PARIS -- Thirty-four nations, including the United States, Canada and all the countries of Europe except Albania, will formally declare the Cold War dead and herald a new age of East-West relations free of superpower rivalry here tomorrow.
The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe will open its historic meeting shortly after the erstwhile enemies of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sign a landmark treaty reducing conventional forces in Europe.
The accord limiting the deployment of weapons from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains will be the only legally binding document produced during the three days of high-sounding declarations, dinners, bilateral meetings and corridor consultations here.
Though the CSCE meeting might be short on substance, it will be rich in ceremony and symbolism, marking the end of an era defined by military blocs on either side of the Iron Curtain.
Beginning with this week's meeting, the CSCE will become the central framework for a new European order, thinly linking the former East bloc states, including the Soviet Union, to Western Europe.
In a sense, the conference, and the structures that emerge from it, will be the West's bow to hopes that Soviet President Mikhail A. Gorbachev expressed last year for a "common European home" as he allowed the East bloc to fall apart.
The 16 members of NATO and the six states of the Warsaw Pact will sign a declaration ruling out the use of force against each other and pledging to settle potential conflicts through negotiation rather than military intimidation or war.
"We're launching out into the unknown," a Western diplomat said. "CSCE is what the Europeans hope will create some guideposts and a road map for what lies ahead."
The new relations will be defined by a series of regular meetings among senior officials of member states, including foreign ministers once a year and heads of state every two years.
By way of bureaucratic structure, the CSCE is to have a secretariat in Prague, Czechoslovakia; a Conflict Prevention Center in Vienna, Austria; and an office for monitoring free elections in Warsaw, Poland.
The Conflict Prevention Center is foreseen as the most important part of the new CSCE. It probably will have responsibility for verifying adherence to disarmament agreements and eventually may provide the forum for further arms-reduction talks.
To some extent, the CSCE may be more easily defined by what it is not than by what it promises to be. U.S. negotiators have been careful to keep the emerging framework from infringing on NATO's purpose.
It will not be a pan-European defense structure, as Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel once proposed in suggesting that it include a European Security Council. Nor will it replace the European Community by seeking to develop a common political or security stance on global questions.
It will not be permitted to meddle in internal affairs, so long as a state poses no overt threat to other members.
That leaves the CSCE likely to be largely ineffective in dealing with the most thorny problems facing East European states as they emerge from decades of Communist rule and face ethnic unrest and economic collapse.
Mostly, the CSCE will bring the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into a collective tent with Western nations while keeping at a considerable -- some would say safe -- distance.
Instability on its Eastern frontiers has made Western Europe leery about altering its own security structures.
"The Soviet military presence remains very strong, so it's necessary to maintain NATO. Some kind of collective security will still be needed," said John J. Maresca, U.S. representative to the CSCE preparatory talks.
Yet, the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe goes a great distance toward reducing weapons stockpiles in Europe. It limits NATO and the Warsaw Pact to 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored vehicles, 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft and 2,000 attack helicopters each.
Tomorrow's accord "tends to confirm a new status quo, in which the Soviet Union doesn't have the means to launch a surprise attack and would have to cross hostile territory to do so," said Stanley Sloan, a specialist on disarmament for the Congressional Research Service.
Preceding the signing of the accord, each side will exchange data on the number of weapons it has in the region. Diplomats said the Soviets lately have been moving tanks beyond the Urals, lessening the number that would have to be reduced to satisfy the treaty. Experts estimate that the Soviet Union will have to destroy 19,000 tanks.
"Our speculation is that they're trying to reduce the costs of destruction by taking [the tanks] out of area," said Mr. Sloan. "One year without maintenance in the Russian winter, and these tanks wouldn't be usable, so this could be a cheap way of destroying them."
One of the most important features of the new agreement will be the unprecedented level of openness required of each side in revealing its military expenditures, movements and intentions.