LONDON, JULY 6 -- The surprising pledge at the NATO meeting here by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to set a limit on the size of the army in a unified Germany is being seen by Western officials as a bid to ease Soviet concerns about the impending unification of East and West Germany.

Kohl's proposal, endorsed by the Western alliance, departed from his government's previous insistence that any Western troop declaration not single out forces in a united Germany. The Germans are sensitive about any imposed measures that appear to punish the nation for its role as an aggressor in two world wars.

Together with another NATO pledge today that officials said will eventually lead to the elimination of all U.S. ground-based nuclear weapons in a united Germany, the decision to limit German troops could dramatically reshape security arrangements in central Europe.

A communique issued at the close of the summit included language drafted by Bonn specifically offering a future "commitment . . . concerning the manpower levels of a unified Germany." Despite this special mention of a unified Germany, President Bush and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher both denied that the arrangement proposed by Kohl would "singularize" that country.

Asked what happened to the West Germans' earlier concerns, Bush said: "I don't see that {pledge} as singularization." He told reporters that the question of German troops "was a question that had to be addressed anyway" and noted that U.S. troop levels in Europe also would be constrained by a new arms agreement.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said the surprise West German initiative was put forward because "they were ready to deal. They had gone through a lot of deliberations in their government."

German and Allied officials said the formal German troop commitment would be made when an East-West pact reducing conventional, or non-nuclear, forces in Europe is signed later this year. The pact will constrain the deployment of U.S. and Soviet troops in Europe, but will not cover the national armies of any neighbors of a united Germany.

Although the eventual size of the German army was not specified in official statements here today, West German officials have said recently that they have in mind a ceiling roughly 25 to 35 percent below the current total of 540,000 East and West German troops. Between 300,000 and 350,000 of the remaining troops would be stationed in what is now West Germany, while 50,000 troops would be stationed in what is now East Germany.

Officials said Kohl did not pursue an earlier formula that would have pegged the size of a future German army at 390,000, a level equal to the sum of U.S. and Soviet troops allowed in Europe under the new East-West arms treaty.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III indicated earlier this week that limiting the size of future German forces was a key that could help unlock Moscow's approval of German unification and diminish its concerns about the united country's membership in NATO. But neither he nor any other Western leader directly pressured the Germans to accede to Soviet demands, according to officials here.

In an apparent concession to Kohl, the NATO leaders pledged today that once an initial treaty on East-West conventional forces is completed, "follow-on" negotiations will attempt to set limitations on other European armies. NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner said it would take place immediately after the initial treaty on conventional forces in Europe.

West German officials said they anticipate that this second agreement will be concluded quickly enough so that other armies can be reduced during roughly the same period as Germany cuts its troops. But it was not clear today whether Bonn will insist that the timing of these reductions be formally linked.

Kohl's decision reflected his sense that "the pace is picking up" in discussions of German unification and a desire to present a new concession during a planned visit to Moscow next week with Genscher, a U.S. official said.

The official said Kohl would be able to justify the shift at home because of the unique problems created in East-West arms negotiations by the impending unification of the two Germanys, a circumstance that places two opposing armies -- those of East and West Germany -- on the same side of the bargaining table.

That circumstance also influenced the NATO leaders' decision to endorse the eventual elimination of all U.S. nuclear-tipped artillery in Western Europe, most of which is deployed in West Germany and is incapable of reaching past East German territory.

U.S. officials said Kohl persuaded his colleagues at the summit to reject an American plan in which the artillery warheads would be eliminated only when Soviet troops are completely withdrawn from Eastern Europe. The summit communique instead called for a unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. shells "in return for reciprocal action by the Soviet Union," meaning a unilateral Soviet withdrawal of nuclear artillery.

The leaders' communique did not address a pending U.S. plan to deploy modern short-range missiles aboard tactical aircraft in Western Europe beginning in 1995, although it endorsed an "appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, based in Europe, and kept up to date where necessary."