Never mind that the United States and its European allies are at each other hammer and tongs over the Soviet gas pipeline, steel exports, agriculture pricing and American grain sales to the Russians. These fights are all in the family, we have now been hastily reassured by Ronald Reagan, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, British Foreign Minister Francis Pym, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
Cheysson didn't even mean it when he spoke recently of "progressive divorce." In every good marriage, he said a day later, "one talks about a divorce." Secretary Regan welcomed Cheysson's and Schmidt's "family analogy" and predicted the squabble would be "smoothed out." President Reagan, arguing that "the family is still a family," was quick to call Schmidt as his witness that "we have a fine relationship." Nothing's "crumbling," said Pym, embracing Reagan's embrace of Schmidt.
It makes you feel good all over-- until you examine what Schmidt has actually been saying in this country in recent days, with hardly any national notice. In two speeches (in Houston and San Francisco) while on a 10-day vacation trip, the West German chancellor assessed world problems, the workings of the alliance and the policies of the Reagan administration in terms that go well beyond the "family" theory of the case.
True, there are alliance differences, he told a gathering in Houston, and, yes, they should be looked on as "disputes within a family." But we would be "committing a grave error if we concentrated our attention on these family crises only."
What worries him--and by extension, a lot of Germans and many Europeans --is a "twofold crisis": one is political, having to do with "serious setbacks" in East-West relations and Third World trouble spots; the other is "a serious world economic crisis." And a significant contributing factor in both these crises, he argued, is the power position of the United States in general, and the economic and defense policies of the Reagan administration in particular.
When Schmidt spoke of the gas pipeline fight, his complaint had less to do with the merits than with American indifference to allied sovereignty and a glaring failure to consult: "The maxim for friends especially should be (that) it is better to discuss a question without settling it than to settle a question without discussing it."
And when Schmidt talked of the world economic crisis (record unemployment, sky-high interest rates, widening budget deficits), he talked in terms of American economic policy and its "decisive" impact for America's "closest allies." In San Francisco, he declared, "Every national economic policy of the United States is at the same time a world policy." He went on to say what can only be described as un-familial things about Reaganomics:
"This is not the time for the faithful application of new theories or ideologies. . . . There is no such thing as an economic panacea. . . . It is misleading to construe a super-Keynesian, deficit- spending fiscal policy as supply-side economics."
Schmidt did not exonerate the Europeans. Rather, he bemoaned a general alliance-wide tendency toward "national" solutions, an "every-man-for- himself attitude" that would set the Western world drifting onto "the downhill path of economic disintegration." His biggest worry is that the West will "plunge from recession into depression" through its inability to cope with the oil-price increases, budgetary deficits and high interest rates.
On defense and the East-West confrontation, he was equally critical and concerned--though not in the way the Reagan administration is concerned. He sees nuclear "parity" between East and West; he thinks that neither the United States nor West Germany "can invest as much money in its defense budget as some of our generals and defense ministers think wise."
In any case, he "has no time for a Western military inferiority complex. It merely unsettles our servicemen. What, after all, can one expect of soldiers who are told frequently enough in political speeches that they are hopelessly inferior and supporting a lost cause--quite apart from the fact that this is just not true."
Schmidt was not talking about family spats when he was talking about the threat of rampant Western protectionism, the lack of a hard American push for arms control, the salutary effects of d,etente on "economic relaxation in Hungary, and a profound anti- Marxist cynicism in East Germany"; and of having his house in Hamburg "only 50 miles away from the front Soviet military line."
He was talking bluntly, realistically and publicly (though not, as it happened, to a wide audience) about profound differences in interests and perceptions between the United States and its European allies. If "family" is the analogy of choice among alliance statesmen, then you would have to conclude that the most senior and worldly wise among them was presenting the possibility of a trial separation if not a "progressive divorce."