Courtesy Reuters

Alarm Bells in the West

European leaders were pleased to start 1981 with a new American President and looked forward to steadier Atlantic relations rather than to a bumpy, unpredictable course with Jimmy Carter. Not that they agreed more with Ronald Reagan; they knew very little about him. But they had come to dislike and disdain Mr. Carter so much that it was assumed a change must be for the better, and Mr. Reagan's general projection of a newly vigorous, confident, purposeful America, after a disheartening decade, was most welcome.

By late in the year, however, the common theme on both sides of the political spectrum, and on both sides of the Atlantic, was that the Alliance had never been so gravely troubled and so uncertainly led. The tone of complaint was no longer familiar grumbles about disarray or lack of consultation, the cyclical quarrels and reconciliations which have been characteristic of the unusual bonds between Western Europe and the United States for nearly two generations. The direction was only down. Some people have even begun to question the value of a partnership established to correct the failures of the 1930s by establishing a joint security system in a world so enormously changed. The unthinkable-a rupture-was being thought.

As the gloom deepened, the usual calls for reviews of procedures, new mechanisms to strengthen policy planning and crisis management, faded away. It was as though people sensed there was too much danger in any kind of tinkering lest something collapse. Europe as a whole was called "semi-Gaullist," in the sense that President Charles de Gaulle sought to silhouette France against the United States. But those who looked back and judged that de Gaulle's maneuvers to identify France as a power between the United States and the Soviet Union were not only right but prophetic forgot how much he had done to prevent the consolidation of Europe. There still wasn't any European "pillar" to fit President Kennedy's image of a more equal Atlantic relationship, and less prospect than ever

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