Responding to continuing protests over the manufacture of arms at its Minneapolis headquarters, Honeywell Inc. has provided $125,000 to finance public debates and research exploring arms control and disarmament.

Honeywell officials said they believe this is the first time a major military contractor has provided money and support for public discussion and research questioning the arms race.

To avoid giving credence to allegations by some Minneapolis proponents of disarmament that the series is strictly a public relations ploy by the company or that panelists for the debates have been chosen to reflect only certain points of view, Honeywell turned both the money and the responsibility for planning the debates over to the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. The institute, in turn, has developed the series in cooperation with the Committee for National Security and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.

The Committee for National Security is a Washington-based group headed by Paul C. Warnke, former head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, that promotes debate and education on national security questions to increase public awareness of the issues.

The first four sessions of "Prospects for Peacemaking: Rethinking National Security and Arms Control," were broadcast live by Minnesota Public Radio and on a delayed basis by television, sparking discussion throughout the state. At the fifth session, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 29, several research papers focusing on "fresh approaches to national defense and arms control in the context of world security" will be presented, followed by a televised town meeting to discuss the papers.

The research and debates have not stopped protesters -- led by a group called the Honeywell Project, formed in 1968 during the Vietnam war -- from continuing their demonstrations at Honeywell's headquarters. Earlier this month, several members of the group dug graves on the company's property to call attention to their opposition to the manufacturing of weapons, and some protesters were arrested after blocking Honeywell's entrance.

"As most of you know, about one-quarter, or about $1 billion, of Honeywell's revenue comes from defense," said Honeywell's chairman and chief Executive Officer Edson W. Spencer, in his opening remarks at the second public forum last May. "As you also know, defining the corporate responsibility of defense contractors is often discussed. Being in the defense business doesn't prevent Honeywell from hoping as ardently as any disarmament proponent that countries can find a way to wind down the arms race.

" . . . We did this sponsored the public debates because we believe, as surely everyone does, that the possibility of nuclear war is one of the most important issues facing the world today," Spencer said.

Honeywell has been criticized by members of the Honeywell Project disarmament group for sponsoring the forum while continuing to manufacture weapons. But the company's response, according to its chairman, has been to reiterate its belief that its responsibility as a military contractor is to do the best job it can to serve the country's needs, not to determine defense policy.

"I don't really care what Honeywell's motives were in sponsoring the debates , because the more dialogue there is, the more we will deal with these issues," said Arvonne Fraser, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute and the wife of Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser.

Some defense contractors have approached the company to learn more about its role in sponsoring the debates, according to Honeywell officials, although there has been no public announcement of plans by others to sponsor similar forums.

Debate participants have included nationally known panelists who are security experts and citizen panelists from a variety of backgrounds. Among the former have been former secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Soviet foreign policy expert Dimitri Simes, who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Warnke.

In addition to the debates and the military policy research, the Prospects for Peacemaking series has included discussion groups involving Minnesota citizens representing organizations concerned about arms control policy.

Disarmament leader Marv Davidov said his group, the Honeywell Project, and others will continue to demonstrate at Honeywell until the company adopts a policy of "economic conversion." Economic conversion means Honeywell would use its arms manufacturing facilities to make nonmilitary products, without the loss of jobs for any of its employes, Davidov said.

However, Davidov said the forums are a positive development overall because "Honeywell's top executives are responding to a massive civil disobedience campaign in the community where they are located."