No one has been closer to the politically explosive Euromissile issue from the beginning than Helmut Schmidt, who as West Germany's chancellor brough NATO to its famous decision of 1979 either to negotiate away the new Soviet missiles threatening Europe or to start deploying new American missiles at the end of 1983. We asked the former chancellor to cable his replies to our questions about his current views.

Q: You were the first Western leader to call attention to the danger posed by the new Soviet intermediate- range weapons, Backfire bombers and SS20 missiles, the danger that Europe might be intimidated and that the American deterrent might be "decoupled" from Europe. Have events since 1977 borne out that analysis?

A: At that time, I pointed out that the Soviet Union had begun to build up an independent "Eurostrategic" threat and above all a political means of pressure, which unfortunately through the arms-control negotiations of President Carter was not included in SALT II, as, corresponding to Germany's interests, had been Washington's intention during the Ford and Kissinger era. Inclusion of these systems--the SS20 and the Backfire-- in the SALT II agreement would have been necessary from an overall strategic viewpoint because it could be anticipated that the Soviet Union would see no reason to limit its intermediate-range armament as long as the United States confined itself to the intercontinental strategic weapons in the SALT II talks.

This assessment of the situation, which I have maintained since the end of 1974, has been confirmed by subsequent developments. It has become apparent that fears were justified that beneath the intercontinental nuclear-strategic balance between the superpowers, the Soviet intermediate-range nuclear potential could produce a crucial weakening of the European regional deterrence effect, meaning the danger of political pressure on the non-nuclear states with the help of Soviet Eurostrategic superiority.

I would not like to use the word "decouple" that you used. But I add that the danger that has been described above can be increased by the hoped-for strong reduction in the SALT talks if a way is not found to reduce the Soviet intermediate-range potential to such an extent that it can no longer be an independent threat used to exert political pressure on West Europe.

Q: You raised the issue of these "gray- area" weapons, weapons dangerous to Europe but not covered by SALT, intending to strengthen the alliance. Has the effort to meet that threat resulted in initiatives that could conceivably weaken the alliance? Was that risk foreseeable?

A: Whether an alliance is strong or weak depends mainly on the strength of the mutual interests that bind its members, to what extent they have mutual goals, and to what degree members can count on each other's continuity to achieve these goals. Naturally, among independent states there will always be differences of opinion as well. But until now, trustful consultations have always, again and again, strengthened the vitality of our alliance of free states.

Where Soviet Eurostrategic armament is concerned, however, there have been, since the end of the Ford-Kissinger era, several U-turns in American policy all the way to public perception of fighting a limited nuclear war. The discontinuity of American policy, particularly of American perceptions of affairs and of disarmament, has caused considerable irritation in Europe.

But with the twin-track decision in 1979, we took together an important step toward increasing the security of Europe, and at the same time we started out on a new course in arms-control diplomacy. For the first time, negotiations are taking place about weapons systems that have not yet even been deployed. Above all we have brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. A weak alliance would not have been able to achieve this.

Q: About that 1979 twin-track decision--NATO's decision to deploy and negotiate--should it have been directed to sea-based missiles rather than land-based? Should it have been limited to cruise missiles rather than to the much faster Pershing IIs.?

A:: You know that at that time I defended the view, which still remains correct today, that sea-based systems would suit our geographic and strategic conditions better. At that time the decision was very carefully prepared.

Several considerations played a role. One was the wish for a perceptibly broader participation of the alliance partners in eventual missile deployment. After the basic decision for land-based systems had been made, the intention to mix cruise missiles and Pershing IIs was right.

By the way, my views about the advantages of sea- based systems have been confirmed not only by the development program of the United States nuclear- strategic naval forces, but also by the American negotiating offer at START. As everyone knows, the American arms control stance is aimed at achieving a reduction of the Soviet intercontinental rockets, while leaving the United States with a second-strike capacity guaranteed by the sea-based systems. The impassioned American debate about a land-based deployment of the MX missile, which to me seems fully understandable, I mention in this connection only in passing.

Q: How would you measure the impact on the NATO decision of Ronald Reagan's election, his rearmament program and his statements on nuclear war and arms control?

A: I do not believe that there is any direct connection.

Q: Was the zero option a reasonable offer by which to start the negotiations on intermediate nuclear forces, and is it a feasible basis on which to end them successfully? Are any terms that are acceptable to the great powers acceptable to Europe?

A: The bilateral zero option (this means no Eurostrategic weapons on either side) is not a component of but rather developed from the logic of the twin-track decision. It is the conceivable and desirable positive extreme, opposed to stationing of all 572 systems, which is the negative extreme. But one usually negotiates with a partner who has other views about what for him is an optimal result. If one only wanted to get the signature of the negotiating partner under one's own offer there would be no need to negotiate. This is also why the important last paragraph of the twin- track decision says very clearly that only in the light of concrete negotiation results will it be determined how many of the maximal 572 systems are to be stationed. In this respect, the negotiation result (last summer) of the Nitze- Kvitsinsky talks was basically on a correct course.

The crucial point is: neither negotiating partner will be able to maintain his starting position if they really want to come to an agreement. What is important is that the United States and the U.S.S.R. reach a compromise that leads to a considerable reduction of the Soviet nuclear intermediate-range potential that safeguards our security interests. Such a result can be achieved. The number of possible solutions is limited. I trust that the United States will do all that it can in order to achieve a good result. We will examine this negotiating result in the alliance before the agreement is signed. We will see then whether European interests have been taken sufficiently into consideration. I suspect that we will have to make compromises here as well.

Q: To Americans, it appears that the Christian Democratic candidate in the German elections is closer to your

earlier position on the NATO decision

than the Social Democratic candidate.

How would you evaluate the intellectual

and strategic merits of the two candi dates' positions?

A: I am not going to elaborate abroad

on my doubts about the claims of the

Kohl government regarding continuity

with respect to the foreign policy of my

government.

What counts basically: it is not enough

to understand the logic of the twin-track

decision, and perhaps also of the factors

that led to it. The security facts and the

policy discussion did not stop on Dec. 12,

1979. Closely tied to the solution of the

intermediate-range problem, in a concep tual sense, are the START negotiations,

the possibility of an agreement about nu clear short-range systems, atomic-armed aircraft, and finally, the question of what place the British and French systems are to occupy in a global balance of power.

Dr. (Hans Jochen) Vogel (Social Democratic candidate for chancellor) has delved into this complex with particular intensity. This qualifies him to form an opinion and to publicly express this opinion. I believe that our American friends should be grateful for the opportunity of hearing his well-grounded views about this problem. They are unambiguous and clearer than what is resounding dissonantly from the current government parties: (Chancellor Helmut) Kohl saying one thing, Mr. (Franz Josef) Strauss (chairman of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria) saying something quite different, and (Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich) Genscher swinging back and forth between them both.

Q: Many Americans fear that a European failure to proceed with deployment, in the event that negotiations do not produce an agreement by the end of the year, would leave the alliance a virtual shell. Is this so and do you feel it is either wise or necessary to have so much riding on this question? At this point is there any alternative?

A: It is undoubtedly true that, in the public debate and for the alliance, the twin-track decision has in the meantime gained a degree of importance that goes beyond the material content of the decision. This is regrettable, but it can no longer be corrected. Naturally, the effects of both a failure as well as a success of the Geneva negotiations would be very far-reaching whereby the presumably considerable effects on domestic politics in the United States would by no means be the most important. I see no possibility of disengaging these complex connections from each other.

I hope that those who now bear responsibility in Moscow and Washington, who have wasted too much time already, will finally discern the whole instead of the parts, so that they can break through their prefabricated ideologies and act according to the realization that although the Geneva INF negotiations are only one of several important fields, success here could become the cornerstone of the framework for safeguarding peace.