AS Secretary of State James Baker continues his whirlwind swing through Europe, another key figure is working quietly behind the scenes to set the stage for what is expected to be a strong United States foreign policy in the Bush administration. He is Brent Scowcroft, the President's national security adviser. Already he is making some changes in the National Security Council (NSC) structure and overseeing a massive review of Reagan foreign policies. So respected is General Scowcroft for his experience and knowledge that some people in Washington wonder if he will emerge as the dominant player in the foreign policy establishment - like a latter-day Henry Kissinger.
Those who know both Secretary Baker and Mr. Scowcroft, however, tend to dismiss the likelihood of conflict.
``My impression is that he will be a facilitator, honest broker and a quiet adviser and not somebody who has any desire to supplant the proper role of the secretary of state,'' says an informed administration official. ``He's just here trying to put the President's policies into effect and keep the information flowing. I don't perceive any power play, given his reputation and lack of massive ego.''
White House aides also point out that Mr. Baker has a personal and professional relationship with the President which would preclude anyone else usurping his power as the senior spokesman on American foreign policy.
Ever since it was created in 1947, the NSC system, which coordinates foreign and national-security policy among the various departments of government, has undergone periods of strain and controversy. During the Reagan administration it became the focus of attention in connection with the Iran-contra scandal. Scowcroft, a member of the Tower commission that investigated the scandal, said later that it had occurred not because the NSC process failed but because the proper procedures had been ignored.
``Process, if it's followed, is what raises the flag, gets the red lights flashing, the bells ringing,'' Scowcroft stated.
The NSC process itself was tightened after the Iran-contra affair and, under two national security advisers - Frank Carlucci and Colin Powell - the Reagan White House enjoyed an uncommon period of productive foreign policymaking. Today the process remains essentially the same but is being further streamlined.
The NSC itself will be limited to the four statutory members: the president, vice-president, and the secretaries of state and defense. The head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are by law advisers to the NSC. Other officials, such as the Treasury secretary, the attorney general, or the White House chief of staff, may be asked to join meetings as needed.
A second-level group, to be known as the Principals Committee, will include the national security adviser and the secretaries of state and defense. This group, White House aides say, is similar to the Senior Review Group that existed in the last administration and will be used to resolve interagency disputes and conduct broad policy reviews.
At a still lower level will be a deputies committee made up of deputies to the Cabinet secretaries, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the deputy CIA director. This group will be coordinated by the deputy national security adviser and will be charged with making sure that information flows from bottom levels up and that instructions and guidance are passed down. ``This will keep everyone at these levels well wired,'' an aide says.
Finally, the dozens of so-called ``IGs,'' or interagency groups, that proliferated in the last administration to deal with specific issues are being scaled back to eight or so policy-coordinating committees, some set up along geographical lines and others along functional lines.
``This is not a major restructuring,'' says a White House aide. ``It's a refinement of the Tower board recommendations, which had been put forward by Scowcroft. All that has happened is that Scowcroft looked at it, talked with the President and Baker, and refined it to fit their personal needs and styles.''
Scowcroft is also bringing in new people in senior NSC staff positions, most of them with diplomatic or intelligence experience. The professional staff, which totaled about 70, will be reduced by about 25 percent, White House aides say.
While Scowcroft's primary role is that of coordination, i.e., ensuring that the President receives broad advice and hears from all the main players, most analysts expect him to play a central role in policy formulation as well, especially in the area of arms control. Scowcroft, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, has advised a number of presidents. He was Gerald Ford's national security adviser, and he headed the Scowcroft commission that reported to President Reagan on the MX missile.
During the Reagan years he often vented his concerns about the proposed START (strategic arms reduction) treaty and the Strategic Defense Initiative, or ``star wars,'' program. Given the fact that Secretary Baker will have to learn the nuts and bolts of this complicated area, US officials say, Scowcroft may dominate discussion on US strategic policy and the START negotiations.
Some US officials in fact worry that Baker has yet to name many key officials at the State Department and that he is following his normal pattern of surrounding himself with longtime political aides to the exclusion of senior career professionals.
``There's a large gap between the existing world [at the department] and the world that has come with him,'' the senior official says. ``I like the people around him, but that's a working style that creates problems, and it's unnerving to a lot of people.''
This is thought to be a temporary situation. But some US officials suggest that, if Baker concentrates largely on relations with Congress and close political ties with the President and does not foster strong leadership at the State Department, he may find policy formulation slipping more and more into the NSC shop.
Scowcroft is known as a self-effacing, prudent public servant, and too patriotic to let frictions develop with Secretary Baker. Even so, diplomatic specialists say, he has a strong analytic bent and is bound to inject his own ideas. If Scowcroft and Baker disagree over policy views - as did Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance in the Carter administration, for example - or over a sense of their public role, there could be open tension.
But the general view is that President Bush has a highly competent foreign policy duo. ``On the face of it Brent and Baker are the best combination any postwar president has put together,'' says Dr. I.M. Destler, a specialist on the security-policymaking process at the University of Maryland. ``Baker clearly has to be one of the class acts of government in the postwar period, and Brent represents the best of the service tradition - a good public servant with skills who subordinates his ego.''
Baker, Mr. Destler says, will get more press and international scrutiny. But he will adjust if the President wants Scowcroft to have a prominent role.
Scowcroft himself has spoken out against a public role for a national security adviser. ``The national security adviser should play off the scenes, not on stage,'' he stated after the Tower report was issued.