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NATO looks toward an era of high-tech conventional weapons

At their Dec. 6-7 winter meeting in Brussels, the NATO defense ministers: * Congratulated themselves on their imminent Euromissile deployment.

* Avoided saying anything in public about the current crisis of escalation of fighting in Lebanon.

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* Inaugurated NATO's next major project of acquiring high-technology conventional weapons.

With evident satisfaction, US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger told a press conference, ''NATO has won a signal victory'' in implementing the initial deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Germany, Britain, and Italy scheduled for the end of this month.

In line with the West's stress on blaming Moscow for the breakdown of Euromissile arms control negotiations, Mr. Weinberger also asserted that the Soviet Union spent the entire two years of the negotiations trying to block these NATO deployments - and failed.

The final communique from the defense ministers regretted once more ''that the Soviet Union had unilaterally ended the latest round'' of the Euromissile negotiations with ''no justification.'' It repeated that the West is ready ''to halt, modify, or reverse its deployments'' if the Soviet Union will agree to equitable mutual feelings.

(Secretary of State George Shultz, arriving for a NATO foreign ministers meeting, said he would be more than ready to meet Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at an East-West disarmament conference in Stockholm next month. ''It depends on whether we (NATO foreign ministers) decide to go, as I believe our decision will be. It also depends on whether Gromyko goes,'' he said.)

In his press conference, Weinberger neither rejected nor welcomed the idea of merging the Soviet-American Euromissile arms control negotiations with the superpowers' strategic arms negotiations. This idea was bruited by European defense ministers just prior to the NATO defense ministers meeting but was not offered as a formal proposal. Washington's position, as explained by US officials, is basically that the next step is up to Moscow and that the West should not rush into initiatives to try to get the Soviets back to the negotiating table.

There has been some weakening of solidarity in supporting NATO's planned deployment over the next five years of 572 American Pershing II and cruise missiles. In the communique, Denmark and Greece reserved their positions on the deployments, following the recent rejection of the decision by the Danish parliament.

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But the reservation is only symbolic. Neither Denmark nor Greece was due to take any of the new missiles. The three major deploying countries are proceeding as planned after stormy domestic debates in West Germany and Britain.

Conspicuous by its absence in the NATO communique was any reference to the peacekeeping forces that four NATO members - the US, Britain, France, and Italy - have in Lebanon. The Europeans are worried about the rapid escalation there, with direct clashes between US and Syrian forces. Behind the scenes, the Europeans are urging the US to be cautious. But at his press conference Weinberger replied with a curt ''no'' when asked if British Defense Minister Michael Heseltine had asked the US to act with prudence in Lebanon.

Weinberger said the NATO ministers ''spent most of the time'' discussing nonnuclear ''emerging technology'' - or ''ET,'' as it has been dubbed. They accord development of the these high-tech weapons the ''highest priority,'' Weinberger said, ''consistent with need to have cooperative and joint'' development and production.

These words acknowledged the European concern that ''ET'' will quickly turn into a vehicle for getting the Europeans to buy American technology. Europeans are insisting, on the contrary, that this would be a ''two-way street.'' Because of their suspicion, the Europeans postponed approval of production of an initial list of some 30 new weapons systems that the US had hoped to get consent to at this meeting. Instead, the list is to be studied further by national defense ministers.

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