Official and press commentary on the INF Treaty signed at the summit has properly emphasized the extraordinary forward strides in the arrangements for verifying compliance with its provisions. President Reagan repeated the Russian proverb, "Trust but verify," until it became the summit slogan.
But the parties failed to address a problem equally central to any successful treaty regime: an adequate framework for resolving disputes of fact and interpretation that inevitably arise in the application of a document as complex as the INF Treaty.
The draftsmen of the treaty tried to minimize the chances for disagreement by spelling out these obligations, as well as the substantive limits of the treaty, in minute detail. But anyone familiar with lawyers' language, whether in contracts, bond indentures or the Internal Revenue Code, knows that increasing the amount of verbiage does not necessarily eliminate ambiguities and potential loopholes. Verification procedures, no matter how detailed, cannot ensure that the agreement will be self-enforcing. Indeterminacy of language, unanticipated developments and changing circumstances are inherent in any treaty regime. Smooth relations require some method for resolving the inevitable disputes as they arise.
That is what courts are for in a domestic legal system. But neither the United States nor the Soviet Union is yet ready to place disputes about compliance with arms control treaties in the hands of third-party arbiters. Can there be truly neutral judges for such cases? We are not yet ready to take the risk. The issues are too close to the core of each party's sovereignty and essential security. There is thus no escape from ongoing negotiation on compliance questions after the treaty is ratified and in place, as strange as that may seem.
The treaty is not wholly silent on dispute resolution. But in stark contrast to the elaborate detail of the verification and on-site inspection measures, it deals with the problem of dispute settlement in a cursory, almost offhand fashion. Article XIII creates a Special Verification Commission within "the framework" of which the parties will meet "to resolve questions relating to compliance. . . ." But notifications, data-base updates, requests for short-notice inspections or other cooperative measures are referred to Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, a different entity created by a different agreement for a different purpose -- to help avoid the risks of accidental nuclear war. This division of responsibility threatens to complicate both functions -- dispute resolution and verification -- by creating unnecessary communication problems and turf disputes that can be manipulated by a party wishing to avoid confronting a compliance problem.
More important, because of the Reagan administration's hostility to the Standing Consultative Commission established under SALT I, the treaty bypasses the only institution in the field with a track record for dealing with ambiguities and disputes under arms control agreements. In truth, although the SCC has been a victim of right-wing opposition to arms control in general, it has had a modest record of successes over its 15-year history, some of them during the present administration. It has not been able to resolve such high-visibility issues as the Krasnoyarsk radar or whether the SS-25 exceeds the limits for a "modernized" missile established in SALT II. But after patient and persistent effort, it finally worked out an agreement clarifying the scope of permissible Soviet air defense testing under the ABM Treaty. Earlier it provided reassurance that Soviet silos used for launch control were not new missile silos prohibited by the agreement.
The problem with the SCC has not been the institution but how the governments have used it. Neither party gives it any independent status or authority. The Soviets have been less than forthcoming with factual information on questions raised by the United States. The United States has been prone to accuse rather than to seek clarification and assurance about Soviet activities. And despite the treaty requirement of confidentiality for SCC proceedings, the Reagan administration has gone public with a long list of alleged violations, many having small legal merit or factual basis.
The SCC has a history of distinguished commissioners whose efforts have often been thwarted. Neither party has encouraged its commissioners to develop the kind of atmosphere or institutional arrangements that might have fostered dispute settlement. Instead, they have read ''scripts'' written in Washington and Moscow that seem designed to exacerbate differences and prevent the emergence of creative solutions. The commission became another arena for the acerbic confrontation that marked U.S.-Soviet relations in the Reagan years, at least before this year.
The solution is not to turn our backs on past experience, but to build on it. Existing institutions should be strengthened and professionalized. To this end, dispute resolution functions under all nuclear arms control treaties should be consolidated in a single body. A good deal of de facto consolidation could be accomplished by appointing the same commissioners and supporting staff to both the SCC and the new INF Special Verification Commission. This would allow for some institutional autonomy, coordinated calendars and constructive agenda setting. It surely falls within the language of Article XIII enjoining the parties to ''agree on measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.''
If the parties recognize the fundamental reality that a continuing negotiating process for the settlement of disputes is inescapable, it may be easier to avoid the rhetoric of accusation and countercharge that has marked the SCC in the past. The parties must try to understand each other's concerns. They must stop stonewalling and be more forthcoming with evidence in support of their positions. And they must scrupulously avoid using the compliance issue as a counter in the game of superpower confrontation.
Perhaps the atmosphere generated by the summit, even when cut back to realistic proportions, can begin to supply these crucial ingredients. Antonia Handler Chayes, a former undersecretary of the Air Force, is chairman of Endispute, Inc., a dispute-resolution legal management firm. Abram Chayes is Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard.