THE centerpiece of this week's summit meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and United States President Bush will be a long-awaited agreement on the control of strategic nuclear weapons, Soviet officials say. ``We can speak of a good future'' when it comes to strategic weapons, Sergei Akhromeyev, Mr. Gorbachev's national security adviser, told the Monitor.
The leaders will sign an agreement on the basic principles of a Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty, he predicted, with details to be worked out later.
But the retired military leader and other Soviet officials are far less upbeat when it comes to the other big item on the summit's arms control agenda - mutual reduction of the huge armies arrayed against each other in the center of Europe. That issue is closely linked to Soviet unease over the possibility of a reunified Germany with membership in the NATO alliance.
How to handle the German question may emerge as the summit's key problem. The Soviets have indicated that they will not withdraw their 380,000 troops from East Germany, the bulk of their forces stationed in Eastern Europe, until there is a satisfactory formula for reunification. Though there is no direct linkage with talks about conventional forces in Europe (CFE), Marshal Akhromeyev says, ``I believe both have to be interrelated.''
Hopes for reaching a CFE pact by year's end are fading fast. Mr. Akhromeyev refers sharply to the West ``seeking unilateral advantage''' in the conventional talks. He reflects growing worries among Soviet military officials and conservative Communist Party leaders about the loss of what one Soviet security analyst calls their ``security belt in Europe.''
Western analysts have seen signs of a growing role of the Soviet military in Kremlin policymaking. The Soviets have stiffened their stance at the negotiating table, Western diplomatic sources here say. Although the military does not have the power or even the cohesion to control Gorbachev and the political leadership, the analysts say, it can influence them.
``In the last three months, there has been a hand extended to the military,'' says an informed Western diplomat. ``Gorbachev has tried to give them something because he recognizes that their loyalty has been strained.''
On the issue of German reunification, Gorbachev repeated Soviet objections to bringing all of Germany into NATO on the eve of his departure in an interview with Time Magazine.
``For us, it [NATO] is a symbol of the past, a dangerous and confrontational past. And we will never agree to assign it the leading role in building a new Europe,'' he told Time.
The Soviets have floated various ideas, including joint membership for a reunified Germany in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact alliances, an idea rejected by the West. Many analysts, including Soviets, see the core of a compromise in the proposal made by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher not to station troops in what is now East Germany and to allow a five-to-six-year transition period for Soviet forces to depart. But even a Soviet security analyst who favors this solution believes it is too soon for Gorbachev to accept it.
The START negotiations, which began under the Reagan administration in 1982, are relatively less controversial. The agreed goal of a 50 percent reduction in the massive arsenal of strategic nuclear warheads has clear mutual advantage. The two sides have agreed to ceilings of 6,000 warheads, but when complicated counting rules are taken into account, the actual level will be closer to 9,000 warheads, about a 30 percent cut.
The difficulty lies in the details of how to achieve an agreed rough equality of weapons. The thorniest aspect of this has been how to treat sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMS) and air-launched cruise missiles.
Akhromeyev expressed satisfaction with the decision to issue a separate statement on SLCMS, stating an overall limit of 880 warheads for each side and avoiding the problem of how to verify whether a missile has a nuclear or a conventional warhead. He also confirmed that the US proposal to ban all mobile and multi-warhead missiles would be put off for a second, START II, negotiation.
But the arms expert warned that details could always hold up agreement. And he raised an obstacle that other Soviet negotiators have dropped - the demand for a linkage between START and restrictions on the ``star wars'' program. The Soviets had essentially agreed to be satisfied with a unilateral statement reserving their right to pull out of the treaty if they think the US has violated the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that controls such defensive weapons. But Akhromeyev insists, as he has done in the past, that even though the issue has not been discussed lately, ``it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.''
Western diplomatic sources dismiss the likelihood that Akhromeyev and others who share his views in the military will be able to place such obstacles in the path of an agreement in Washington. But there are indications that even the START treaty will need to be sold to the Soviet public. Alexander Bovin, a well-connected commentator on international affairs, called on the government in a May 23 column in the government daily Izvestia to explain what he said would be a significant larger number of warheads held by the US after the treaty.
The column reflects the views of some in the military who fear disarmament because ``this process means the declining of their influence,'' says Sergei Blagovolin, a security expert at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.