The big 40th anniversary being observed this year is that of V-E day, the Allies' World War II victory in Europe over Nazi Germany. In the West, some of those planning the observance wish to stress the themes of peace and reconciliation in order to find a gracious role for the new Germany. Others would stress the aspect of Soviet-American wartime cooperation in the hope that some of it will rub off. It's a delicate exercise in political triangulation. Moscow will no doubt be doing it in its own way.

But there's really a much more important 40th anniversary in 1985 -- Yalta, the Crimean conference of Feb. 4-11, 1945, of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. It doesn't lend itself to similarly ceremonial public note, but it is much more important. V-E day, after all, is over: its commemoration does little more than impart a transient emotional thrust to selected memories.

Yalta, meanwhile, has come down to us as the occasion and symbol of what some call the betrayal of East Europe but which better deserves to be called the division of Europe between Soviet and American spheres. The result is the living scene. Commemoration of the event that produced it has a potential for launching a set of ideas directed at healing Europe, reuniting Europe, without loss to either great power.

Precisely this ambitious goal has been defined by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's Polish-born national security adviser. In a seminal, deeply humane article called "The Future of Yalta" (Foreign Affairs, winter 1984) and in other forums, he has been waging something of a campaign to put the purposeful peaceable revision of Yalta back on the political agenda of East and West for the next 10 or 20 or more years.

Oh, I know what some of you are thinking: Zbig is just doing his Polish thing, he is just looking for a way to stick it to the Russians and, after that, to the Germans.

Well, you are wrong. Brzezinski is doing a Polish thing -- a good thing. He is locating Poland in the single comprehensive Europe of common culture and history that existed for hundreds of years before Yalta created the artificial entities of "West Europe" and "East Europe." It is that large and ennobling idea of Europe, free of domination by outside powers, that Brzezinski is attempting now to recall and to renew. There is nothing narrowly Polish about it.

As for sticking it to the Russians, you are wrong again. Brzezinski is a hard-liner. But he understands, as Europeans do, that nothing "European" can flourish and endure in East Europe that the Soviets see as cutting across their vital interests. This leads him to policy prescriptions that take legitimate Soviet interests in Europe into account.

Had you thought this was out of the question? Had you figured that Europe is divided and will stay divided indefinitely? And that -- given the Germans -- it's perhaps better for everyone that way? Most people feel so. To the limited extent that they envisage change at all, they leave it up mostly to some vague and automatic process of history. The notion that policy can make a major difference, rather than simply manage the status quo, is not part of the current political lexicon.

Brzezinski thinks otherwise. He believes that the division of Europe is untrue to history and destiny and that, furthermore, it is unstable: it locks the Soviet Union and the United States into a confining and dangerous competition that neither can win and both have reason to end. This is his strategy for the West:

1.Repudiate -- he would have it done as early as next month -- "Yalta's burden" of the partition of Europe, and proclaim the ideal of an independent, non-threatening, self-expressing Europe.

2.Reconfirm the 1975 Helsinki Accords, useful instruments of the European idea, in order to provide reassurance that the existing territorial frontiers are permanent.

3.Draw East Europeans into participation in all-European bodies on every matter possible.

4.Have West Europeans -- not Americans -- take over providing aid to East Europeans struggling, peacefully, for political emancipation.

5.Shrink the American role and enlarge the European role in conventional defense -- not in spite but as a deliberate strategy to promote a Europe "less in conflict" with Moscow.

Undoing Yalta peacefully: Brzezinski's idea is not beyond criticism, but it tackles the whole of a large question that most others address only in parts and it offers a path from here to there: from Yalta to Europe as it could again be.