THE meeting of top US and Soviet military officers in Moscow today is another hopeful sign that the cold war is ending. The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. William Crowe, and the Soviet chief of staff, Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, will sign an agreement designed to prevent accidental US-Soviet confrontations from growing into wider and more dangerous conflict. It's one of a series of exchanges and meetings between superpower military men following the recent darker days when Soviets shot down a Korean airliner without warning and killed a US Army major on duty in East Germany.
Such meetings and cooperative arrangements are increasingly important as the possibility of full-scale conventional war wanes while regional conflict and inadvertent nuclear launch - both possible triggers to major war - become of greater concern. In the area of conventional arms control, where breakthroughs now seem more possible than ever, military involvement will be even more necessary than it is in nuclear disarmament. Verifying troop and equipment reductions is likely to prove much more complicated than counting broken-up missiles.
Military officers have had important diplomatic roles all along, and not just as advisers to presidents and senior officials at the State Department. They have been directly involved in negotiating and carrying out arms control agreements as well as the more subtle aspects of foreign policy. That role will inevitably grow as the geostrategic scene shifts and as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union enter a new era.
Meanwhile, US and Soviet troops, ships, and aircraft - bristling with full armament - continue to face off around the world. That their commanders will now find it easier to lower their swords, lift their visors, and talk to each other when necessary is a comforting thought.