IN this Canadian capital of wintry stone and red-jacket Mountie guards the NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances have begun planning for life after the fall of Eastern Europe. The ostensible reason foreign ministers from the two blocs gathered here early this week was to discuss Open Skies, a United States-Canadian proposal for mutual arms-inspection overflights. But they spent much of their time talking about other things, from glitches in talks on reducing conventional forces in Europe to German reunification.
The German question was everywhere, like the cold wind coming off the river. In recent days it has become clear that the two Germanies are likely to move quickly toward a union after East Germany's March elections, and the superpowers are beginning to discuss ways they can have input into the reunification process.
``Germany is an issue that permeates a lot of the discussion,'' a senior US official said.
To deal with Germany in the months ahead, the two alliances must set up ways of dealing with each other that could become models for cooperation in the era of lessened European tensions.
The US is already floating an idea for one sort of inter-alliance working group, called the ``2 plus 4'' by US officials. The idea calls for the two Germanies to get together on such internal questions as the nature and pace of reunification, and then sit down with the US, the USSR, Britain, and France to iron out such ``external'' questions as the new Germany's place in NATO.
That sounds simple enough, and the US claims both West Germany and the USSR are interested. Though Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appears to have accepted that German reunification will occur, the memory of the German threat in World War II is deeply ingrained in the culture of his nation, and he appears eager to have some sort of superpower oversight mechanism in place.
The problem is that the German ``external questions'' will profoundly shape the post-cold war world. Sharp disputes here in Ottawa over the nature of prospective German loyalties show how difficult these issues are.
Soviet spokesman Vitaly Churkin categorically rejected a western proposal that a reunified Germany be part of NATO, but that the old territory of East Germany be off limits to NATO troops. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Karpov said reunification should take place slowly, step by step with a lessening of tensions and barriers between other European nations. ``This change should lead to a kind of dissolving of the alliances,'' Mr. Karpov said.
The bosses of these men - Gorbachev, and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze - have sounded much more flexible on this question, say US officials, and have not insisted that a new Germany be neutral.
NATO and Warsaw Pact officials in Ottawa also peered into the mists and began talking about the future of arms control after the agreements everyone expects will be signed this year: the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty (START) and conventional force reductions in Europe (CFE).
The Soviet's Mr. Karpov confirmed that the US and USSR started talking about START II when Secretary of State James Baker III was in Moscow last week. Any further reductions in long-range nuclear weapons brought about by such a START sequel should restructure superpower atomic arsenals so they are ``devoid of any potential to strike first,'' Karpov said.
The Soviets also once again brought up their interest in naval arms control. While a CFE agreement would constrict land forces - long the Soviet military's strong point - it would leave the powerful US Navy untouched.
Playing off the ``Open Skies'' theme of the conference, Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze called for an eventual ``Open Seas'' regime of naval inspections, presumably to be followed by limits. The US has long rejected the notion of even talking about naval arms control, and USSR spokesman Churkin complained that in today's world ``it's completely untenable to say you're not going to negotiate about anything.'' The US and the USSR also traded some sharp comments about CFE.
Still, no one was predicting CFE would not be wrapped up by fall, as both NATO and the Warsaw Pact intend. Foreign ministers here also widely predicted that Open Skies, the reason for traveling to Ottawa in February, would be finished by a scheduled spring meeting in Budapest.