SEVEN years have passed since the last United States-Soviet arms accord, in 1979. And a tremendous crop of locusts still feasts on East-West relations. But a cluster of events and forums -- most notably this week's agreement in Stockholm between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries on measures to lessen the risk of war in Europe -- show signs that a more constructive cycle in the relationship between Eastern and Western forces may have begun. Before Washington can in good conscience proceed on other matters, it must insist on settling the case of Nicholas Daniloff, the American reporter unjustly seized in Moscow to set up a pawn exchange for the Soviet official at the United Nations who was arrested earlier by US authorities and charged with spying. Since freeing Mr. Daniloff is as easy for the Kremlin to arrange as a flight ticket from Moscow to New York, his release without further harassment is a test of the basic intentions of the Kremlin.
Other issues still eating away at relations include the Soviet assault on Afghanistan and meddling in Nicaragua, Angola, and Ethiopia, where Washington supports anticommunist rebels. The US has again helped shut out the Soviet Union from the West's new round of tariff and trade negotiations, while the Soviets spurn US grain sales even at subsidized prices.
And so the superpower grappling for global advantage goes on. Ronald Reagan, entering the final quarter of his eight-year presidency, faces his fourth Kremlin adversary in Mikhail Gorbachev. The broad strokes of Mr. Reagan's national-security achievement are in place: He has taken the US defense buildup as far as domestic political forces will allow, and launched a new development phase in nuclear weapons defenses and technology. The younger Mr. Gorbachev, with no apparent limit to his tour in sight, has initiated his own advances toward maintaining Soviet world influence: a more open and energetic style; a shift in relations with Moscow's old Asian rivals China and Japan; dallying with a resumption of relations with Israel while promoting a role for itself in a Middle East regional conference; and pursuing summitry and arms control for Moscow's own political advantage in Europe and to limit any potential US strategic advantage.
Arms accords and a second summit will not alter the structure of East-West relations. This structure has emerged from differing histories and incongruent political systems.
But these efforts to reduce tensions, to allow checks and inspections for troop and missile movements, to pare back missile stockpiles beginning possibly with midrange missiles in Europe, to moderate the pace of defensive weapons development -- all of which are the subject of current talks in Stockholm, Vienna, and Geneva, as well as Moscow and Washington -- can mark a turn to a season of less anxiety, economic waste, and human suffering.