PARIS — When the U.S. and Soviet leaders meet this week in Washington, Western Europe will be looking on like a bashful cheerleader, too nervous to cheer very loudly but too loyal to let the side down.
This ambiguity has led to some confusion. In public pronouncements, all the West European leaders welcome the summit meeting and endorse its probable main achievement--the signing of a treaty to eliminate American and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear weapons, the kind that could strike at the Soviet Union from Europe and at Europe from the Soviet Union.
But many European government officials in private, and many newspaper and strategic analysts in public, say they are resigned to the treaty and express worry about where it will lead. They are also concerned about sounding too much like Cassandra at a time when many people, including European voters, feel a good deal of joy and comfort about the world's first treaty doing away with nuclear weapons.
There also appears to be a suspicion that Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the dynamic Soviet leader, will outshine the aging, weakened President Reagan and that "Gorbymania" will sweep Western Europe.
A survey of Western European attitudes by Times correspondents here and in London, Bonn and Rome suggests that Europeans hold a wide range of views about the summit meeting and the impending treaty and that these attitudes reflect political realities.
Most Persuasive Voices
The most persuasive voices for eliminating intermediate-range missiles--those with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles--come from West Germany, with its strong peace and disarmament movement and its fear of being the main battleground in any limited nuclear war.
In a recent speech to the Aspen Institute in West Berlin, President Richard von Weizsaecker of West Germany defended the treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev are expected to sign Tuesday.
"The only people who can really be disappointed," he said, "are those who, contrary to all government statements, wanted to deploy Western medium-range missiles in Europe permanently, and for their own sake, and not as a means to bring the withdrawal of the Soviet SS-20s."
Weizsaecker also criticized those in Europe who now warn against the possibility of a further agreement to eliminate missiles with a range of less than 300 miles.
"Certainly," he said, "we Germans are not willing to concede that the only nuclear arms left on the Continent should be the short-range weapons that can be aimed only at German soil, East or West."
In France, where there is no peace movement to speak of and where voters are proud of their country's independent nuclear arsenal, the view is far different. Minister of Defense Andre Giraud was heard to mutter "Another Munich" when his government decided reluctantly to support the impending treaty.
Jean-Marie Benoist, president of the European Center of International and Strategic Studies, expressed a prevalent French view recently when he called the impending treaty "a fool's bargain" because it would give up the American intermediate-range missiles that had "the efficiency and credibility capable of inhibiting all Soviet attacks, whether nuclear or conventional, on Western Europe."
In general, European officials and analysts appear to have five main concerns about the summit meeting, several related to each other:
The meeting could set off a pell-mell rush to nuclear disarmament.
It might turn into another Reykjavik.
The United States might start on the road toward abandonment of the defense of Europe.
Americans, after the meeting, might accuse Europe of scuttling the treaty and encouraging Senate rejection of it.
The meeting might enhance the image of Gorbachev so much that he will start to set the agenda on the future of Europe.
Many European leaders do not want a nuclear-free Europe, out of fear that North Atlantic Treaty Organization armies, even with U.S. troops on the scene, could not defend Western Europe from any attack by Soviet and East European armies.
For that reason, they would be suspicious, after the signing of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, of any further steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons in Europe. Fear of nuclear war, according to this view, has prevented nuclear war, and it would be foolhardy to eliminate that fear entirely.
On this issue, the divisions within Europe are clear: Britain and France do not want Reagan and Gorbachev to start negotiations toward elimination of short-range nuclear weapons. But West Germany, the probable battleground in any war fought with nuclear artillery, appears ready to discuss their eventual elimination.
Disaster Was Averted