AMERICAN FRIENDS have asked me if the growing scepticism about the deployment of new missiles also signifies an increasing gap between Germany and America. I believe the answer is no.

In a recent poll, 90 percent of our population supported the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and our alliance with the United States. But at the same time 65 percent opposed the new missiles. Thus, these positions are not mutually exclusive. It would be wrong, and a political mistake, if people in the United States took the European antimissiles attitude for anti-Americanism, or if the two were confused.

I sincerely ask Americans to appreciate the difference between the threat to them and to us. The United States faces the potential risk of destruction by intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads, but our small Europe faces the additional risks of a so-called conventional war, of a "tactical" nuclear war and of destruction by medium-range missiles.

I presume a nuclear war could not be controlled or limited. But who could rule out that an attempt to control it would be made if nuclear war broke out? This would be understandable. However, we in Europe would not live to see the results, for the decision would only come after we had been blasted away. I only hope we will never find out if the concept of a limited nuclear war is correct or not.

That is why we in Europe believe that these deadly potentials -- the long-range missiles that threaten Americans and the medium-range missiles that threaten us -- have to be seen as one single danger. Both must be limited and reduced to an approximate balance. This means linking the START negotiations on intercontinental missiles with the negotiations on the medium range force. This proposition was, of course, included in the freeze resolution adopted by a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I fail to see how negotiations could become easier or less complicated once the stationing of new missiles has begun. All our experience suggests the opposite will be true. It is easier to avoid the deployment of missiles than to get them removed once they are installed. This is also the right and important key to efforts to stop the nuclear arms race.

Most of us in the Federal Republic acknowledge the support that the United States has made to our security. We remember our joint experience in Berlin -- how the freedom of the threatened city was defended and how the lesson had to be learned from that experience that merely invoking legal rights would not improve the lot of our people in divided Germany.

My Social Democratic Party, it should be noted, has supported the alliance with the West and has helped to shape its policy. Under Social Democratic chancellors and defense ministers from 1969 to 1982, the Bundeswehr increased its contribution to Western security.

The Western democracies will remain partners in security, and we will remain partners in the Atlantic alliance. For the foreseeable future I cannot discern any change in this respect, although as a European I must wish for greater European responsibility for decisions affecting our own fate. This readiness for European coresponsibility should not, however, be confused with a desire for European "neutralism," the specter of which has recently again been haunting the world like a kind of German ghost.

Nevertheless, we have seen growing concern in our country not only about the arms race in general and Soviet stubbornness in particular but also about some aspects of U.S. policy. The talk about the possibility of fighting and winning a limited nuclear war in Europe did not start in Germany, and related publicised plans were not developed here. It is no exaggeration to say that the German peace movement grew strong since officials in Washington began expressing views the way they still do today.

A war in Europe would not only mean the end of the Federal Republic of Germany but would also finish off the other German state, the German Democratic Republic. And the same would be the fate of our neighbors to the east and west. Although our eastern neighbors belong to the other alliance, and although they have a governmental and social system that we reject, we can only survive together with them. That is why we cannot afford the luxury of unilateralism.

This is the background of our burning interest in the Geneva arms negotiations.

We must reckon with the stationing of new Soviet missiles in the German Democratic Republic and other East European countries as a reaction to the implementation of the 1979 NATO decisions that called for the deployment of U.S. missiles in the absence of a negotiated agreement with the Soviets.

These Soviet missiles will certainly not be capable of reaching North America. But for us they will constitute an additional potential threat. Perhaps new Western measures of retaliation will then be considered. But the prospect of ever more turns of the spiral in this madness called arms race becomes less and less tolerable.

It does not increase security. On the contrary, it creates more and more dangerous uncertainty. Nobody should be surprised that when the political process proves incapable of solving the problem, increasing numbers of people resort to protest, and search for very different, fundamentally distinct solutions.

In respect to the negotiations in Geneva, one cannot overlook the fact that France and Britain also have strategic nuclear weapons with medium ranges. While the British weapons are integrated into NATO, the French ones are under French national control. Both would be in a position to strike the other side -- at least the central European regions. I believe it is understandable for the Soviet Union to want to negotiateeabout these weapons as well as those of the United States. For in case of a conflict, it certainly isn't likely that those weapons of the French and the British would be used against the West.

To me it still seems reasonable -- now more than ever -- for the United States and the Soviet Union to agree on balancing an arsenal of medium- range missiles: at best at zero on either side, but in any case at a level sufficiently low as to rule out any new chain reaction.

The Soviet Union has indicated its readiness to take this step, and one must take its government at its word. Flexibility is certainly required on both sides. There will be no agreement unless the negotiators sincerely want it. I still hope the participants will work intensively for an agreement in September and October. If this cannot be accomplished at the level of experts, it might be worthwhile to involve the responsible members of government before deployment begins. Apparently, the heads of governments themselves are not yet ready to try their hand. Let us pray that they do not hesitate until it is too late.

I also want my American friends to realize that NATO's "twin-track" decision of 1979 (calling for negotiations to go along with preparations for deployment) was adopted under political circumstances different from today's. At the time, we German social democrats intended to facilitate the ratification of SALT II. Thereafter, the problem of European strategic missiles was to be discussed under SALT III.

NATO's decision, taken at Brussels, also was to support detente and arms control. However, since 1980 an impressive number of decisions on weapons programs have been taken, not least in the United States. Thus, many things have changed in these years. Besides, there never was anything sacred about the NATO twin- track decision. It was to be a means to achieve an end, namely the removal of SS20s down to a level compatible with Western security.

I believe we Germans and Americans agree on this: we shouldn't allow ourselves to be ruled by bureaucratic pressures, nor should we put prestige ahead of results. If the real objectives of arms control and disarmament can now be reached by means other than those envisaged two to four years ago, we should make the effort. The community of Western nations would suffer major damage if governments stuck to a formal time schedule and thereby lost the broad support of their people for their seurity policy.

For this reason, as well, a serious and honest effort is required in the months ahead. As President Eisenhower said in his farewell address in 1961, "the (conference) table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms but with intellect and decent purpose."

Willy Brandt, former chancellor of West Germany, is chairman of the Social Democratic Party. He was also chairman of the "Brandt Commission" on international development issues.