The Carter administration's decision to confront the Soviet Union directly on human rights and to conduct "an open foreign policy" has provoked official dismay, much bewilderment and a touch of admiration in Western European societies accustomed to secretive and often cynical governments.
Serious new strains with West Germany have emerged two-thirds of the way into President Carter's first 100 days. Other Atlantic alliance governments complain privately that the man who promised during his campaign to treat America's "traditional allies" with new respect is leaving them far more in the dark than Henry Kissinger did.
But in the United States, Carter's told foreign policy departures appear to be winning stronger support to public opinion than in the bureaucracies that have to deal with the consequences of American decisions.
Many of the problems are the inevitable results of a change of administration in Washington, to which Western Europe must still look, somewhat nervously, for its ultimate military survival.
"A new administration can never tell the Europeans enough that we love them, or reassure them as much as they want that our nuclear protection is their nuclear protection" said one American diplomat. "There is so much electricity in the air right now that lighting is bound to strike some place."
But Carter's decision to have the White House move quickly and strongly on arms control, human rights, the Middle East and nuclear nonproliferation is having a growing impact on American'European relations, a survey in Western Europe by The Washington Post indicates. Key points of change include:
A much softer American line toward West European Communist and Socialist Parties is emerging. The White House has reportedly decided that its strong defense of political freedoms in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has to be matched by a moving away from the rigid opposition to Communist political roles in Western Europe taken by the Nixon and Ford administrations.
West Germany is showing itself to be far more resistant to American entreaties and pressure. Public quarrels over the exports of nuclear technology and economic policy have not moved the Germans, "who are more confident and less willing to give in on bread-and-butter issues in return for the U.S. holding the nuclear shield around Europe, "one American diplomat said.
Personal relations at the top are taking on an inordinate importance as deals with weakened parliamentary Prime Minister Callaghan hit it off not been perturbed at all by the human-rights fuss.
European diplomats have noted that Carter's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was a prickly one and that Israel's position in Washington does not appear to have improved as a result.
Some diplomats feel that the failure of Carter and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to arrange a quick get-together has contributed to the strains between Washington and Bonn. The first time they will meet will be in London in May at the summit of major industrialized nations, where Carter may feel compelled to brace Schmidt on the economic policy and nuclear export disputes.
The most serious strains and concerns continue to be bilateral ones rather than the general issue of human rights and morality in foreign policy. American actions on the Concorde supersonic airliner cast a far larger shadow here in France than do presidential letters to Soviet dissidents and debates over "linkage."
The issues that West European policymakers appear to be focusing on seem significantly different from those that have dominated American attention, such as U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young's quick statements and the arms control strategy dispute that was fought out over the nomination of Paul Warnke to be Carter's chief negotiator in that field.
The gap between Young's pronouncements and the State Department's policy statements has stirred some confusion here. "We wouldn't mind Andy Young being a point man if we just knew how far behind him 2d Lt. Carter was," said one diplomat familiar with the military patrol idiom Young has used to describe his role.
"We now get a lot of questions about what policy is," an American diplomat in another capital acknowledged. "What they all boil down to is: 'Does Carter know what he is doing?' Our answer is an immediate yes, of course. But I don't really know. It's no point the Europeans complaining about not being consulted because it is clear that Carter is not even consulting the State Department on many things."
Senior policymakers in Europe seem to be more concerned that the Carter administration is not focusing on the trade-off aspects that they think are vital to successful alliance building and maintenance.They wonder if he is ready to embark on the horse-trading they think some of his objectives will required.
"It is all fine to hit the Germans over the head for a while," said one alliance official, "but at some point down the road Carter is going to hit a crisis and suddenly start asking, 'Where are the Germans? Get them on this.' Will they come running to help then?"
Carter's push for a cutback in European conventional arms sales to the Third World is given little chance of being accepted unless the American market is opened to European arms manufacturers in an economic quid pro quo. This seems an unlikely prospect but it is the kind of trade-off that European policymakers feel the administration has not thought through.
In one sense, Carter's actions only underscore once again how vulnerable the Europeans are to either renewed tensions or comprehensive agreement by the two superpowers.
A new strategic arms limitation agreement could rule out development of the Cruise missile by Britian without the British having a word to say about it.
West Germany fears that its program of reuniting divided families and visits across the Iron Curtain is imperiled by the human-rights controbersy. France, with a self-perceived interest in keeping Soviet support for the increasingly strong French Communist Party at a low level, is resolutely refusing to give the Soviet dissidents any encouragement.
The European governments also have to cope with the domestic political impact of the human-rights dispute. Schmidt's more conservative opposition is already asking why he does not follow Carter's lead more forthrightly.
The Dutch and Danish governments, which have foreign policies far more responsible to public opinion than do other Common Market countries, have come out in full support of Carter's declarations on human rights.
Independent and moderately leftist French newspapers that have blasted American foreign policy for a decade have begun to welcome editorally "a new America, perhaps naive but moral."