NOW that Mr. Gorbachev has returned to Moscow from Paris, the basic issue in East-West relations -- how to manage the nuclear relationship -- remains to be addressed. To wonder whether America's Western allies have been beguiled by the Soviet leader and his wife, moving with panache through Versailles press conferences and fashion salons, is to mistake style for substance. Indeed, anyone in the West who heard the Khrushchevian bluster, denial, and steely defiance in Gorbachev's answers to questions about the treatment of Jews and political prisoners in the Soviet Union cannot help awarding Mr. Reagan a wider margin of support for resisting any unworthy deal.
The visit to Paris itself, the Gorbachev political investment in televising live to the Soviet Union his Western-style press conference, the offering of a missile-reduction plan: However self-serving, these did add to Gorbachev's stakes in a Geneva summit. The administration correctly chose to view the overall thrust of the Paris foray as potentially positive.
Gorbachev's Paris extravaganza may well have been directed at solidifying the new leader's support at home more than at driving a wedge between the United States and its European allies. Certainly the aggressive answers on emigration and political prisoners were so intended. Gorbachev may be securely in control; still, some ask why he felt it necessary to become the first Soviet leader since Nikita Khrushchev to take on the Western press from the dais. Khrushchev, we later learned, was always on the kni fe's edge inside the Soviet Union and was eventually deposed. Just as there are two distinct camps in the Reagan administration on arms pacts with the Soviets, so there are likely many in the Kremlin who look askance at Gorbachev's formulation of an arms agreement.
Both sides can see the domestic constraints on the other. The Soviets must be concerned about Reagan's heavy domestic commitment to his Strategic Defense Initiative, much as the Reaganites are sensitive to Gorbachev's newness. Musing over which leader will be able to outcommunicate the other misses the point: Will the superpowers perceive how to stabilize the nuclear relationship, or is the world on the verge of a major instability in strategic relationships?