Amid all the hand-wringing among geopoliticians and geopundits over how to devise a new "security framework" for a post-Cold-War Europe, a simple idea seems to have been overlooked: a pan-European Army.

Merging the forces of the current members of the NATO and Warsaw Pacts, including the United States and Soviet Union, could integrate a unified Germany into a continent-wide military structure, contain resurgent nationalist rivalries among the newly-independent former Soviet satellites, replace the outmoded NATO/Warsaw Pact division of alliances and, not least, match a military arrangement to the emerging political, economic and philosophical currents that have been sweeping Europe since last year.

In fact, such a multinational European force would not be a new idea so much as a variation on a concept that was actually official American policy 40 years ago.

After World War II, driven by the dream of European unity and a dread of the national rivalries that had led to two horrific wars in a half-century, Jean Monnet and others spearheaded a movement toward Western European "fusion" (the East, of course, then being in the control of the Soviets).

Proponents hoped unification would develop concurrently in the economic, political and military spheres. Economic efforts toward integration led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market and a host of other collaborative institutions -- all precursors to the most dramatic step yet toward smashing economic barriers on the continent: the planned economic fusion of the European Community in 1992.

On the political level, a proposed overarching structure, the European Political Community (EPC), intended to comprise a European council of ministers and parliamentary assembly, was eventually watered down into the largely powerless European Parliament.

But it was the third leg of the unification triad, the European Defense Community (EDC), that was to be the most concrete expression of a "united Europe."

After the Korean War erupted in June 1950, France came under pressure to allow West Germany (still disarmed and under Allied occupation) to contribute militarily to Western defense against a possible Soviet attack. France proposed creating an integrated European army combining units from pro-Western countries, including West Germany. Though moved by the fear of a Red Army thrust to the English Channel, EDC's supporters were motivated in large part by two consider ations: The first, of course, was the ultimate goal of a united Europe; the other was nervousness about the

idea of rising German nationalism. The EDC concept was eventually killed {see box}, but now, with the two Germanys racing toward reunification, the search for a new military and political arrangement for Europe is again on. Seers and Schemes

Only a few basic schemes have emerged. One formula, deriving more from familiarity than suitability, foresees a modified status quo, with the present (and increasingly anachronistic) division of Europe into NATO and the Warsaw Pact persisting into the indefinite future, albeit at lower troop levels and with the rival alliances taking on more of a political than military cast.

Another suggestion is to dissolve the two blocs, with a neutral Europe emerging. While this idea has its advantages, it does nothing to prevent a free-for-all of national rivalries and alliances from bursting out, with attendant instability.

A third school of thought, apparently popular in the Bush administration, sees nothing objectionable in NATO standing firm while the Warsaw Pact withers away. However, that does nothing to encourage the departure of Soviet troops from former satellites, ease the transition to a unified Germany or to anchor the emerging Eastern European nations in a sensible and stable pattern.

During the recent summit, Mikhail Gorbachev floated a new, yet-to-be-defined "political agreement" between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Secretary of State James Baker said that the United States would be willing to explore it, but that it could not replace the security role of the Western alliance.

But why not retrieve the European Defense Community concept? The idea this time would be to extend it throughout Europe, East and West, creating an integrated European army, with counterbalancing Soviet and American participation, to replace the current rival alliance structure.

Under this plan, a military force would be drawn from throughout Europe as well as from the United States, Soviet Union and Canada and be deployed in all European countries currently belonging to NATO and the Warsaw Pact in numbers exceeding that of each country's national army. Its principal mission would be to remove military force from the inevitable political conflicts to come in Europe. Mending a Continental Divide

Such a continent-wide military force has a number of advantages:

By securing national borders, the force would minimize the risk of dangerous military build-ups along those borders separating countries with political tensions.

By virtue of the continent's present political make-up, the composition of the European army, based on proportional representation, would be overwhelmingly pro-democratic and anti-communist; the Soviet contingent (not especially pro-communist itself these days), and the American contingent, would together constitute a small fraction of the total forces but would serve as a politically significant symbol and commitment to European peace.

By subsuming a unified Germany within the new structure, and dispersing Germany's military forces around the continent as a minority within a European army, any fears of resurgent German militarism should wane.

By participating in the plan and permitting the European army (with its American as well Soviet forces) to replace undesired Soviet occupation armies, the East Central European former Soviet satellites -- East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania (which lacks Soviet troops but belongs to the Warsaw Pact) -- would consolidate their escape from Soviet domination and take a large step toward their loudly declared objective of "rejoining Europe."

By permitting, on a reciprocal basis, the Soviet participants in the European army to be deployed in the current NATO countries of Western Europe, the plan gives Moscow a face-saving excuse to pull its armies out of East Central Europe, including East Germany. Western military leaders disturbed at the idea of allowing even an essentially token Soviet military penetration of Western Europe should recall that in a regime of mutual on-site inspection of military facilities, mutual observation of military exercises, mutual overflights of enemy territory and exchanges of students at military academies -- all taking place or envisioned in East-West arms control agreements or negotiations -- the Soviets are supposed to know about Western European military deployments anyway, and vice versa. Participation in a single military force would simply ensure immediate and reliable mutual verification.

By merging European armies, the prickly issue of what to do about NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in a unified Germany is finessed, without resorting to such contorted concepts as leaving the two alliances within the same country but promising not to move forward from present deployments.

Philosophically, in contrast to other proposals, a combined European army fits the emerging spirit of a common European civilization, ready and eager to collaborate more fully than ever before. In Western Europe this goal is wrapped up in the plans and visions for 1992's shedding of economic inhibitions; in the East it is captured in the widespread longing to return to the mainstream of the continent's intellectual and cultural currents after a painful, undesired, externally-imposed absence.

Nor should Washington or Moscow object; Gorbachev has repeatedly called for the creation of a "common European home" and George Bush has endorsed a Europe "united, whole and free." Why shouldn't a unified Europe have a unified military, if it must have one at all? The Return of Internationalism

And there is a deeper historical rhythm at work. At the conclusion of World War II, in that fleeting moment before the Cold War gloom descended, high hopes arose for a postwar world based on international collaboration -- an ideal epitomized by the creation of the United Nations and the initial proposals for the internationalization of atomic energy and weapons.

But when the Grand Alliance crumbled and the United States and Soviet Union fell out, a new conventional wisdom sprang up: Internationalism was utopian and naive, since the Soviets were unfit partners for diplomatic collaboration. Therefore, the United States needed to rely on its own national power, extended by a collective security agreement with an anti-Soviet coalition. Internationalism got a bad name.

But now the Cold War is over and maybe it's time to give international collaboration another look, at least in Europe. Already, the increased effectiveness of the United Nations over the past few years, particularly in sending peacekeeping forces and monitoring democratic transitions in the Third World, testifies to the fact that a lessening of superpower tension can open the door to more useful international action.

Listen to Jiri Dienstbier, the new Czechoslovakian foreign minister who until a few months ago was stoking coal because of his opposition to the old Communist regime. "We shall have to proceed very quickly in all of Europe so as to knock down as quickly as possible all the artificial barriers created here for over 40 years," he told The New York Times in January. "We should probably have the courage to return to the year 1945, to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and the anti-Hitler coalition, to connect ourselves with the idea of postwar cooperation in building a free and democratic Europe, as if these 40 intervening years didn't exist."

But Dienstbier is wrong to suggest that we should act as if those 40 intervening years didn't exist. They did, and we can hope that they taught some valuable lessons: that people can't be ruled against their will forever; that military might alone can't guarantee security; that in a nuclear-armed Europe, in which a single offshore submarine or multiple-warhead missile can kill more people than all the bombs of World War II put together, traditional conceptions of military buffer zones and spheres of influence no longer make much sense.

Certainly the new force should be as small as possible, coming into existence gradually as current NATO and Warsaw Pact forces are reduced. But even the "velvet revolutionaries" probably aren't going to get rid of armies entirely, and one collaborative European army -- at low levels, to be sure -- sounds safer than lots of individual armies susceptible to nationalist passions.

But wouldn't big powers dominate a European army? Might not countries that have struggled so hard to regain their independence be reluctant to permit a continent-wide army to set up shop on their territory, to relinquish a measure of the sovereignty they had regained at such cost?

Very possibly -- but provisions for deploying a European army could still ensure national dignity while not doing violence to the overall concept. For example, it could be stipulated that the contingent of the host country must be larger than that of any other nation's forces (so, in other words, there would still be more Luxembourgian troops in Luxembourg, and Czechoslovakian troops in Czechoslovakia, than German, American or Soviet troops), while still comprising less than half of the total European forces stationed there.

How would decisions be made? What safeguards could be built in to assure that an international force couldn't be used for nefarious purposes? All such difficult questions would have to be negotiated.

Obviously, it would be absurd to proclaim as gospel any particular "blueprint" for Europe's long-term future when events are moving so fast. But the idea of a unified European military structure, alongside the emerging economic, political, social and cultural continental coalescence, deserves a spot at the bargaining table. Conventional wisdom might say that it can't be done, but conventional wisdom didn't foresee many of the past year's events. As Vaclav Havel put it in his speech to a joint session of Congress: "We are living in very extraordinary times. The human face of the world is changing so rapidly that none of the familiar political speedometers are adequate."

Politics may be the art of the possible, but this is one of those moments in history when "the possible" has suddenly became a highly elastic concept.

Europe's Army: Defeat at Birth

FROM 1950 to 1954, the creation of the European Defense Community remained official alliance policy, but not all the Western allies shared the same enthusiasm. The U.S. government, reluctant to commit itself militarily to defending Western Europe unless its allies came up with a workable military arrangement, strongly supported EDC, as did Konrad Adenauer, leader of a West Germany still technically under Allied rule. Adenauer hoped that by loyally backing the European army, Germany could prove its commitment to European unification and regain both international acceptance and its own sovereignty.

Britain went along only grudgingly, however. Less than keen on the idea of intermingled military units, Winston Churchill privately disdained the proposed force as a "sludgy amalgam." But EDC finally went down in flames in August 1954 because the French government, which had launched the idea of a European force to prevent the creation of a strong national German army, in the end shot it down to prevent the submersion of a strong national French army.

With EDC dead, Western leaders, led by Britain's Anthony Eden, hastily fashioned a substitute plan allowing West German membership in NATO, with its own national army, in exchange for Bonn's promise not to develop nuclear weapons and a British and American commitment to keep troops on the continent, thereby reassuring Germany's nervous neighbors. In May 1955, West Germany officially passed from occupied to sovereign status and simultaneously entered NATO.

Jim Hershberg teaches history at Tufts University, where he is a research associate of the Nuclear Age History and Humanities Center.