Argentine President Reynaldo Bignone talks frequently these days of taking the Argentine military back to the barracks.
''We will have elections in 1983 for a civilian president,'' he said in a recent press conference, ''and the military will be out of politics by early 1984.''
But there is widespread uncertainty that the military will in fact step down.
Sharply divided, discredited among many Argentines, and most uncertain about its own future, the military is far from united on the issue of giving up power. Some generals and admirals, distrusting civilians, want to continue military control of government.
Moreover, General Bignone is in no position to assure elections. His own rule is shaky. He has already survived in office longer than many forecast when his fellow generals tapped him for the presidency in the dark days immediately following Argentina's defeat in the Falklands war. There are rumors that these same generals are on the verge of snuffing out his rule.
General Bignone serves, in effect, ''with the sufferance of the military,'' observes Antonio Carlos Soler, a Radical Party spokesman. He remains president because, at least for the moment, he has the qualified support of Gen. Cristino Nicolaides, the Army member of the joint military junta that plays a large role in military rule.
No one including General Bignone knows how firm General Nicolaides's support is.
General Nicolaides' own political ambitions are a factor in the election equation. Some political observers here say Nicolaides relishes the prospect of being president and that associates are preparing the way for him to win the post in any 1983 elections.