Despite some recent gloomy predictions, I believe that we can expect over the coming months to see General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev institutionalizing the arms control process. By this I mean that Gorbachev will make extraordinary efforts to keep the arms control process going, and even accelerate it.

There is a respected body of experts on the Soviet Union who believe that Gorbachev really doesn't know where he wants to take the Soviet Union. They say he is managing anxiety in a classically Stalinist way, shuffling leaders and tinkering with peripheral problems such as alcoholism and corruption. When all is said and done, according to this view, Gorbachev is making it up as he goes along -- he really has no plan for bringing about the major reforms that will move the Soviet colossus into the 21st century.

There are others, with whom I associate myself, who see signs that Gorbachev really does have an idea about where he is going, at least as far as arms control is concerned. I believe that he will step up the pace and institutionalize the arms control process. Keeping the process going, however, is not the same as moving toward an agreement. Since the Soviet leadership will strive for an agreement that is one-sided in its favor -- precisely what the American administration will resist -- the process will not automatically lead toward an agreement.

By keeping the arms control process going, the Soviets hope to influence public opinion in the West so that our strategic modernization programs will be cut back. At the same time, they will hold out the promise to their own people that arms control will ease the economic burden within the Soviet Union and help them carry out a program of internal economic reform.

All observers of the Soviet scene agree that internal economic reform is Gorbachev's primary goal. Currently, the Soviet economy is split between the military and everyone else. The military receives the lion's share of national assets, including the best and brightest talent. The civilian economy gets the leftovers. If Gorbachev is able to change this emphasis, it may well set in motion economic reform.

Gorbachev is somewhat hamstrung in his efforts because his ruling coalition is still evolving. He is also meeting his greatest resistance from the regional party apparatus and the Defense Ministry. These are the two groups that would be most opposed to any changes in economic priorities, and of the two, the Defense Ministry has the tighter hold on the quality resources of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is, in addition, meeting subtle resistance from the nomenklatura, who fear their privileged status will be jeopardized.

Even so, Gorbachev appears to have made a good start. Having supervised personnel matters under Chernenko and Andropov, he became knowledgeable about who was talented and who was corrupt. Moreover, he has demonstrated that he knows how to get rid of people who oppose him. He has instituted a wide-ranging purge that has systematically moved through every major Soviet institution.

Gorbachev has brought the Central Party apparatus quickly under his control and has brought many new faces into the regional leadership. Yet the recent reelection of the corrupt party bosses Shcherbitskiy in the Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred and much defense-related industry exists, and Kunayev in Kazakhstan, suggests that there are still limits to Gorbachev's power.

But it is early. He is still becoming someone. Moreover, deals are still being cut, and as time goes on political opponents become vulnerable when problems such as Chernobyl arise. It will take from three to five years for Gorbachev to consolidate power.

On the other side of the ledger, the Politburo is now dominated by a working majority of civilian technicians who appear to have the common aim of getting the country going again. They view technical expertise, limited market forces and asceticism as the way to greater economic efficiency and higher morale.

The new general secretary has also made some inroads in the armed forces. Unlike Brezhnev's post-1973 Politburo, the one led by Gorbachev does not include the defense minister as either a full or candidate member. There has also been verbal jousting between Marshal Ogarkov and Gorbachev over high technology and perceptions of the threat. When Gen. Yepishev, the ideological watchdog over the armed forces, signaled early qualms about having the Geneva summit, he was swiftly removed from his key post. Immediately following the removal of Grigoriy Romanov as the CPSU secretary for military affairs, Gorbachev held an unprecedented meeting of high military officers in Minsk, where it is rumored he asserted his leadership. A number of key shifts in the top military leadership occurred immediately after this meeting.

These are all indications that the Soviet military and those who stand in the way of arms control are steadily moving into eclipse. It is also not without significance that old America hands -- people with real understanding of the West -- are either being retained or moved into key advisory roles. Dobrynin and his longtime deputy Bessmertnykh are perhaps the latest examples of this.

Finally, the CPSU program itself, adopted at the 27th Party Congress, suggests that Soviet influence abroad is directly dependent upon the country's economic strength and its ability to provide an attractive model for developing countries. It also suggests that the Gorbachev regime thinks that skillfully manipulated negotiations with the United States would be useful in preserving and improving their overall strategic position.

The Soviet cancellation of Foreign Minister Shevardnadze's meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz in no way changes this. Over the long haul, the Soviets will seek dialogue in whatever forum they can to keep the process alive. The cancellation of the May meetings was an almost ritual political gesture. As such, it has only short-term significance. As soon as Gorbachev has reaped whatever benefits he hopes to achieve from the Libyan situation, he will allow the meetings for the preparation of the summit to proceed. The Soviets' April 28th expansion of Gorbachev's sweeping plan 10 days earlier to reduce NATO and Warsaw Pact conventional forces and short-range nuclear arms is the first indication of this. What we must really look at are the longer-term goals of the Soviet Union and the ways the Soviet leadership will try to attain them. Basic to these goals is economic reform.

In short, then, Gorbachev will most likely try to institutionalize the arms control process. He has logical reasons for doing so: first, it will slow down the U.S. strategic modernization program. Second, it allows him to hold out the promise to his own people that there might be a reordering of economic priorities within the Soviet Union. But by then he will have consolidated his position and will be better able to cope with it. Institutionalizing the arms control process, therefore, provides Gorbachev with a "no lose" situation. It is what I believe he will do.

What does this mean for U.S. negotiating policy? It's very simple: take a page from the Soviets' book and be patient. We are involved in negotiations with a Soviet leadership that wants to keep the process going in hopes of an agreement on its terms. We have placed concrete arms reduction proposals on the table, and the Soviet Union has given some indication that an agreement may be possible, although it is not clear whether the Soviet Union has the necessary political will. If, on the one hand, we don't succumb to entering into a bad agreement and, on the other hand, insist that the negotiating process should result in a mutually satisfactory agreement, both sides stand to gain.