Next week's Ottawa summit conference has been oversold as a test of US President Reagan confronted by leaders of the six other major industrial democracies. It has been undersold as what it really is, or ought to be: one more occasion for cooperative problem- solving of the sort the world sadly lacked until these annual summits began in 1975.
Not that solutions will arrive with the canapes at the Qeubec chateau where the participants will first gather. Nor can the result be allowed to lapse into what some have suggested, mainly a get-acquainted session for leaders several of whom are new at their jobs. rather, the upshot can and should be an improved mutual understanding of mutual challenges -- and the kind of impetus toward meeting them that leaves the leaders instructing their aides to get cracking on this and this and this and report back by Tuesday.
While relations between the superpower and all the others inevitably loom large at such meetings, they are by no means the only relations of vital importance. The carmakers of Europe, for example, have no less interest than their American counterparts in what Japan is doing. America's protectionist arrangement with Japan is but one of the multiplying bilateral agreements that unnecessarily complicate the general trade picture. The summit could renew the thrust of the late seventies' Tokyo round on multilateral trade, keeping abreast of the times with sharpened focus on removing obstacles to commerce with developing countries. This can be of much mutual benefit while reducing the demand for otherwise necessary developmental aid.
Also of concern to all the parties is the urgent issue of nuclear proliferation, discussed in the editorial above.
The much-headlined relationship of European currencies to the dollar cannot totally overshadow the relationship of these currencies to each other. Will the French franc and the German mark be happy together now that France's Socialist President Mitterrand is surprising people by actually starting to follow through on his promises of nationalization? How will the British pound fare if the riots at a time of high youth unemployment have the predicted effect of shifting Prime Minister Thatcher's emphasis somewhat from inflation toward jobs? In the light of the turmoil, does she have anything new to say to her fellow conservative across the Atlantic?
The summit is not the place for the nuts and bolts of all such matters. It is a place for the leaders to strengthen their rapport, to sense the depth of each other's convictions, to know that they are not jumping up and down in a one-shot extravaganza but joining in a continuity of discussion that has become one of the more encouraging fixtures of our time.