AFTER 70 years of mostly self-imposed isolation, the Soviet Union is showing signs that it wants to join the world's economic establishment. Late next month a few Soviet ``experts'' are expected to visit the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington. An IMF official emphasizes that this is only an information-gathering visit: ``It is not, at this stage certainly, a membership discussion.''
Nonetheless, the visit symbolizes the many issues that the Soviet Union's opening to the West will present the next United States administration.
With the two presidential candidates in something of a macho, `I'm-tough-with-the-Soviet-Union'' posture, the possibility of a serious discussion over what to do about perestroika (restructuring) is remote.
But when the Soviets actually come knocking on the door of the IMF, the World Bank, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), President Bush or President Dukakis will need to decide whether to continue President Reagan's ``go away'' position.
Basically, the United States must figure out how much political and economic support to give Mikhail Gorbachev and his reforms. Will the new president continue to consider the Soviet Union a rival and a threat, to be stymied at all points? Or will he cautiously encourage the Soviets to emerge like debutantes into the world economic scene?
West Germany, and to a degree other West European nations, are already taking some chances on a Soviet romance. Germany's biggest commercial bank, the Deutsche Bank, earlier this year arranged a $2.1 billion credit package. Since then, the Soviets have been a regular borrower in the Euromarket for syndicated loans and have floated major bond issues in the Swiss and German markets.
``Without much fuss or bother,'' comments Wall Street economist Sam Nakagama, ``the Soviets are being treated in Western Europe very much as though the cold war is over.''
In one area, reductions on conventional arms, either Mr. Dukakis or Mr. Bush as president will have a considerable incentive to arrange a deal, because of the budget difficulties facing a new administration.
``Reductions in conventional arms offer the best prospect for budget savings over the next few years,'' Mr. Nakagama says.
Mr. Gorbachev has proposed a four-step program for reducing conventional forces in Central Europe. In the US, the view that this country has assumed too large a proportion of the NATO defense burden is again building pressures for hauling back some of the 250,000 American soldiers in Germany. If assured of a lessening Soviet threat, the West German public would welcome the departure of some of the hundreds of thousands of NATO troops in their midst.
None of these issues are simple or light. For example, what conditions should the US and the other major industrial nations impose on Soviet admission to the IMF? Would the ruble have first to be made convertible into Western currencies? Would the Soviet IMF quota - and thus voting rights - be bigger than that of China, France, or Italy? Would the US as a result lose its veto powers in the IMF? Would the Soviets have to publish their gold reserves and other statistics that are considered state secrets?
In the case of GATT admission, would the Israel lobby permit the necessary repeal of the US provision linking most-favored-nation status, and thus lower tariffs, to Soviet policy on Jewish emigration?