Western Europeans, impressed by the vigor of the U.S. economic recovery and what appears to be a more conciliatory approach toward the Soviet Union, are looking more favorably at the prospect of a second-term Reagan administration.
The allies are hopeful that after devoting his first term to building the country's military strength and self-confidence, a reelected President Reagan would be prepared to take bold initiatives to curtail nuclear weapons and improve relations with Moscow, according to government officials in Paris, London and Bonn.
There is still considerable public skepticism about Reagan's leadership qualities. Europeans never have been comfortable with the notion of an actor presiding over the world's most powerful country, nor have they forgotten the gaffes in which Reagan seemed to portray himself as a happy-go-lucky nuclear warrior.
But in the past year, much of the blame for the hiatus in arms control has been shifted to the Soviet Union. European diplomats are convinced that the decision to walk out of the Geneva arms talks and to freeze East-West dialogue hurt Moscow badly in terms of Western European public opinion and took the pressure off Reagan.
"In the early 1980s, the lack of arms control was in good part Reagan's fault," said a British official. "But now I think a majority of people view it as the Russians' fault."
At the same time, Europeans have been impressed by the soaring dollar, the resurgent U.S. economy and the creation of new jobs at a time when their own economies have continued to stagnate.
In France, Reagan's tenure has coincided with a new fascination with the American "entrepreneurial spirit." The conservative Reagan probably enjoys more support in Socialist-governed France than in any other Western European country.
"The great achievement of Reagan has been to give the United States a sense of confidence in its future," said former prime minister Raymond Barre. "He has reestablished the frontier spirit, something very necessary after the reverses of the war in Vietnam, the Iranian hostages and Watergate."
French government officials say that their country's strategic situation has improved through the buildup of American military strength. They say this has corrected a swing of the pendulum in Moscow's favor, a development that troubled a country that is most comfortable with a superpower balance.
In Britain, where Reagan has never enjoyed much popularity, his image has been bolstered by the image of resurgent U.S. economic strength at a time when the British are confronted with anemic industries and 12.9 percent unemployed.
Even Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, whose left-wing party is at odds with the Reagan administration on virtually every issue, conceded this week that the jobs created in the United States in the past four years are nothing short of astounding.
"Reagan has done the trick," he said. "He has got his economy working efficiently and attracted money, and that is why the British pound has slumped to such a low level."
Throughout Western Europe, it is widely assumed that Reagan's ability to claim political credit for the economic boom and the revival of the country's self-confidence have already consigned Democratic candidate Walter F. Mondale to virtual defeat. As vice president under Jimmy Carter, Mondale bears the stigma of an administration that was perceived in Europe as feckless and inconsistent.
Reagan's wide lead in the polls, coupled with a traditional preference among the allies for two-term presidencies, has perhaps contributed to a desire among Western European governments to put an optimistic gloss on what they view as the president's assured reelection.
"Is the new Reagan the real Reagan?" asked a British diplomat, referring to the more accommodating attitude toward Moscow, "or will he lose his spots and go back to the 'evil empire' speech?"
The West German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl seems persuaded that Reagan already has begun to emphasize the themes of peace, arms control and dialogue with the Soviet Union that Bonn is assuming would mark the administration's second term in office.
Kohl responded to Reagan's speech at the United Nations by declaring that "it was an important and welcome step" toward East-West reconciliation.
"East-West dialogue must be continued, and there is no alternative to a policy of understanding, cooperation and real detente on the basis of parity," Kohl said. "We are convinced that the negotiations on arms control must be continued and should be taken up once more where they have been interrupted."
The West Germans are pressing Washington to rebuild relations with Moscow, because Bonn recognizes that its policy of rapprochement with East Germany is strongly influenced by the climate of affairs between the superpowers.
"We are convinced that Reagan has changed for good," an East-West specialist in Bonn said. "We can tell that it is no election ploy by the way the administration has been emphasizing, with so much energy, plans that could lead to institutionalized dialogue."
Some West German officials said that their hopes have been buoyed by reports that Reagan is now taking a more defiant view of hard-line positions emanating from the Pentagon. They also noted that on arms control, the departure of such hawks as Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle could lead to more flexible proposals that could lure the Soviets back to negotiations.
The Bonn government did not anticipate that Reagan's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko would produce any concrete steps toward a breakthrough. But aa adviser to the chancellor said that he believed the talks were useful "to set the stage for a quick departure" if and when Reagan is reelected. "After November, the Russians may finally decide to move," he added.
Bonn government officials, more sanguine than those in other Western European capitals, say that arms control talks to prevent the militarization of space could begin by next spring.
"The control of space weapons is the one subject most clearly in Soviet interests, so that may become the first new negotiating forum between Moscow and Washington," a Foreign Ministry official predicted. "Afterwards, we may be able to get them back to talks on intermediate- and long-range missiles."
Western European governments, however, remain acutely concerned about a number of issues that could quickly flare into controversies that would test alliance cohesion.
The Western Europeans are most concerned about the risks of direct American intervention in Central America or deeper U.S. involvement in efforts to bring down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The recent meeting of Western European and Central American foreign ministers in Costa Rica reflected the growing interest among the Europeans in finding alternative ways out of the regional conflict by addressing social and economic problems.
"Any direct involvement in Nicaragua could bring back the warlike Reagan figure all over again," a West German politician said.
Western European governments also remain concerned by the prospects for the long-term stability of the world economy during a protracted phase of enormous U.S. budget deficits, high interest rates and heavy debt burdens on Third World countries.