WITH the Warsaw Pact falling apart and confrontation in Europe giving way to cooperation, the consensus is that Europe's security structure needs remodeling. Politicians are beginning to point to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) as the cornerstone for a new security architecture.
CSCE is a natural, they say. Its 35 members already include both the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries. With its three thematic ``baskets'' (security, economics, and human rights), it encompasses a definition of security which goes beyond missiles.
But to do the job, CSCE needs reinforcement, say supporters. It needs a secretariat. It must evolve from a series of conferences to a permanent institution.
``The only element binding the whole of Europe at present is the CSCE process,'' West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said in a recent speech. ``The efforts to intensify that process ... are indispensable contributions to stability in Europe.''
Mr. Genscher markets the CSCE idea every chance he gets. The enthusiasm stems from the overriding desire for a united Germany - and thus the search for a way to get this without causing waves, explains a Western diplomat in Bonn.
But Genscher is certainly not alone. The Soviets appear to be leaning in this direction. Vaclav Havel, the Czechoslovak president, also supports a stronger CSCE. Last week he called for an all-European security commission that would eventually replace the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
Genscher supports German membership in NATO, but at the same time he says he can envision a day when it will no longer be necessary - especially with Europe's link to the United States preserved under an ``institutionalized'' CSCE.
To upgrade CSCE he wants: regular meetings of the CSCE foreign ministers, a conflict-resolution center for Europe, a center to harmonize European law, and a European environmental agency - to name just a few.
But several of West Germany's allies, including the US, Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, are wary of the emphasis on CSCE.
First, they say, the process is unwieldy. They point to the weaknesses of the United Nations. In a crisis situation, they say, it would be impossible to form consensus among the 35 CSCE members that range from the giant superpowers to tiny Malta and the Vatican. One reason CSCE has been able to reach consensus so far is that its decisions are not legally binding - and therefore not always lived up to.
The Soviet Union presents another problem, the critics say: It is in flux, unreliable, not yet a democracy.
The most unnerving aspect of the CSCE buildup, however, is the vagueness surrounding NATO's future. NATO is tried and true, say those skeptical of the CSCE solution. NATO is an alliance of like-minded countries that is especially necessary in this time of uncertainty and transition, they say.
``I think we should go a bit slow with respect to the security basket of CSCE,'' said US Secretary of State James Baker III at a press conference in Washington April 6. ``There are some ways in which it can complement the NATO alliance, but we do not want to in any way suggest the replacement of the functions of the NATO alliance by CSCE.''
If CSCE becomes the all-encompassing security structure, what happens if there's a need to use military force? How could unanimity be reached in such a case, asks Fran,cois Heisbourg, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
``If countries are not worried about security - if they are convinced the weather will be warm and the sun shining - then the fact that there's no roof over the architecture'' is not important, says Mr. Heisbourg. CSCE can mediate, discuss, and establish new rules, ``but it cannot be a body which could use lethal force to resolve differences.''
But a stronger CSCE and NATO don't have to be mutually exclusive, says Thomas Enders, security specialist at the German Society for Foreign Policy here in Bonn. ``I see no contradiction between increasing political competence for CSCE and the continued existence of regional alliances like NATO.'' Mr. Enders sees an evolving NATO in existence for at least the short and middle term.
The discussion of a new European security structure is bound to intensify during the course of meetings between the two Germanys and the four victorious powers of World War II. As early as the end of this month, the foreign ministers will begin discussing the security aspects of German unification. CSCE members themselves will have a chance to redefine their role at their summit this fall.