CAN "DEEP REDUCTIONS" be made as appealing a slogan for antinuclear demonstrators as a "freeze"?

The Reagan White House today is searching for a simple formula to describe its strategic approach to controlling nuclear weapons. As one official put it last week, they are looking for a phrase as catchy and well received as the "zero option" was when President Reagan announced it last November as the American goal for negotiating with the Russians on missiles in Europe.

But what about the policy that will underlie this new slogan? What will it be like? To date we have been given only a raw outline which comes down to this -- modernization of existing nuclear systems on both the Soviet and American sides that permit deep cuts in overall weapons numbers.

There is a case to be made for a plan of this sort. And while the White House, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Defense Department and State Department interagency groups work out the more formal position, I would like to suggest one approach that could be taken.

First, we need a little bit of atmospherics -- a simple move that sets the tone of the Reagan approach, captures the world's imagination and doesn't cost anything in terms of real nuclear deterrence.

The dramatic step to take is a declaration by President Reagan that when the Geneva negotiations on theater nuclear forces resume, the United States is prepared to talk about removal from Europe over the next five years of 5,000 of the 6,000 tactical nuclear warheads it now maintains in its NATO European stockpile.

That reduction can take place, Reagan could say, for two reasons. First, we are attempting to reduce to zero the intermediate- range nuclear missiles that threaten Europe and at the minimum we plan to come out with something like a balance in these missiles between East and West.

Then, in the area of shorter-range systems, modernization already in progress would give us more effective weapons and thus permit deep reductions in older ones.

Nearly 3,000 of the American warheads to be removed under this notion are 20-year-old nuclear artillery shells for 8-inch howitzers and 155-millimeter guns. Under current plans, the new neutron 8-inch shells now being produced are to be stored here in the United States, available for shipment to Western Europe in the event of a crisis. Since the neutrons are to replace the old 8-inch shells now in Europe, logic says the old shells could be removed without harming deterrence. As for the 155-mm. nuclear shells, they too are scheduled to be retired.

Under my formulation, these smaller nuclear 155-mm. shells would not be replaced, since 800 or so 8-inch neutron shells are more than enough nuclear artillery to handle the threat.

As for the rest of the removed warheads, they would include a variety of weapons that either no longer are useful or never have been. The Nike-Hercules nuclear antiaircraft missile warheads, which are to be replaced by the conventionally armed Patriot system, would be one of those to go. There are also nuclear atomic demolition munitions, the so- called nuclear mines, that never have fitted into any serious war plan. And finally there are the air-delivered bombs that are so great in yield that NATO guidelines no longer permit them to be dropped except in a few areas.

This reduction would leave NATO in far from a disarmed nuclear state. Within the 1,000 American warheads left would be bombs for fighter-bombers, a minimum number of Lance nuclear warheads for that 56- mile-range weapon, warheads for the 400- mile-range Pershing I missile and, back in the United States, those neutron 8-inch shells and Lance missile warheads. In addition, there also would be the independent nuclear force of the British, and outside NATO but inside the Western sphere, the French force de frappe.

This wouldn't be a unilateral step. The United States could propose that the Soviet Union, as it modernizes its shorter-range systems, reduce the numbers of its short-range missile launchers and return to Russian territory all the tactical nuclear warheads it now has stockpiled in Eastern European countries, particularly East Germany.

Under this approach, the Reagan reduction proposal for theater forces would be just the opening gambit -- designed to counter Soviet President Brezhnev's proposal last week to embrace the freeze approach by halting SS20 deployments west of the Urals and promising unilateral reductions in older SS4 and SS5 missiles, weapons that already have effectively been retired from the force and thus available for such arms control gesturing.

The real heart of the Reagan reduction plan, however, has to focus around the costly and constantly growing strategic forces -- the land-based intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers based in both countries.

What has to be done as a means of capturing the public imagination and turning the number of these weapons downward is to change the way arms control efforts measure what each side has. That is not my idea: It is a basic tenet of the Reagan team's approach.

Adopting that, my basic suggestion is that the United States propose cutting in half over the next 10 years the 9,000 strategic nuclear warheads it currently has and making that number -- 4,500 warheads -- the standard for both superpowers.

Traditionally, arms control efforts during the SALT I and SALT II negotiations focused on limiting the number of launchers on each side -- the Soviet and American delivery systems, such as missiles and bombers -- rather than the size and numbers of the nuclear warheads that those launchers can deliver.

But as we have sadly found out, each side has been able to increase its strategic stockpiles by simply piling more nuclear bombs on each of its delivery systems. Missiles that once carried a single bomb now carry 10 and could be designed to carry even more.

The Reaganites appear determined to change the basic counting approach, first by shifting from launchers to the number of warheads on each side. In addition, they recognize that there are both big and small warheads and thus differences in yield, or explosive nuclear power, in the weapons both countries have. This factor, too, must be taken into consideration under the proposed formulation.

These changes in weapons measurements may make sense in trying to set up a system that provides for a better comparison of each side's effective force, but they create an enormous problem in allowing the public to understand what is going on.

To cut through the intricacies, let me suggest that in this initial proposal we limit the counting to warheads with a yield of 200 kilotons or more. That's the equivalent of 200,000 tons of TNT. The Hiroshima bomb, for comparison, was 12.5 kilotons. With the increasing accuracy both sides are building into their missiles, a warhead of this yield will soon be able to destroy a target as easily as one with three times the yield.

With that proviso, here is the way a strategic reduction plan could be drawn:

Both sides, within a 10-year period, would cut their total strategic deliverable warheads to half the number the United States had as of Jan. 1, 1981, on its land-based ICBMs, sub- launched ICBMs and long-range bombers -- the traditional "triad" of strategic launchers.

That means the United States would go down from 9,000 to 4,500. For the Soviets, it means dropping from 7,000 to 4,500. The larger drop for the Americans is justified, as you shall see, because this country has many smaller-yield warheads, particularly on its sub-launched missiles. Within the 10-year period, its modernized missiles will each carry warheads larger than the ones of today, and thus fewer will be needed. And cutting out smaller American warheads altogether, such as the 40-kiloton ones carried now on Poseidon submarines, will not be missed in the new nuclear regime.

The Soviets, who traditionally have had more of the larger-yield warheads on their missiles, these days are actually cutting the yields down on their newer ones.

I would add one element to this mix, however. If the current Geneva talks do not reach agreement based on the "zero option," I would propose that any warheads on intermediate-range missiles deployed by either country -- the SS20s on the Soviet side which carry three warheads, and the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles on the American side -- be counted within the new strategic warhead limits.

After 10 years have expired, neither side would be permitted to modify, test or introduce new types of intermediate or long-range missiles or warheads.

A bit of explanation: The 10-year period is chosen so both sides could adapt, within their design and testing systems, to the new rules. It takes at least that long to design, develop and deploy a strategic weapons system. It would also take that long to carry out the serious type of reduction programs both sides would be undertaking.

Verification, as with all treaties, cannot be perfect. Electronic listening devices, long- range radars and satellites can provide the information on numbers of missiles, warheads tested for each system and even the size of each warhead. As we had planned to do with SALT II, under this proposal any missile that has been tested with up to 10 warheads will be counted as having 10 warheads.

Today we make our estimates of the nuclear yield of Soviet weapons by determining the volume of the weapon and estimating how much explosive power we believe they can get from a device fitting into such a weapon. There probably should be a better way of determining this and attempts will and should be made to get some other means that are mutually acceptable.

To meet the new warhead limits set by this proposal, the United States could modernize its force as follows:

Land-based ICBMs could be reduced from today's 1,052 down to 650 missiles. Gone would be the 52 Titan IIs (a step already proposed by the Reagan administration) and 400 single-warhead Minuteman IIs (the Pentagon already has proposed dropping 50). The remaining operational missiles would be made up of 600 Minuteman III missiles, each carrying three Mark 12A warheads, and 50 new MX missiles, each carrying 10 Mark 12As (the Pentagon now wants to deploy 40 in silos but build 100). The Mark 12A has a yield of 340 kilotons and a highly accurate guidance system which makes it the equal of the 600- kiloton warhead carried by the biggest Soviet missile, the SS18.

Sub-launched ICBMs would be changed, initially by dropping the 19 Poseidon nuclear missile submarines that now carry the Poseidon missile, leaving only the 12 Poseidon submarines that have been adapted to take the newer, long-range Trident I missile. As the 10 years pass, these submarines, too, would be retired because the Trident I's eight warheads per missile carry only a yield of 100 kilotons. Replacing them would be the 10 new Trident submarines, each of which by the end of the 10-year period would carry the new Trident II missile. Now only a paper weapon, the Trident II is expected to be able to carry six or eight warheads similar to the Mark 12A's.

The bomber force would take a big cut. The Air Force has ordered the first 50 B1 bombers, but in the process has cut back the plane's supersonic speed and prepared it to act more as a conventional bomber than as a nuclear carrier. During the interim 10-year period it can serve as a cruise missile carrier, although I can see that program being cut back sharply.

The role of the bomber in a nuclear missile age, where both sides are struggling for stability, seems limited. If you want to attack your enemy, the bomber, with its many-hour trip to the target, seems the last way to do it. If you want to respond to a missile attack, missiles from subs or from land appear the logical way to go, not with bombers. The only role for aircraft appears tosed in th be as a hedge against false attack, and for that role in the near future, 50 B1s carrying 300 or so cruise missiles seems adequate. Later, 50 "Stealth" aircraft can assume the role, provided such an airplane works within the next 10 years.

That would give us a mix roughly within the 4,500-warhead limit. There would be 2,300 on land-based ICBMs (juggled a bit to permit 108 Pershing II warheads and some number of ground-launched cruise missiles, according to how negotiations turn out). Another 1,920 would end up as Trident II warheads on new Trident submarines. And finally air-launched cruise missiles would fill out the force.

The Soviets would have a more difficult job of cutting. Their present force of 308 giant SS18 missiles are now supposed to carry 10 warheads apiece. Thus, by themselves, they could absorb almost the entire permitted quota. No, under this formulation the Soviets would finally have to back away from some of their giant missiles and depend, as this country does, on a mixture of land-based and sub- launched weapons.

They also would be penalized if they decided to keep the 300 SS20s now deployed, since they would be included in the count and would take up 900 of their warhead slots.

One approach the Soviets would be encouraged to take by this formula would be to replace their larger silo-based missiles with a new mobile missile, much like the mobile MX originally contemplated by this country. The Soviets could do this without having to face the domestic political problems we ran into over the question of where such a mobile missile would be based. The Soviet Union's vast land areas, mixed with a society that cannot protest, would combine to give them the flexibility and thus the survivability designed for such a system.

Moscow would have a leg up on this approach since the Russians have developed but not yet tested a mobile ICBM, according to American intelligence sources. Moving to such a mobile system would protect the Soviets from the alleged disarming first-strike problem that has haunted American strategists. With mobility, the Russian land-based missiles could not be considered vulnerable.

There is another advantage to the Soviets in this approach. In the long run, it makes up for the deeper cuts given Russian ICBM deployments. Removal of all but 50 American bombers sharply lowers the need for Soviet strategicv air defense, a factor that allows major reductions in the large amounts of money Moscow annually allocates to meeting the present airborne threat.

For the Americans, the new allocations permit a return to the situation that existed before SALT I. The Soviets remain dominant in land-based systems but the United States holds the advantage in sub-launched systems.

Neither side, it seems to me, would have a basic advantage. Both would have the time to design a system satisfactory to their perceived needs.