THE ``two plus four'' talks opening today between the two Germanys and four World War II Allies will launch a process leading to a new security structure for Europe. Over the next six months or so, the discussions will be studded with strong opinions and disagreements, according to interviews with NATO officials in Brussels and diplomats in Bonn.
This first round of talks will cover purely organizational matters, such as the number and place of meetings, the level of the participants, and how decisions will be made.
The themes of subsequent meetings among the two Germanys and the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France include the end of four-power rights in Germany, security aspects of a united Germany in the near term, and the nature of a future European security architecture.
The major issues in each category include:
Long-term plan for Europe: To know what to do with a united Germany in the near term, the six must have a picture of Europe's military organization in the long term. ``Two plus four is, in fact, the first step to some other security structure in Europe,'' says a NATO diplomat in Brussels.
West Germany is enthusiastic about building a European security structure based on the 35-nation Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Many politicians here say this structure should eventually replace NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
The Germans see CSCE dovetailing with the demands of the future. What better way to overcome the division of Europe than to use an organization whose members already include the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries? The beauty of CSCE, they add, is that it broadens the concept of security to cover economic and democratic issues.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher markets the idea whenever he gets the chance. He wants to ``institutionalize'' CSCE: give it officers and departments.
Some other NATO countries, however, consider this format too unwieldy to tackle hard decisions and form policy.
``We're all for strengthening CSCE,'' says a senior NATO official. ``But we're afraid of a kind of European-scale UN that would substitute for the operational effectiveness of like-minded states.''
Interim plan for Germany: The NATO countries have pretty much accepted ``the Genscher plan,'' which calls for a united Germany as a member of NATO. For the time being, neither NATO nor West German troops would be in present-day East Germany. Soviet troops would gradually withdraw.
The Soviet Union, however, is sending mixed signals. First it insisted on neutrality for Germany; then it wavered. Last week it adamantly rejected NATO membership for Germany.
``The Soviet Union doesn't know what it wants,'' says a West German official, who suggests the Soviets are stalling for time.
One compromise that would be sure to please the Soviets would be that the two parts of a united Germany maintain their present allied ties.
``I think the Soviets could live with this strange provision,'' says Egon Bahr, if they could see a European security structure at the end. Mr. Bahr, is a seasoned member of the West German Bundestag and the left-of-center Social Democratic Party.
This might please the Soviets, but it's not attractive to NATO, says the senior NATO official. It's being talked about in Brussels, he says, ``but I don't see how you could have a confrontational circumstance inside one united country.''
Basically, the West is waiting for the Soviets to come around from an isolated position, the NATO official explained. None of Germany's neighbors want a neutral Germany (i.e., a loose cannon) in the center of Europe.
The other near-term issue to settle is that of borders. According to the West German Constitution, the prewar borders of 1937 - which include parts of present-day Poland and the Soviet Union - are still valid because there was never a peace treaty ending World War II.
Despite political turmoil over the Polish border, in the end it will just be the two Germanys uniting, plus guarantees for the borders with its neighbors, say the West Germans.
What has them worried is the peace-treaty issue lurking in the shadows. The Soviets appear to favor a peace treaty. Bonn most definitely rejects the idea and wants two-plus-four to end up as several agreements instead.
A peace treaty would open up a can of worms for Bonn. It could potentially involve all of the nations that had declared war against Germany. It would introduce the issue of war reparations. And it would mean humiliation for the Germans.
Ending four-power rights: Thousands of allied laws affect Berlin and the German states. Technically, Berlin is still under occupation by the four powers.
``It's not just a question of invalidating these rights. The allies do some things that need to be transferred,'' says the NATO diplomat. He mentions, for instance, ``major listening posts in West Berlin which we have under our occupation rights.''
The diplomat is concerned that this dismantling process will be rushed. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl ``has the impression he's going to sail through this. If it is that easy, there are going to be mistakes,'' he said. ``The worst thing would be if we forgot something, some residual right, which the Soviets later use.''