The secretary-general of NATO wants proof that the Soviet Union is serious about improving relations with the West. ``They've said they're going to change their strategy to one of defense,'' says Lord Carrington. But so far they haven't budged.
Cuts in military outlays - no matter how small - would be ``much more reassuring than words,'' he says. It's a message he hopes will be conveyed to the Soviets by President Reagan this week in Moscow.
``As a minimum, one would like to see a reduction in the offensive weapons - in which they have a very large superiority - and a reduction in the amount of money they spend on modernization and replacement,'' says Lord Carrington, who steps down in July as head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In public statements, the NATO leader has said his expectations for the summit are limited. Indeed, he considers it a mistake to expect ``remarkable departures'' when the superpowers meet. West Europeans increasingly view summits as routine exercises and that, he says, is a sign of more stable relations.
Speaking in his expansive office at NATO headquarters, the former British Foreign Secretary said the key to dealing with the Soviets is to negotiate from strength. Such a policy, he says, lead to the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement.
``I think you've got to have something to give,'' he says, alluding to the fact that NATO deployed a new generation of intermediate-range weapons while actively negotiating a ban on them.
As for strategic arms, the NATO leader remains optimistic that an agreement to halve arsenals could be achieved by the end of the Reagan administration.
Indeed, Lord Carrington says Mr. Gorbachev may be as eager for the accord as anyone. First, because the Soviet leader ``may decide that he wants to deal with President Reagan, whom he knows,'' rather than a new president. And second, because of money. Gorbachev needs to cut military spending if he's going to restructure the Soviet economy.
But the big savings, says Lord Carrington, is in conventional reductions - a factor that makes this area ripe for negotiation. And progress may be on the horizon. Long before the summit, Gorbachev signaled a major departure from his predecessors by acknowledging imbalances in Europe between the two blocs. These imbalances could be addressed through ``asymmetrical'' arms reductions.
This means that the Soviets would consider uneven cuts in the number of weapons, such as tanks, to bring the two sides nearer balance. ``It's perfectly true that [Gorbachev's] talking from a different set of figures,'' says Lord Carrington, but it still opens up new possibilities.
The biggest problem, he says, will be getting the two sides to agree on how the weapons should be tallied. Negotiations over conventional weapons have bogged down in the past when it came to exchanging such information. This week's summit could pave the way for conventional arms talks in Vienna, perhaps as early as this fall.
Asked whether such discussions might become unwieldy, Lord Carrington chuckled and said: ``Any number more than two is too many.'' Still, negotiators can't overlook the interests of any individual country when the bargaining shifts to conventional forces, he added.
This also puts pressure on the Western allies to stay unified, he says, which isn't easy to do. Part of the problem is trans-Atlantic. He contends Americans often make the mistake of lumping Europeans into a single mass. As a result, it usually takes 16 NATO nations a long time to come to agreement on contentious issues. ``But when we finally do get an agreement,'' he says, ``it is an agreement which has been thoroughly worked out and thoroughly discussed.''