THE opening of NATO's new era was quick work. All the meetings in London last week ended earlier and more agreeably than expected. They also bore the unmistakable stamp of President Bush, who believes in personal relationships over ideology.
Mr. Bush moves incrementally and relentlessly seeks out agreement. So the summit steered clear of most diverging views among the allies by holding the substantive changes in NATO to short steps.
For example, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began the summit uncomfortable with the phrase ``last resort'' that was being written into the alliance's nuclear-weapons doctrine. The phrase went in. But she made sure it was paired with one allowing nuclear retaliation under any military provocation.
French President Fran,cois Mitterrand speaks for those who seek an overarching security role for the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Bush and others want NATO to remain autonomous and primary. But everyone easily agreed on setting up a staff and institutional structure for CSCE.
The most visibly buoyant leader by summit-end was West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Bush and Mr. Kohl reportedly have a strong personal rapport and share similar attitudes on German reunification. Bush accommodated Kohl on points where the two differed. Bush proposed a much slower schedule for withdrawing nuclear artillery shells from German soil than Kohl wanted and got. With German reunification driving events in Western Europe like a freight train, Bush would rather have the like-minded Kohl in the engineer's seat than his rivals.
The splashiest, most symbolic move of the summit - inviting Mr. Gorbachev to address the North Atlantic Council - was directed at the embattled Soviet leader personally. Although Bush frequently notes that United States policy on the Soviet Union does not pivot on any one leader, he has consistently tried to bolster Gorbachev.
Diplomats and aides attending the NATO leaders and huddling over position papers in side rooms registered some surprise at how smoothly the meetings ran.
Even the unscheduled late-night session of foreign ministers and their staffs to finish hashing out a final draft of the summit declaration went quickly and easily. It began at 10:30 p.m., after dinner at Buckingham Palace; it finished by 1:00 a.m.
Even France, not a military member of NATO and always an independent voice, won some points. Mr. Mitterrand wanted an East-West nonaggression declaration to be taken out of the NATO-Warsaw Pact context and signed by the members of CSCE. The final decision was to sign the pact at the 24-nation conventional-forces meeting expected for this fall, then invite the other CSCE members to sign.
The most striking figure at the London meeting was Mrs. Thatcher, the hostess. The conservative conscience of the summit, she spoke with the crisp, sweeping idealism that sealed her ideological kinship with Ronald Reagan. The contrast to the pragmatism of Bush and Kohl is sharp. When asked if the West had won the cold war, Bush said he found the question ``counterproductive.'' Thatcher, on the other hand, answered: ``It's too important, it's too deep, to be called a victory.''