Bonn Resists NATO Policy on Short-Range Missiles

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Times Staff Writer

West Germany, painfully formulating a new position on what steps should be taken next in the arms control process, seems to favor restraints on short-range missiles, a policy that has raised concern within the Reagan Administration and the rest of NATO.

The emerging West German view is not unanimous, but in general it runs counter to priorities already set by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We can’t say so publicly,” a Western diplomat here said the other day, “but certainly we are worried. We don’t like this (West German) emphasis on getting rid of short-range nuclear weapons as a leading priority. I fear there’s nothing but trouble ahead this year.”


In the past, the West German government usually went quietly along with Western policy as set in Washington and at NATO headquarters. The opinions now being expressed in West Germany are seen as reflecting a willingness to speak out and an insistence on being listened to--both by the Bonn government and by the various political parties.

“We are seeing a resurgence of German national interests,” a Western diplomat here said. “This could be healthy, but it could also raise problems.”

American diplomats and NATO officials are also disturbed by the fact that the policies and personality of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev have made such an impact in West Germany, NATO’s front-line state and the linchpin of the alliance.

Gorbachev is persistently rated over President Reagan in opinion samplings here, and conservative politicians seem to be attracted to new Soviet arms proposals, even though they may be in conflict with NATO policy.

For example, Chancellor Helmut Kohl is ardently advocating an official Gorbachev visit to Bonn, and even Franz Josef Strauss, the conservative premier of Bavaria, recently returned from Moscow praising the Soviet leader.

Another conservative figure, Alfred Dregger, the ruling Christian Democratic Union’s floor leader in Parliament, reacted quickly and glowingly last week to a controversial new arms proposal by Erich Honecker, the East German Communist leader.


Honecker’s Proposal

Honecker, in a letter to Kohl, proposed on behalf of the Warsaw Pact nations that both sides agree not to modernize short-range nuclear weapons based in the two Germanys. Honecker also advocated removing all nuclear weapons from the two Germanys.

Responding to Honecker’s anti-modernization proposal, Dregger declared: “We welcome East Germany’s support for an inclusion of land-based atomic weapons with a range of under 500 kilometers (300 miles) in the arms control process. These systems threaten Germany almost exclusively on both sides of the partition border. Therefore, it is in our interest for disarmament to be applied in this area.”

The Honecker proposal is directly at odds with the views of NATO officials who want to modernize short-range nuclear weapons, partly as a way to make up for the loss of the ground-launched intermediate-range missiles to be eliminated under the treaty signed last month in Washington.

U.S. and NATO officials say they thought that a clear set of priorities for further arms reductions had been established last year at two meetings of Western government ministers.

These priorities, they say, call for pursuing a proposal to reduce intercontinental ballistic missiles by 50% on both sides, for seeking elimination of the imbalance in conventional forces in Europe and for arranging a worldwide ban on chemical weapons.

Genscher Criticizes U.S.

But, in recent weeks, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has argued that negotiators should simultaneously seek a reduction in short-range tactical nuclear weapons. And he has sharply criticized the United States for resuming production of chemical weapons last month.


Genscher’s position on arms control appeals strongly to many West Germans, who according to opinion polls are uneasy about the fact that most NATO short-range nuclear weapons are based in their country.

But banning short-range nuclear weapons immediately runs counter to NATO doctrine, which holds that they are now a necessary deterrent against attack by the Warsaw Pact armored forces and should not be negotiated away until after a satisfactory reduction in conventional, non-nuclear arms.

According to NATO officials, the Warsaw Pact has deployed about 1,400 short-range nuclear weapons with a range of less than 300 miles, including at least 600 so-called Scud missiles that can reach targets up to 180 miles away and about 750 Frog missiles with a shorter reach.

Outgunned 15 to 1

In this category, NATO forces have only 88 Lance rockets, which will be obsolete in a dozen years, as well as gravity bombs, mines and artillery shells. In short-range missiles, the West is outgunned 15 to 1.

The point that obsesses the West Germans is that the short-range nuclear weapons, by definition if not by design, would explode inside the two Germanys. This has led another conservative politician, Volker Ruehe, to observe that “the shorter the range, the deader the Germans.”

Ruehe, a senior defense adviser to Kohl, supported East Germany’s Honecker by declaring flatly that “modernization of NATO’s remaining nuclear potential in Europe is not on the agenda.”


West German politicians of virtually every coloration are insisting that reducing or banning short-range nuclear weapons should be given a higher priority than that assigned to it by NATO last year. What surprises many American, British and French observers is how quickly sentiment against short-range nuclear weapons has spread from the opposition Social Democrats and the Greens to the staunchest of conservatives in the Christian Democratic coalition.

They are also surprised at the benign light in which Gorbachev is now viewed by West Germans with a reputation for holding hawkish views. Strauss, on his return from Moscow, said: “Gorbachev is thinking about anything but a military showdown with the West. A new chapter has been opened in German-Soviet relations.”

Soaring Popularity

Foreign Minister Genscher, a leader of the Free Democratic Party, has seen his party’s popularity soar since last month’s agreement on eliminating intermediate-range missiles.

A Western diplomat here said the issue of short-range missiles--sometimes called SNF, for short-range nuclear force--has become politically charged. “I don’t think,” he continued, “that it will be acceptable now for any of the nuclear weapons on West German territory to be modernized. All the sentiment points in the other direction, to seek a total ban.”

Meanwhile, observers here say, the Soviets have been playing their diplomatic cards carefully and expertly with the Germans.

Call for 50% Cut

Soviet Ambassador Yuli A. Kvitsinsky, who is thought to be close to the Kremlin leadership, has given interviews in the German press calling for a 50% reduction in strategic missiles, a ban on chemical weapons and even “liquidation of imbalances in the conventional sector,” including cutting Warsaw Pact tank strength.


This was music to German ears, and it generated favorable editorial comment in the West German press. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich described Kvitsinsky’s remarks as “a new and important indication of Moscow’s willingness to disarm.” The leading newspaper in Cologne commented, “At present, there is more agreement between Bonn and the Soviet Union than within the (Atlantic) Alliance.”

One of the most vigorous hawks in the West German government, Defense Minister Manfred Woerner, lost the battle last August to hold on to intermediate-range Pershing 1-A missiles, and will soon be off to Brussels as the next NATO secretary general.

The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, West German Gen. Wolfgang Altenburg, warned recently: “We possess nuclear weapons because they are a logical consequence of the Soviet superiority in the conventional sector. Only when we have security, which is to say when the imbalance in the conventional sector has been eliminated, will it be possible to conclude agreements in the (short-range missile) sector.”

Remarks Scarcely Heard

But in the political atmosphere prevailing in West Germany, his remarks were scarcely heard. At a recent meeting of the Free Democratic Party, Genscher said, “Given our historical and geographical situation alone, we Germans must pioneer (in detente and disarmament) and sometimes speak to the consciences of our partners in the West.”

In the year ahead, foreign officials will be closely watching as West Germany expands its role in European political decisions, something it has studiously avoided since World War II.

“It is often said,” a senior diplomat here remarked, “that for the last 30 years Germany has been an economic giant and a political dwarf. It now looks as if the dwarf is suddenly growing up, and Germany’s allies are not sure they like it.”