PRINCETON, N.J. -- The United States summoned the world's wealthy nations yesterday to an early January conference to help the Soviet republics build democracy, advance economically and demilitarize smoothly.
Sounding a "call to action," Secretary of State James A. Baker III warned that a slide into anarchy and fascism -- both real possibilities as the empire dissolves and its economy collapses -- "will pull the West down too."
Mr. Baker outlined a series of relatively modest steps the United States is taking to help the republics under the direction of Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger.
But the major thrust of the administration's move is to re-create the kind of coalition that fought and financed the Persian Gulf war.
The conference has four aims:
* To help the Soviets destroy and control "the military remnants of the Cold War."
* To identify and meet critical short-term Soviet needs for food, medicine and fuel.
* To help the republics build legitimate democratic institutions.
* To help stimulate free-market forces to spur economic stability and recovery.
The plan would use U.S. leadership and expertise but, to a large extent, others' money. Invited to Washington, in addition to the Western industrialized democracies, Japan and South Korea, are the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries.
A similar international gathering is planned for late January in Moscow to talk about the future of the Middle East.
Mr. Baker coupled his call for action with a blunt threat to isolate any newly independent republic that abandons democracy for fascism or a threatening nationalism or that sets off an interrepublic arms race.
"Already, we are seeing signs that some republican governments -- notably Azerbaijan -- are arming themselves for war against other republics," he said. "Those who pursue these misguided and anachronistic policies should know they will receive neither acceptance nor support from the West."
He held to the U.S. policy of demanding that Soviet nuclear weapons be held under a "unified authority." But, recognizing that the Soviet center is dissolving, he endorsed the idea, already accepted by senior Pentagon officials, of "collective decision-making on the use of nuclear weapons" among the republics that have them.
"We are, however, opposed to the proliferation of any additional independent command authority or control over nuclear weapons," he said.
The speech followed by four days the declaration by Russia, Ukraine and Byelarus (formerly Byelorussia) that they had formed a commonwealth to replace the Soviet Union.
While Mr. Baker didn't fully embrace the still-uncertain concept, he said the republics had "created new authorities with new legitimacy" that may be better equipped than the old center to develop democratically.
He cautioned the republics, however, that if they ignored their own minorities, they could fall victim to the same centrifugal forces as the old Soviet Union.
In gentle terms, he suggested that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is a has-been, adding, however, "His place in history is secure, for he helped end the Cold War peacefully, and for that, the world is grateful and respectful. The same is true of his partner, [Foreign Minister] Eduard Shevardnadze."
Yesterday's initiative served to jump-start administration policy
toward the Soviet Union. The policy grew out of an interagency review process after being mired for weeks in debate.
The ideas were not altogether new. A high-level German visitor had advanced a collaborative Western effort to help republics move to a market economy.
"Working in concert, we must make use of the comparative advantages each of us holds,"Mr. Baker said. He proposed that U.S. nuclear scientists help the Soviets destroy their nuclear weapons and that private companies in the Western United States work with South Korea and Japan to develop the Soviet Far East.
Mr. Baker confirmed that the United States has begun expert-level exchanges with the Soviets on nuclear-arms safety and dismantling.
He also said the Group of Seven industrialized democracies were developing a debt-deferral arrangement. He called for a stronger role for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in assisting the Soviet Union.
A policy statement of this sweep ordinarily would be made by the president. President Bush, however, has been under heavy criticism for allegedly letting his passion for foreign affairs undermine the country's domestic well-being.
But yesterday Mr. Bush was taking heat from two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, for not responding more forcefully to events. The two called for the United States, along with other developed nations, to increase aid to the Soviet Union.
"I know it may be bad politics to be for any kind of aid program in today's economic environment. But . . . having won the Cold War, we must not now lose the peace," Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Baker's speech was part of a coordinated effort that included his warning Sunday that the Soviet Union could turn into another Yugoslavia "with nukes" and CIA Director Robert Gates' prediction of possible severe disorder this winter.