The difficulty in the Atlantic Alliance is perhaps best exemplified in the current public debate in Europe. It is an amazing phenomenon, less than two years after Afghanistan, less than four years after Cuban troops under a Soviet general appeared in Ethiopia, six years after the same thing happened in Angola and while 30-plus Soviet divisions are constantly bringing pressure on Poland, that at this moment there should be mass demonstrations all over Europe--affirming what? The desirability of peace and implying that it is the United States that is the obstacle.

And too many governments, while not actively condoning these demonstrations, seek to pull their teeth by adopting at least part of their programs and premises.

One does not have to agree with every last move of the administration to be convinced that something is deeply wrong in the Atlantic Alliance.

For two decades, there has been a reluctance to deal with the realities of security. The inevitable corollary is disagreement about the nature of East-West relations, expressing itself particularly about the purpose and scope of arms control negotiations. There is wide disagreement about what the obligation of alliance cooperation is outside the treaty area and occasionally within it.

These disputes have rent every administration since the 1960s. We are thus talking about a fundamental problem. Another decade of evading the central issues will turn the Atlantic Alliance into a hollow shell.

We have heard all the arguments that counsel why one should not press for a resolution of the substantive issues:

that Europe has to concentrate on building its own identity;

that European governments have domestic difficulties and we should wait for a better occasion to face the problems;

that Europe cannot afford the extra burden of adding to its own defense budgets;

that d,etente in Europe has to be preserved no matter what happens anywhere else;

that Angola was an aberration, Ethiopia was unique, Yemen and Afghanistan temporary setbacks.

But dissociation, dissent and public protest have increased, not diminished, in the face of avoiding the alliance's problems. The alliance, even though it agrees periodically on common statements, does not have a common philosophy or a common platform from which to resist Soviet blandishments or the pressures from its own constituents. To pretend otherwise only guarantees the acceleration of the current deterioration.

With respect to security, there are two harsh facts that Americans as well as our allies must face. First, the strategic superiority that we enjoyed after World War II has ended.

When it ended, why it ended, whether it was avoidable--that can be debated indefinitely by historians and politicians. The fact is that NATO's strategy has depended on this superiority for three decades to offset the Soviet conventional superiority. With the loss of it, the credibility of NATO's threat of general war must inevitably diminish, and the continuing invocation of such a threat can only be demoralizing on both sides of the Atlantic.

The second fact is that the ability of the United States to protect its interests simply by extending the deterrence of our strategic forces to other parts of the world is also ending. On any foreseeable projection of strategic power, the gap between our commitments and our ability to fulfill them will inevitably grow. And it will be accelerated by the commitment to strategic arms reduction talks-- which I favor, but which will make it obvious, as the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks already did, that there exists a balance of strategic power. And the lower the numbers, the more this will be true.

The domestic debate in every Atlantic country is an inhibiting factor. It is a strange phenomenon that on both sides of the Atlantic the groups that consider themselves humane and progressive and pacific are also the groups that advocate the most bloodthirsty strategies. It is taken as an example of warmongering tendencies to assert that it is the duty of governments to try to avoid a nuclear holocaust and to resist aggression, if it should take place, by means other than the most cataclysmic measures. On our side, it leads to opposition to any weapon that might extend, if only for a brief period, our counterforce capabilities, as if forcing our government into targeting civilians were the only means by which we can pursue peaceful policies.

The corollary in Europe is that any attempt to define a use of nuclear weapons other than blind mass destruction of civilians is greeted with howls of outrage.

It is a weird debate when the president states that "no NATO weapon, nuclear or conventional, will ever be used in Europe except in response to attack" and is ignored or derided. When he affirms the accepted NATO doctrine that we should seek to pause before plunging into a nuclear holocaust by not escalating automatically after the first exchange, he is accused of being a warmonger, even though this view has been expressed by every president since Eisenhower.

But then Brezhnev gives an interview, accepted as a conclusive statement, to the effect that if one nuclear weapon is used, then "unavoidably" the conflict will assume a "global character." Which doctrine is the more threatening?

Nobody needs instruction in the desirability of peace. The problem of any president is how to combine peace with justice and how to use strength for conciliation. If peace becomes the only objective of our country or of the Atlantic Alliance, the world will be taken over by those who are prepared to threaten war.

If we admit that there is something, whatever it is, that we will defend, we have an obligation to elaborate a theory of defense that a responsible leader can execute and that serious people can support--not a nihilistic orgy of mass destruction imposed on us by a sterile domestic debate. The present debate runs the great danger that the Atlantic nations will disarm themselves in both strategy and diplomacy.

Arthur Burns, in a very profound speech about American-German relations, stated our challenge as a battle for the soul of Europe in which either the West reaffirms its common purposes or America will turn back on itself and Europe will become dependent on Soviet good will.

I would like strongly to endorse these observations.

If the American strategic arsenal is designed to avoid any counterforce capability; if the Europeans resist the concept of limited nuclear war for regional defense; and if both sides of the Atlantic refuse to build up the conventional defense that could be a substitute, how then are we going to avoid blackmail or demoralization?

In circumstances where there is no clear-cut theory for the common defense, how long will our Congress permit us to maintain 350,000 troops in Europe? For what purpose? Are they a tripwire or are they a fighting force? Are they there to defend our allies, or are they there to trigger our strategic retaliatory force?

Sooner or later somebody is going to ask why we must have our largest force in an area that does not believe in local defense, and why we cannot have local forces in regions that do believe in local defense, or at least where local defense is essential, such as the Persian Gulf and other threatened areas.

With respect to intermediate-range weapons, it seems to have been forgotten in Europe that it was European leaders who, starting in 1977, called the attention of American statesmen to the gap that existed as a result of the Soviet deployment of the SS20. No sooner had the United States responded to this proposal by offering the deployment of theater nuclear forces into Europe, when the argument emerged that this was done for the unilateral benefit of the United States.

The irony is that if there should be any demonstrationof the As, they should be in the United States, not in Europe. If we want intermediate-range weapons for an American conflict with the Soviet Union, we can deploy them at sea. We don't have to deploy them in Europe for American purposes. The reason for deploying them in Europe is to guarantee that a Soviet attack on Europe will engage the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, not to confine a war to Europe.

The most disastrous course is one in which Europeans accept weapons in which they no longer believe, and we are pushed into negotiations whose primary purpose is to please allies.

It cannot be healthy that allies attempt to renegotiate their membership in an organization for the common security. Why should we pay a price for their defense beyond what already exists? It cannot go on that weapons technology develops, arms control negotiations imply parity, and yet the rhetoric speaks of a defense doctrine hard to distinguish from that of the massive retaliation of the early years of the alliance. The two sides of the Atlantic need to tell the truth to each other and to develop an agreed strategic doctrine.

Our own obligation in negotiations is to be precise and to explain the direction of what we have in mind and its implications. The European obligation is to identify foreign policy as something other than pushing us from concession to concession, giving the impression that there is an inherently greater conciliatoriness in Europe than on our side and that foreign policy is primarily a psychiatric exercise.

The alliance does not require unanimity. But it cannot go on that in vital areas like the Middle East incompatible European and American positions contest with each other. Or that Europeans claim to "interpret" America and the Soviet Union to each other as if there were no moral or political difference between the two. Or that America oscillates between extremes of intransigence and conciliation.

The challenge is to define the alternatives and not to struggle for some mealy-mouthed consensus that permits everyone to continue doing what got us to this crisis to begin with. There is a nuclear problem. We must seek to avoid nuclear war. The only way to do this without jeopardizing freedom is to build up immediately the conventional forces on both sides of the Atlantic--anything else is an evasion. There is a need to negotiate, but it is crucial to define a program, not an intention. We cannot avoid certain facts: the United States and the Soviet Union are ideological and geopolitical adversaries. No negotiations can change that fact. But the nuclear age compels us to strive for some rules of coexistence, and no rhetorical crusade can change that fact either. The obligation of our statesmanship is to navigate between these positions. We should not pretend that a negotiation is the end of a process, or that we can substitute negotiation for strength.

I do not think I need to repeat that I would prefer a positive, decisive, constructive answer to all of these questions. But we also have to be honest with ourselves. If that is not possible, then we have to look for other measures and other arrangements. The time will then have come to review our deployments and our strategy.

There is no reason why the course of cooperation should not succeed. We mesmerize ourselves with Soviet military capabilities, but they are in the hands of a country with a stagnant political structure, of an economy stretched to the utmost, of a system that cannot avoid structural change. We have the power to shape our own future. And we know what we have to do. So let us see whether we can do it.