NATO is considering ways to meet Soviet concern about the size of German armed forces after reunification. The general idea being discussed here and in Bonn is to include in a forthcoming treaty on conventional force reductions in Europe a statement of intent to negotiate cuts in German and other European national troops. The size of a future all-German army seems to be one among many security issues holding up Soviet support for a unified Germany's membership in NATO.
Last Friday, the Soviet Union suggested that combined German forces be drastically reduced to 200,000-250,000 (from 600,000) over the three years following reunification. This limit was part of a draft ``final settlement'' that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze sprang on his German and Western counterparts at the recent two-plus-four talks.
The Western allies want to keep troop decisions out of these talks, which they say should focus mostly on the removal of lingering rights that the four World War II allies still have over Germany. The proper forum for discussing troop reductions is the negotiations table in Vienna, not two-plus-four, they say.
Negotiators in Vienna are wrestling with troop and conventional arms cuts in Europe. The cuts, however, apply only to American and Soviet forces - not to those of European countries. Limits for the Europeans themselves would be negotiated in what is being called Vienna II, a second set of negotiations to start as soon as the treaty on this round is signed, perhaps this fall.
But by including in the first treaty a statement of intent to negotiate European forces in the second set of talks, the Soviets could be reassured sooner, rather than later, that German troop levels will be addressed, NATO diplomats here say. The ``sooner'' aspect is important, because Soviet sign-off on its World War II rights over Germany is needed by the fall in order to stick to the German reunification timetable.
Exactly what form this statement of intent might take is not clear. If it does come about, though, Germany would not be singled out for special reductions. The NATO allies want to avoid the mistake of the past and treat Germany as an equal instead of wounding its pride with isolated treatment for bad behavior.
This is why, in the various ideas circulating here, the two Germanys, as well as other countries in Central Europe, would be handled together. One scenario has the countries proposing limits on their own forces. Another would have them propose not going higher than a certain percentage of all forces in the area.