NATO Summit to Shape Political Role for Alliance Leaders Aim to Reassure Soviets, Change Public Perception of NATO

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WHEN NATO leaders meet for a key summit in London this week, they will try to accomplish two formidable tasks.

The first and highest priority is to convince the Soviet Union that the Western alliance is moving from an era of confrontation with the East to one of cooperation - and that a united Germany in NATO, therefore, is no security risk for Moscow.

"It is essential that we provide them (the Soviets) with a strong, definite statement," says a senior diplomat at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters. "We must create an environment in which they can accept the unification of Germany and Germany's membership in NATO."

The second task for the NATO leaders is to convince their own public that the alliance still has a reason for being, even when the traditional enemy, the Warsaw Pact, is on the verge of collapse.

The 16 NATO members hope the two-day summit, which begins Thursday, can assuage Moscow's concerns through the following:

- A specific message for the Soviets. The summit "will give a very clear, political signal that we do consider you (the Soviets and members of the Warsaw Pact) as our partners - not as enemies or adversaries anymore," said NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner in an interview last week.

- Steps toward a new European security order. NATO will make specific proposals to institutionalize the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), mostly known for human rights advocacy, but also encompassing security and economic issues. This 35-nation group, including the Soviet Union and the United States, has no permanent headquarters or staff.

"Our principle objective" at the summit, says a senior NATO official, "is to make sure the Soviets aren't isolated." At a time when Moscow would be giving up its say in Germany's future, it would be gaining a stronger link to Europe through CSCE.

Arms control will be another key factor at the summit. This includes the proposal to begin negotiations on short-range nuclear missles in Europe as soon as the Conventional Forces in Europes (CFE) treaty is signed. The NATO leaders are also expected to draft a nonagression agreement available for signing by individual Warsaw Pact countries.

Almost all of these agenda items have been discussed internationally for months. By bringing them together in a high-profile summit, NATO hopes to create an image of itself as a changing alliance.

"To some extent, it's public relations, but the Soviets want to see a signal," says Francois Heisbourg, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

While Moscow is certainly the key audience for the summit, there are others who will be listening. Eastern Europeans and "quite rightly, our own public," says another senior NATO diplomat, "expect us to give an updated, comprehensive policy presentation."

Alliance members hope the summit can produce a substantive statement about the nature of NATO and its goals. …