WARSAW — Though the disintegrating, seven-nation Warsaw Pact has one foot in the grave, some members are desperately trying to keep a tombstone from being placed over the remains.
The prognosis looks bleak, and there are widespread predictions of the demise of the organization, which was formed here in 1955 as a Communist counter to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"We will have to live with this collective dinosaur for a while, but nobody takes the Warsaw Pact seriously any longer," commented a diplomatic observer here. "The only issue is how to get rid of it gracefully," he added.
"The pact is defunct as far as mounting an offensive against the West," added a military specialist in the Polish capital.
But Moscow and a few of its allies hope to breathe life back into the pact by emphasizing a new political role for the organization--long considered the most dangerous military threat to Western Europe.
The Soviet military, which has run the Warsaw Treaty Organization as an extension of the Red Army, insists that the alliance should hang together as long as there is a military threat from NATO. And even some Western specialists believe that a liberalized Warsaw Pact could serve a useful purpose.
As a NATO planner in Brussels put it: "I would not like to write it off entirely. For instance, in the conventional arms negotiations at Vienna, it is easier to deal with the pact members as a group than as seven separate countries."
Further, NATO has proposed the signing of a non-aggression treaty with members of the Warsaw Pact, and such an act might pump life back into the moribund organization.
Of the members--the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania--Poland has appeared among the most eager to retain whatever protective power the organization provides. This is mainly because of the Poles' fear of a united Germany--a nation of 80 million people who, some here still fear, might try to recover former German lands ceded to Poland after World War II.
"There are two sources for our worries," Bronislaw Maria Komorowski, an assistant defense minister of Poland, told a visitor. "I inherited my name from my uncle, who was executed by the Germans in the war. He inherited his name from an uncle who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1920. The Warsaw Pact may offer us protection in both directions. But if we keep it, it must fully respect the principle of partnership."
Similarly, Bulgaria, which also has historic rivals on its borders, is less eager than some of its allies, such as Hungary, to disband the Warsaw Pact.
Kalin Mitrev, a Moscow-educated diplomat and a ranking member of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, said in an interview in Sofia: "There is a half-million-strong Turkish army directed against Bulgaria. We have to think about that. Until we have fully achieved a level of integration with Europe, in order to prevent a Cyprus situation developing here, we need strong support from everyone, especially from our historic allies."
Moscow wants to restructure the pact into a predominantly political organization "of sovereign states with equal rights, based on democratic principles" even as it falters as a credible military alliance.
For Moscow is embarrassed by the fact that its troops are left in countries where they are no longer welcome.
Here is a rundown on the military status of the Soviet Union's six sometime-allies in East Europe:
* East Germany--Long considered the most formidable military power among the Soviet satellites. The East German armed forces, which only a year ago had 170,000 well-disciplined men, are now in a state of near-collapse.
Most importantly, unification of Germany, expected this year, means the eastern sector will no longer be a member of the Warsaw Pact, but affiliated with NATO.
Still, the greater part of the Soviet forces the Kremlin has deployed beyond its national borders are stationed in East Germany--an elite army of 380,000 men in at least 17 combat divisions.
That's why it was such a breakthrough last week when Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed on the withdrawal of Red army forces in three or four years after unification.
* Poland--Strong armed forces of about 400,000 men, including the so-called Internal Defense troops. Heavy divisions are concentrated along the western border with East Germany.
Military attaches say the Polish army, made up largely of conscripts, is professional, well-trained and well-disciplined. "They would fight to the last man if Poland were attacked," one military specialist said, "but the Soviets could not count on the Poles to fight anyone else."
Komorowski, the assistant defense minister, said, "We will act only in a defensive way and only on Polish territory against any threat."