Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government is considering a separate research program for an independent European antimissile defense because of a growing conviction that the United States is not willing to offer the allies a full partnership in the Strategic Defense Initiative.
A team of experts, headed by Horst Teltschik, Kohl's national security adviser, recently returned from a weeklong visit to Washington with the impression that the United States wanted political support for SDI but was not prepared to share fully with its allies the technological expertise acquired in the program, according to West German officials.
Rather than working closely with allied governments on the scope of the "Star Wars" program, the Reagan administration has indicated it prefers to work directly on a subcontracting basis with European firms. Bonn officials fear this will hasten a "brain drain" of European space scientists as well as diminish the influence of allied governments over SDI's impact on western defense strategy.
The disappointing outcome of the consultations in Washington has fortified the position of those in the Kohl government, such as Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who favor alternative schemes involving European technological cooperation over a subservient role in SDI research.
On Friday, the West German Cabinet decided to support with major funding France's proposal to pool resources in a civilian space research program that would bolster Europe's capacities in such key sectors as lasers, optics, high-speed computers, and microelectronics.
In addition, the Bonn government wants to explore the feasibility of a "European Defense Initiative" that might shield European allies from their most immediate nuclear threat, short- and medium-range Soviet missiles. Genscher and Defense Minister Manfred Woerner are expected to broach the topic at a meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
According to advisers close to Kohl, the West German government is also becoming more receptive to France's suggestion for a European project to send reconnaissance satellites into space so that the allies can begin to develop their own manufacturing sources. Such "spy satellites" are considered vital to any defense in Western Europe against Soviet nuclear missiles.
The idea is also likely to be discussed when Vice President Bush, who arrived here today on the second leg of a 10-day European tour, sees Kohl on Tuesday. Bush is seeking to rally political support for SDI from the European allies, who are troubled by its implications for NATO's deterrence strategy and the nuclear balance of power.
Kohl has been one of the staunchest advocates in Europe of the U.S. research program, but in recent months he has toned down his earlier endorsement, stressing "the risks as well as the opportunities" that SDI poses for the alliance.
Chancellery officials said that leading West German industries, such as the aerospace firm Messerschmidt-Boelkow-Blohm, have expressed ardent support for an advanced research program in European air and antimissile defenses.
Proponents of the idea within the Bonn government contend that such a program would not only enable Europe to keep pace with U.S. technology, it could also help refute arguments often heard in the U.S. Congress that Europe does too little for its own defense; and it could, in addition, provide the basis for a fair exchange of information and expertise that the United States now seems reluctant to make.
While the concept has won growing support within the foreign and defense ministries, some government strategists worry that a separate European antimissile program would generate serious political tensions with the Soviet Union.