Lighter Burdens, but Greater Influence : The Summit: Gorbachev rehearses the strategy that worked for him before: Be nice, realistic--and alert for traps.

Robert E. Hunter is vice president for regional programs and director of European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

If we could slip into the Kremlin to hear Mikhail S. Gorbachev addressing the Politburo, we might hear something like this:

Comrades, I will soon meet with the U.S. President, G. H. W. Bush, and it is time to explain to you my European strategy.

Yes, I have a strategy. Surely, you don't think it was the East Germans who decided to open the Berlin Wall! To understand my strategy, remember that I am a realist, like Lenin, not like those rough peasants who came afterwards and believed their own propaganda.

Reality teaches that we must take risks to drag the Soviet economy into the modern age. We are behind America, Japan and the European Community. And, yes, Communist China embarrassed us with its progress. Perestroika is our destiny or we will be nothing.

And we must preserve the Union! Glasnost has a price: It has unleashed nationalism, about which Karl Marx provided no guidance. But what is to be done? So long as we want to control nationalism in our internal empire, we must give play to it in the empire beyond our borders. No East Europeans have ever made a success of communism--not even the Germans. Letting them play with bourgeois democracy is a small sacrifice if we get what we need.

My predecessors believed that greatness came from military power. Pah! Military power is only as good as the goals it helps us reach. Under L. I. Brezhnev, we deployed SS-20 rockets against Western Europe, and the Americans responded by putting rockets in West Germany that could strike the Kremlin. But I traded our weapons for theirs, and now the Pentagon is at a loss.

My willingness to face reality, comrades, is working for us again. We have an advantage over the West, which believes its nightmares. I know that NATO will not attack us, and I have decided that we will not attack NATO. So there will be no war; and if no war, why should we deploy forces that only help the West hang together?

Now that we have loosened the reins in Eastern Europe, the West will take those wretched economies off our hands and will even help us make perestroika work. With arms control, we can cut our defense budget, which is one-fifth of our economy. America will reduce both its military presence and its influence in Europe. NATO must give up plans to modernize nuclear missiles that can strike East Germany; that's now unthinkable! And it is no accident that today the Soviet Union has more influence in Western Europe than ever before. With all his military might, J. V. Stalin could not achieve that.

My enemies whisper that we are losing the power to intimidate, that the West also gains from our retreat. What fools! Should we care that someone else sups well, provided our bellies are full? And ideology? Wake up, comrades, Potemkin villages cannot work when there is television; no one is fooled by pretense that communism is working. Our only hope to save socialism is to gain a breathing space.

My critics ask how far I am prepared to go. What about Germany, they cry, which killed 22 million of our people in the Great Patriotic War? That is true. But does anyone believe that adding 16 million poor East Germans to the Federal Republic will turn Helmut Kohl into Adolf Hitler? Or that the West will not be our willing watchdog? Perhaps you have not noticed, comrades, but West Germany's membership in the European Community has pulled the German fangs.

I said recently that I will not let Germany be reunified. But it is inevitable. Marx and Woodrow Wilson would agree about that. Still, we gain from the debate I have unleashed in the West. The European Community is a dialectical problem. It limits German power, but its success could do more to isolate than to help us. But with my tactics, we buy time to decide what is best for us, while France presses to complete the single European market and Mme. Thatcher--my unwitting accomplice!--cowers in the face of history.

So I go to Malta to meet Bush and, because of his eagerness, will be his acknowledged equal, although I play a weak hand. America's allies believe that I will outmaneuver him. With what, you ask? Just with words--like the fact that Malta rhymes with Yalta, which scares them so much. Perhaps I will propose withdrawing all nuclear weapons from Europe, which would be popular in West Germany. Or I'll propose an all-European peace conference. Or withdraw some more troops from Eastern Europe, which are no longer needed to keep people down.

Instead, comrades, I may "behave myself," as the Americans say. And I will, if Bush realizes how desperate we are for Western money and technology; if he avoids my trap of drawing him into a deal on Eastern Europe; if he challenges me to make rapid cuts in conventional and strategic forces.

We are vulnerable, now that the Soviet people can see East Germans cross the Berlin Wall to the great Western supermarket but can't go themselves. Nationalism and discontent here will just get worse; I must get this economy moving, soon.

Perhaps I shall "give peace a chance" and let my successor square it with Lenin.

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