Renewed attention has been focused on the nuclear arms balance and nuclear arms control by the resolution introduced by Sens. Kennedy and Hatfield, along with 15 senators and over 100 House colleagues. It calls for the United States and the Soviet Union to pursue a complete halt to the nuclear arms race as an immediate strategic arms control objective. It urges that they then decide when and how to achieve a mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production and further deployment of nuclear warheads, missiles and other delivery systems. This is to be followed by major, mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear warheads, missiles and other delivery systems in a manner that enhances stability.

As objectives these are laudable. The proposal itself derives from very legitimate concerns. As written, it contains suitable references to mutuality, verifiability and stability. But the effect of introducing it is almost entirely symbolic. A congressional endorsement would carry some major risks. Its effect is to put pressure on the United States, but not on the Soviet Union. It would displace or draw attention away from more specific and effective arms control proposals and from actions needed to stabilize the strategic balance. Inevitably, the idea of a freeze will crowd out the fine print.

The concerns that prompt the resolution indeed call for immediate attention. One is a growing fear that a nuclear war might actually take place. There is no question that such a war, fought with nuclear arsenals frozen at their present levels, would be an unparalleled and unimaginable catastrophe. Europeans (including the middle-aged, the middle-class and the conservatives, as well as the usual demonstrators) have been motivated in part from a sense that whether nuclear war occurs in Europe is out of the hands of European governments as well as citizens, and depends principally on the United States and the Soviet Union. Americans, who lately displayed their ability to change government direction on foreign and military policy, have come somewhat more slowly to a realization that they may not feel safe about the direction in which they have changed it. The strategic arms competition continues, a reminder of the possibility of nuclear war. Fears mount that, unlimited and unreversed, strategic arms competition will make nuclear war more likely. It is less well understood that stopping the competition at its present level will not by itself reduce either the likelihood or the lethality of nuclear war. But the absence of limitations on the competition may raise the probability of nuclear war by inducing or increasing instabilities, or by contributing to a psychology of enmity between the superpowers, whose relations are already worse than they have been since the Cuban missile crisis at least.

There is, moreover, a perception that the administration has failed to take nuclear arms limitation and reduction seriously as important components of national security policy. An example is its opposition to SALT II during the 1980 campaign, joined in then and now by some of the sponsors of the freeze. The unforthcoming way in which it has backed into an admission of tacit mutual observance of the SALT II limits heightens that perception. So does the failure to resume strategic arms negotiations; statements implying that martial law in Poland must be lifted as a condition of such negotiations will produce neither result. Concerns about administration attitudes have been amplified by frequent loose talk about how feasible or even easy it might be to limit nuclear war, and discussions about the survivability or even winnability of an all-out thermonuclear conflict, by several senior officials.

The administration was forced to resume negotiations on limitation of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe at the edge of the precipice, when not only nuclear modernization but the alliance itself was endangered by European perceptions of U.S. intransigence. President Reagan rescued the situation by forceful and effective presentation of a position ("zero- option") that could well get the alliance into trouble later, but is a reasonable and fair approach. Negotiations seem stalled, but they have staved off, for a time, political disaster in the alliance.

As to a freeze itself, some argue that it would be very disadvantageous to the United States, even if immediately and fully implemented and completely verified. The United States, they claim, is now inferior in nuclear weapons, and needs to catch up. Such arguments are not persuasive. It it true that the alliance remains behind in intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe (though not in shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons), and that the Soviets could destroy the bulk of our intercontinental ballistic missiles in hardened silos by an ICBM attack of their own, while we have no corresponding capability. It is also true that an immediate freeze would abort U.S. strategic programs that would otherwise, over the next five years, probably produce a relative gain in U.S. strategic capabilities relative to those projected for the Soviet Union. But the United States is ahead in numbers of strategic warheads, in the overall capabilities of ballistic missile submarines and the missiles that they launch, and in the capabilities of our heavy strategic bombers. Strategic parity is a band, not a point, and though our position in that band is relatively worse off with respect to the Soviet Union than it was 10 years ago, we remain in that band. Attempts to improve its position in the relative balance is a legitimate objective of each side. But these attempts are also a principal stumbling block in the way of agreements that help advance the prospects of peace and the security of both sides, which is a more important goal.

But does the freeze proposal help that goal? In the first place, it should be noted that its language is not that of an agreement--it is more nearly a set of principles. Second, though it mentions stability as a goal, it does not specifically address the stability of a strategic balance through the survivability and diversity of forces. Unconstrained development and deployment of new strategic systems can either enhance or degrade the stability of the balance; in the past, it has had each effect at various times. Agreements on strategic arms should improve, and have improved, stability. The arms control imperative is to reopen strategic arms discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The ongoing talks on intermediate- range nuclear forces should proceed in a SALT context, even though separately. We need also to make a start on discussions on limitations of short-range tactical nuclear forces. At the same time, to the extent that we hope to rely less on nuclear forces, the alliance needs both to improve its conventional forces and to attend to its political disarray.

The freeze proposal is not likely to help accomplish any of these goals. If one of its goals is stability, it also raises the question of completeness. For example, what about anti-submarine warfare (ASW), an arena in which, incidentally, the United States has an advantage? If a freeze is to keep U.S. ICBMs vulnerable, will the Soviet Union be free to pursue (nonnuclear) ASW technology, in an attempt to make our ballistic missile submarines vulnerable as well?

Soviet acceptance in principle of such a congressional resolution could well derail an administration strategic weapons modernization program whose support is already shaky (and, for some of its parts, with good reason), leaving nothing coherent in its place, while the Soviets could continue their own programs even while announcing acceptance in principle of the freeze. Or, as President Brezhnev did on March 16, they can unilaterally announce a freeze in Europe-based intermediate-range nuclear systems where they are ahead. Such a course of events could well also provide the allies with even more reasons to postpone (and thus to kill) modernization of intermediate-range nuclear forces on the NATO side with no corresponding Soviet concessions. Hatfield's statement in support of the resolution might be interpreted as indicating support for a unilateral U.S. moratorium. The resolution itself is clear on calling for mutual and verifiable action after negotiation by the United States and the Soviet Union, but it also speaks of unilateral restraint on destabilizing systems. Practically every U.S. strategic system ever developed has been characterized by one or another critic as falling into that category.

The freeze resolution's sponsors have worked hard to make it a reasonable one. Though its provisions are no solution to the problems of preventing nuclear warfare (which has to be approached by stable deterrence and disarmament), debate on it could provide a push toward the specific actions needed both in military programs and in arms control and disarmament as two of the many elements of a national security policy. But passage would probably, and unfortunately, divert attention from and erode unity behind more important steps. These include a U.S. position (still undecided 14 months into the new administration) on strategic arms limitation and reduction, and such promising new initiatives as Sen. Hart's proposal for further efforts to prevent the use of nuclear weapons--through, for example, stronger measures to prevent accident or miscalculation, and through the reduction of vulnerability of nuclear retaliatory forces to pre- emptive attack.

A debate on the freeze can thus be useful in educating the public, in pushing the administration toward resumption of negotiations on limiting and reducing strategic arms, and in initiating a drive for negotiations on preventing nuclear war at whatever level of nuclear armament exists. But the freeze proposal is no substitute for, and I fear it will detract from, those other specific negotiations and steps. And it is no substitute for U.S. and allied military strength, nuclear and conventional.