"Any significant withdrawals" of U.S. troops from Europe "would be seen as punitive" and provoke "an angry, confused and divisive European reaction" from North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a report released yesterday.
The 102-page report comes as a growing number of U.S. lawmakers are recommending such a move if NATO partners do not carry a larger share of safeguarding the alliance.
The same report blamed Reagan administration officials for firing up the anti-nuclear movement in Europe by talking carelessly about doomsday weapons and engaging in confrontational rhetoric with the Soviet Union.
The committee said it had been told that "many Europeans believe the United States is trigger-happy."
The staff of the Senate committee reported that officials of NATO governments warned that any large drawdown of American troops from Europe could be disastrous for the alliance.
The only way a drawdown could be achieved without such a result would be "if it were part of an overall redefinition and reorientation of NATO doctrine and strategy," the report said.
"British officials warned that a U.S. withdrawal would lead to a cut in the British army of the Rhine," said the committee in giving one of the reactions of NATO partners. "Dutch officials were adamant that withdrawals guaranteed accommodation with the U.S.S.R. and would signal the end of U.S. interest in Europe," the report said.
The report contended further that "unilateral withdrawals of any significant size would also undercut or complicate ongoing and proposed arms control negotiations related to Europe."
Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) noted the warnings against troop withdrawals in declaring that the staff study "makes a convincing case that NATO is not now in crisis but that it could easily be pushed into crisis if issues are not managed carefully."
Percy said he would oppose any congressional effort to pull U.S. troops from Europe.
In discussing the anti-nuclear movement in Europe, which has spread to the United States with fervor, the report said that during most of 1981, "the U.S. government was not adequately sensitive to the impact on European opinion of its public discussions about limited nuclear war and its confrontational rhetoric aimed at the Soviet Union.
"Combined with European economic recession," it continued, "cultural changes in Europe and effective Soviet propaganda, U.S. rhetoric has added to European grass-roots anxiety about nuclear war."
The committee said Soviets "did not create nor do they direct" the nuclear disarmament groups in Europe protesting deployment of additional nuclear weapons there.
"Many Americans tend to overemphasize the extent to which nuclear disarmament groups in Europe are instruments of the Soviet Union," the report said.
The larger cause was President Reagan's tough rhetoric, according to the committee.
"The Reagan administration," the committee said, "which was eager to create a sense of credible deterrence at all levels of nuclear escalation, seemed to confirm Europe's worst fears with off-the-cuff statements about nuclear demonstration blasts, NATO's first-use doctrine and Japan 'flourishing' despite two nuclear attacks . . . .
"The president's recent zero-option proposal and statements denying intent to use U.S. forces in El Salvador may help" dampen the protest movement, the committee said, "but the United States is currently still behind in efforts to explain its policies to the European public. As one observer stated, many Europeans believe the United States is trigger-happy."
Besides the fears generated by administration rhetoric, the report of the Republican-controlled panel said the recession is another stimulus, declaring: "High youth unemployment is a breeding ground for the protest movement, especially in Britain."
NATO partners agreed in 1978 to increase defense spending indefinitely by 3 percent a year after allowing for inflation. The committee warned that this goal will not be met this year, partly because of the recession, but said the alliance as a whole came close in 1981 by registering increases averaging about 2.6 percent.