Changes in NATO

AGREEMENTS among Western leaders in London last weekend about a new, less-threatening NATO were both dazzling and predictable. Dazzling - because of an invitation to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to address NATO and the proposal of a nonaggression pact between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Predictable - because serious cuts in Western forces, and plans to restructure NATO, are already well under way.

Most of what happened in the London NATO summit needed to happen, given the context of change in Europe. Most of the proposals put on the table by George Bush - troop and arms reductions - need to take place for strategic as well as domestic economic reasons. If Mr. Bush had not taken the lead in these areas, the NATO summit would have ended on a sour note. Mikhail Gorbachev's hard-line enemies would have had fresh ammunition to attack the Soviet leader and his reform agenda.

Nor has much been ``given away'' by NATO. Troop withdrawals are still to take place through the ongoing Conventional Force Reduction talks in Vienna (though with new vigor, we hope). Removal and reductions in short- and mid-range nuclear missiles are still linked to Soviet agreements. Even the new ``last resort'' policy regarding use of nuclear weapons is not really new. Use of nuclear weapons in Europe was always a last resort. The statement was a mainly a concession to the public.

Credit is due Mr. Bush for steering past his own hard-liners. A less militarized, more cooperative NATO is not the ideal of many on the far right.

Bush's new NATO also gave West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl plenty of room - rhetorical and practical - to press for a reunified Germany in NATO.

Perhaps the most important development from the London summit is the new emphasis on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the agreement to give CSCE an institutional structure. CSCE gives all Europe's players, including the Soviets, a place at the table.

The NATO summit was an important milestone. Its outcomes were obvious. But they needed to be stated. Now it's Moscow's turn.

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