The top leaders of the western alliance have almost never addressed the central questions of war and peace in their private summit talks but dwell instead on much less vital subjects, according to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who participated in many such sessions in his 15 years as prime minister of Canada.
Trudeau, who attended four of the six summit meetings of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since its founding in 1949, said the closed-door talks centered on such items as making NATO weapons uniform for all countries and planning to increase military expenditures 3 percent annually.
In an interview and an acceptance address for the award of the $50,000 Albert Einstein Peace Prize at a luncheon here, Trudeau expressed frustration with the unwillingness and inability of world leaders, in both East and West, to focus broadly and seriously on the nuclear arms race that imperils mankind.
"NATO heads of state and of government meet only to go through the tedious motions of reading speeches drafted by others with the principal objective of not rocking the boat," Trudeau said. He added that "any attempt to start a discussion or to question the meaning of the communique -- also drafted by others before the meetings began -- was met with stony embarrassment or strong objection."
Trudeau said discussions of the nuclear threat had been "somewhat more tolerated" at the annual "economic summits" of advanced industrial nations, despite the seemingly more limited subject matter. Trudeau attended eight of these meetings from 1976 to 1984.
Even there, he said, referring to his own proposals at the 1983 and 1984 economic summits, "efforts at Williamsburg to send out a message of peace as well as one of military preparedness, and attempts in London to include on the agenda a discussion of areas of common ground between East and West were characterized as 'giving comfort to the Russians.' " Trudeau declined to name those who made this charge.
Trudeau took a leading role in a spirited debate at last year's Williamsburg summit over a challenge to the Soviet Union to reduce the risks of war. At the London summit this year Trudeau was the moving force behind a statement adopted by the leaders that "East and West have important common interests in preserving peace."
While finding some hope in recent statements about arms control by President Reagan and Soviet President Konstanin U. Chernenko, the former Canadian leader was cautious in his expectations for the future because he thinks that the top leaders tend to leave the most vital issues to technically proficient aides and "nuclear accountants."
"I believe President Reagan would like to make progress. But I have no reason to believe the advice he will get will permit him to make progress. And I don't know if he will be in a position to judge if he is getting the right advice or not," said Trudeau.
He added that Reagan's 1981 "zero option" proposal on medium range missiles in Europe and his 1982 strategic arms proposal were "non-starters" in negotiations with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, "he thought he was making a positive move because people told him he was making a positive move," Trudeau said.
Reagan "will talk peace," but it is uncertain "whether he will make proposals that will lead to peace," according to Trudeau.
He could make the same statement about Chernenko, added the former Canadian leader. If there are positive suggestions from the new Soviet political leader and head of state, "I don't think he will think them up himself," Trudeau said.
As for summit meetings of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-led military alliance in Europe, "having had discussions with several of the participants I can fairly guess that the party line is adhered to every bit as much as it is on ours," he said.
Trudeau, 65, stepped down this summer after dominating Canadian politics for many years. He described himself yesterday as on "a kind of sabbatical" and said the $50,000 award given by a Chicago-based foundation would "keep me in good shape" until the start of a new endeavor.
Author Norman Cousins, chairman of the prize board selection committee, said Trudeau was chosen because of his "unprecedented efforts to break the political impasse on arms control," especially a 1983-84 "peace initiative" during which Trudeau visited 17 countries and spoke to more than 50 governmental leaders.
To encourage top leaders of the West to spend more time and effort on peace issues, Trudeau renewed his call for a summit meeting of the five nuclear powers: the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China.
He also declared that "NATO must be transformed into a vital political alliance as had been intended in the beginning," and he expressed encouragement that Lord Peter Carrington, the new secretary general of NATO, "has both the intellect and the nerve to oversee such a transformation." Trudeau said NATO summits should be held more frequently and with sufficient time "for fruitful and creative exchanges."
Trudeau also called on NATO to take these steps to advance peace:
Declare that after the achievement of conventional-force reductions in Europe, which have been under negotiation for a decade, NATO would adopt a "no first use" policy for nuclear weapons.
Instruct negotiators at the Vienna talks on conventional forces "to respond more constructively" to the 1983 Soviet proposal in that forum.
Support a French or Canadian proposal for banning testing and deployment of antisatellite systems designed to operate at high altitudes.
Announce a temporary halt to deployment of NATO medium range missiles in Europe in return for "equivalent" Soviet reductions and immediate resumption of U.S.-Soviet negotiations in this field.