THE UNITED STATES is caught up in a familiar paradox in dealing with Europe. It wants to rally its allies to provide a maximum deterrent to any Soviet crackdown on Poland. For this, the point man, the secretary of defense, has just persuaded his European counterparts to say publicly that, if Moscow intervenes, their governments will not enter negotiations on limiting nuclear weapons in Europe. But the United States also understands that it must accommodate the powerful currents in Europe pulling for detente. Europe, for instance, will almost certainly back away from its commitment to deploy new missiles to counter the Soviet SS20s if those negotiations are not soon begun. For this, the point man, the secretary of state, has just notched up the American readiness to begin preliminary talks with the Soviet Union on getting them under way.
Can the Reagan administration manage the tensions between the common demands of alliance defense and Europe's particular demands for detente? The question has not been so troublesome since World War II. There is in Europe, and especially in Germany, the key country, not only a desire for accommodation with Moscow but also a tendency to doubt the balance, constancy and competence of Washington's leadership in both economic and political-military matters.Meanwhile, there is in the United States a renewed readiness, and even eagerness, to carry the burden of alliance leadership but, at the same time, a growing undercurrent of impatience at Europe's reluctance to acknowledge the imperatives of a global power.
The usual prescription for alliance disorders of this sort is "consultation." But that in itself seems pale. The chief problem in the alliance is not insufficient consultation. Nor does it lie simply in differing tactical assessments of what the confrontation-cooperation ration ought to be right now in facing the Soviet Union. Nor, again, does it lie in the relatively greater strength of the political left in most European countries.
The chief difficulty arises from a common reluctance to cope with the imbalance between the United States' essential globalism and Europe's regional perspective. Americans finally must be concerned with a world balance of power and a world strategy. Europe's horizons are closer to home.
If the problem is defined that way, certain claifying lines of policy follow. For instance, it is idle to expect the allies to play too much of an exposed role, especially a military one, in regions outside Europe, such as the Persian Gulf Similarly, it is misguided to expect them to make a balanced and positive contribution to resolving disputes outside Europe, such as the Arab-Israeli dispute.
In Europe, however, it's another story. The European contribution, to diplomacy as its affects Europe as well as to defense, is undeniably large. There can be an excessively assertive or patronizing element in the American outlook, and the Europeans, jittery anyway on account of their exposed position and their dependance, understandably react to it.
Still, the real reason Europeans do not wield greater influence than they do is not so much that Americans are overbearing as that the Europeans do not carry their own weight. Specifically, they allow the United States to continue providing the disproportionate share of the continent's defense that it picked up more than a generation ago when Europe itself was still weak from the war. As they regained their economic power, the Europeans could have assumed a larger defense burden and translated it into a louder diplomatic voice. Instead, they regularly explained how hard it is for them to do more.
It is hard. The question is whether even at this late date the Europeans will decide it's worth it in order to regain a larger measure of control over their own destiny. Until the Europeans do decide, the truly tough question of how the West should deal with lthe East will be complicated on the Western side by the nagging question of how the components of the West should deal with each other.