The expanding controversy in Washington over potential deployment in Europe of U.S. missles and artillery shells with neutron warheads now shows clear signs of engulfing this capital as well.
After many weeks of virtual silence here on the issue, a sharp attack last week on the Carter administration plans by the general secretary of the ruling Social Democratic Party has opened the floodgates on political, military and press debate.
Whether "neutron bombs" should be deployed on West German soil has suddenly become a dominant question in an otherwise sleepy Bonn summer. Government and opposition politicians alike called this week for the issue to be first topic of debate when Parliament reconvenes after the summer recess.
Although the United States has stored thousands of tactical atomic weapons in West Germany for more than 20 years, Bonn's Acquiescenc in allowing a new version of these weapons to be deployed here cannot be taken for granted.
In the 1960s, other revolutionary U.S. weapons - atomic land mines meant to triger landslides in the event of an attack blocking invasion routes - were supposed to be installed along West Germany's borders with Eastern Europe.
Political opposition here to these secret devices, authorities sources have reported, thwarted peacetime installation of the mines or even the preparation of specially designed holes for them.
Thus, the stakes for the Carter administration in the current West German debate are high. It shows signs of dividing along political and ideological lines and could become one more political problem for Chancelor Helmut Schmidt, who is already operating on a very thin majority in Parliament.
The debate also shows signs of becoming very detailed, adding to the issued being raised by both supporters and critics in the United States.
A former West German general. Wolf Count Baudissin, now head of the Hamburg Institute for Peace Research and Defense Policy, asks whether the U.S. lead in neutron weapon technology right play on a Soviet inferiority complex and cause delays in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, East West troop-cut talks and effort toward a comprehenseive nuclear test ban.
The former general sees a possible repeat of what happened when the U.S. lead in another major military breakthrough - multiple-warhead missiles (MIRV's) - became so obvious several years ago.
"The main danger is that the neutron warhead makes the Soviet Union aware of its qualitative inferiority in a field in which it seeks equality. Thus, one will find it very difficult to establish strategic stability" through SALT or mutual and balanced force reductions, Baudissin said "The Soviet Union might refuse to come to the bargaining table, as it did as long as it inferiority in MIRV's persisted."
The Soviets, he added, might also argue that "As long as they have no neutron bomb, they cannot forego nuclear tests."
Carter's plans to push ahead with production of the cruise missile - another revolutionary weapon in which the United States has a large lead over the Soviets - might also increase any Soviet feeling of inferiority and intransigence.
Although the neutron bomb is an old idea, its possible deployment would be revolutionary. Unlike the thousands of U.S. atomic bombs for airplanes and warheads for missiles stored here now, the neutron weapon kills mostly by radiation rather than by heat, blast or lingering radioactive fallout.
Thus, it could be used against invading armor and infantry to kill soldiers - even those inside the tanks - without destroying the surrounding cities and towns of West Germany and the people in them.
Numerous studies over the years have shown that Western allies, in trying to "save" West Germany from an overwhelming Warsaw Pact attack with conventional forces, might kill between 2 million and 20 million Europeans - mostly West Germans - and obliterate the countryside by using present nuclear tactical weapons.
"When the defense of Europe is seen to entrail its nuclear destruction the European incentive to permit the use of nuclear weapons on its soil diminishes rapidly. "That was written in 1962 by an up-and-coming West German politician named Helmut Schmidt, now chancellor.
The prospect that the neutron warheads can defend West Germany without destroying it is the aspect being cited among its political defenders here. The neutron weapon is seen as being more credible and thus more effective deterrant to Soviet attack. In other words, the Soviets are much more likely in this view to believe the West would use these "clean" weapons than the massive and "dirty" tactical atomic arms now in the Allied arsenal.
The defense spokesman of the combined conservative opposition parties here. Manfred Woerner, defended the neutron weapon this week on these grounds, saying that it would benefit NATO's strategy and meet "German interests."
The executive committee of the Young Socialist left wing of the ruling Socialist Democratic Party warned however, that any cynical reference to the neutron weapons as "clean or humane" is designed to create a psychological climate in which these decision to use these weapons, and thus step over the threshold into nuclear war, would be easier.
That is the principal argument of that critics along with their concern that neutron warheads, to be effective would probably have to used at a very early stage of attack - thus putting a heavy burden on a U.S. president and NATO leaders to make a decision - and also might provoke a response by the Soviets with "regular" dirty atomic weapons.
Yesterday, a defense specialist in Schmidt's party. Alfons Paweelczyk criticized the NATO commander, Gen. Alexander Haig for publicly supporting the new weapons and giving the impression that NATO had already decided on its deployment.
Pawelczyk said the neutron device would increase the prospect to a nuclear war without altering the East West balance of power and lead to a general deterioration in the "atmosphere" for talks on troop and strategic nuclear weapon reductions.
It is now clear that the opening salvo fired last week by Egon Bahr the general secretary of Schmidt's party, was unexpected and shook up government circles.
Bahr, a left of center political strategist who is one of the most innovative thinkers in West German politics, called the Carter plans "a symbol of perverted thinking" and asked if mankind had gone crazy and was intent on protecting material things rather than people.
Schmidt had just returned from a visit to Washington and told reporters he had not discussed the neutron weapon with the President a statement that some West German papers found strange.
This week, Schmidt, insisted that more information was needed, that no firm U.S. or NATO plan had emerged and that it was too early for Bonn to take a stand.
The chancellor acknowledged that such weapons could pose "considerable psychological and strategic problems" for NATO but basically he reserved judgment.
Schmidt did try to dispel the notion that the neutron bomb is somehow a more terrible weapon than existing atomic arms in Allied arsenals and to place the debate on a more analystical basis.
"The chancellor is trying to reassure the public, alarmed by the first descriptions of the neutron projectile," and independent Cologne newspaper wrote.
The highly respected Frankfurter Allegemeine asked if Bahr was right in attributing the importance of the neutron weapon to the fact that it is aimed at preserving installations.
"All weapons are aimed at human beings and the neutron weapon does not raise any new problems in this respect," the paper said.
"It's problem lies elsewhere. It raises the question whether its high precision and restricted power will make it easier to order into use. Will this increase or decrease the possibility of war?"