recent Gallup poll shows that the British now tend to trust Gorbachev more than Reagan and look on the Soviet leader as a statesman more willing to make genuine concessions to reach a disarmament agreement.
“The British are more inclined to believe Gorbachev than Reagan,” said Bob Wrybrow, director of the British Gallup poll.
“There’s some feeling in Western Europe,” a British official said, “that a successful summit might generate a powerful ‘Gorbymania’ that could make future hard bargaining politically difficult.”
There is no unified European attitude toward the summit meeting and nuclear disarmament, and some analysts believe that Europe must now try to work one out.
“What we really need,” said a leading conservative member of the Bundestag in West Germany, “is for NATO to hold a summit conference after the Washington meeting to work out a joint agreement on what should be our next steps.
“The Social Democrats believe in a nuclear-free zone in central Europe, which has a lot of popular appeal. We believe in nuclear deterrence, but what we need is a new structure for this deterrence. So we must have a NATO conference on how that nuclear deterrence will be used.”
Times staff writers William Tuohy in Bonn, Tyler Marshall in London and William D. Montalbano in Rome contributed to this story.