THERE APPEARS to be no special policy significance to the changes president Reagan has just announced in his arms control team. The changes are, however, richly revealing of the complex political currents buffeting the administration from within and without alike.
Eugene Rostow, fired as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, brought to Washington a strong, defense-minded conservatism, but did not succeed in becoming either a major player in policy formulation or, from the standpoint of White House political operators, a reliable team player. When the White House denied its support in the Senate for the Foreign Service professional whom Mr. Rostow had sought as his deputy, his humiliation was complete. The departure of this somewhat old-fashioned spokesman for international rectitude is, therefore, a victory for the most conservative wing of Mr. Reagan's party, but it is not only that.
The proposed replacement for Mr. Rostow, Kenneth Adelman, 36, has been deputy American representative at the United Nations. A foreign affairs generalist, he is neither a technician nor a theologian in arms control, and shares the administration's general reserve toward the process. Interestingly, though he is a practicing Reaganite, he has not hesitated to support the confirmation campaign of Richard Burt, whose nomination to a high State Department post has been held up for nine months by Senate conservatives.
The other official leaving now, mostly for personal reasons, is Richard Staar, chief negotiator at the long-running talks on conventional arms cuts in Europe. One likely choice to succeed him was the American ambassador to East Germany, Herbert Okun, but the conservative hit squad got him with a fusillade of press leaks that portrayed him as a soft- liner. The president then came up with Morton Abramowitz, the career diplomat whose nomination as chief of Asian affairs was derailed, by the usual gang, last year. Mr. Abramowitz is an Asia specialist. He is also one of the State Department's ablest officers and one whose treatment had become for the Foreign Service a test of the administration's respect for professionalism.
In short, the two are men of competence and independence, and their nominations solve a couple of embarrassing personnel problems for the administration. They are also latecomers, and how soon they will come to be accepted by their peers as important actors in the policy process is another question--and not a small one in light of the fact that 1983 is bound to be a year of difficult negotiating decisions. The "grand game" in Washington--the struggle to influence the president--is coming increasingly to focus on these negotiations, the nuclear talks and the conventional arms talks as well.