TO AMERICA'S ALLIES, there may well appear to be whole pages missing from the record of George P. Shultz's confirmation as secretary of state. The missing pages would be filled with probing questions and somber answers about the widest breach in years inside the Western alliance.
But no one has tinkered with the transcript. In two days of testimony by Shultz, the bruising differences that exist between the United States and its allies about how to deal with the Soviet Union were never directly raised, much less debated.
Western European leaders know that few Americans understand as well as Shultz does why they are pursuing detente with the Soviet Union, despite its abandonment by the United States, and why the Atlantic alliance is now being torn by discord over American sanctions on Soviet trade. Politically astute Western Europeans can probably understand, as well, why Shultz, entering an administration committed to toughening its Soviet policy, wanted to minimize the angry split in the alliance over U.S. strategy.
Nevertheless, it may seem incredible to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and other close friends of Shultz in Europe, that this discord -- which helped to bring down his predecessor as secretary of state -- never was seriously explored in the hearings.
In one sense, it is a tribute to Shultz's commanding ability to radiate an aura of calm assurance that in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was able to brush past the European perspective on the current uproar over American sanctions on equipment for the 3,500-mile natural gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe.
"Friction and differences are inevitable among allies" Shultz said in dismissing criticism of Reagan administration policy. Under easily deflectable questioning, he conceded only that the pipeline dispute is "causing us difficulty in Europe . . . everybody knows that." No one asked for explanations about what "everybody knows."
An unspoken reason why Shultz was not pressed by Senate Democrats is that they expect him to lead the administration away from a collision course with Western Europe on all East-West policy. In some part, the rare, unanimous Senate approval of Shultz's nomination reflects that expectation.
Fellow moderates in the Reagan administration are similarly counting on Shultz to help calm the transatlantic storm, while militant insiders are adamant on maintaining a touch U.S. position. Shultz, however, unlike Henry Kissinger or Alexander M. Haig Jr., does not aspire to be either the architect or the vicar of American foreign policy, but rather, the president's man. Shultz always has distinguished between the responsibilities and prerogatives of elected political leaders, and the role of "professionals," as he calls himself.
The praise that Shultz drew from both militants and moderates in foreign policy therefore gives him a cross-balancing source of strength that he is unlikely to risk lightly. But one of these factions is guaranteed to be disappointed.
In the confirmation hearings no member of the Senate brought up an earlier and highly relevant chapter in Soviet-American relations when Shultz (then secretary of the treasury) took a position staunchly in favor of trade with the Soviet Union. Europeans who have studied Shultz's record will undoubtedly take heart from that episode.
It came in the early 1970s, when Shultz and Kissinger (then secretary of state), who remain mutual admirers, learned the costs of trying to alter Soviet policy by using trade as a weapon to impose demands on the Kremlin. Shultz and Kissinger were outmaneuvered then by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) who was determined to force drastic changes in Soviet emigration policy as the price for normal trade relations with the United States. Shultz twice negotiated personally with Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow in search of a way around Jackson's demands, but no exit was found.
Kissinger in his memoirs pays mournful tribute to the skill of Jackson and other challengers of detente in exploiting "our doctrine of linkage" in bargaining with the Soviet Union, by tieing up Kissinger with "Catch 22" demands on the Kremlin which he could not deliver.
"I found myself," Kissinger wrote, "in the position of a matador trying to deflect a bull with complicated capework while, behind his back, someone waves a red flag focusing the animal's attention on the bullfighter."
Shultz, with that shared experience, will undoubtedly want to avoid any similar predicaments. But he has agreed to serve in an administration that is deeply riven on its policy toward the Soviets, and it will require all of Shultz's considerable gifts to find a single policy line that all the important administration players -- and the allies -- can be induced to accept.
In his confirmation hearings Shultz sought to placate all the factions in the Reagan government. He went farther than President Reagan or any other senior official has gone in recent months to explicitly link nuclear arms negotiations to the Soviet Union's global conduct: "Our efforts in the area of arms reduction are inevitably linked to restraint in many dimensions of Soviet behavior," he said.
Shultz sidestepped saying whether he agrees with the l980 Republican platform's condemnation of detente, without leaving himself vulnerable to any new charge of softness on communism from the American political right. By deploring the "bully-like quality" of Kremlin policy, and its use of "military power with brutality," he protected himself on the right flank. By disclaiming a strategy "of confrontation," or belligerency, and advocating, instead, "a strategy of confidence, strength and a sense of realism" about the Soviet system and its objectives, coupled with "a willingless to negotiate," Shultz gave comfort to political moderates.
Shultz thus passed on essential test in diplomacy; alienate no one without purpose. The next test is to convince the nation, its estranged allies and its adversaries, that the Reagan administration can operate with greater coherence in the world with its second secretary of state than it did with its first.