Every taxpayer should be concerned about the failure of Congress during the last three years to establish sensible priorities among competing fiscal demands. Congress in its desire to be all things to all people has been a willing partner of special interest groups that have benefited by a proliferation of governmental programs. There is no question that many of these programs were fostered by well-intentioned members of Congress who sought to help those Americans who were not able to help themselves.

Despite the constant stream of politically motivated rhetoric, there is no effort under way to retreat from the responsibility, indeed the moral obligation, to provide for the truly needy in America. However, our national resources are not unlimited, and we can no longer afford the unbridled expansion of social programs. The measure of a program's worth can no longer be whether it would be "nice to have."

We must now apply a more stringent standard--whether a particular program is essential to preserve the fundamental welfare and security of our society. Consider that from 1960 to 1980 social spending increased in real terms by 300 percent. In contrast, funding for defense during the same period remained constant in real terms. Our failure over the last decade to provide adequately for our national security, at a time when the Soviets were engaged in a relentless military buildup, has forced us into the difficult position in which we now find ourselves.

Unless we address the reality of Soviet military power and all its manifestations, we run the risk that in some future crisis the Soviet capability to escalate a confrontation will outpace our own ability to adequately respond. Just as important, the United States must have the resources to pursue those foreign policy objectives that are essential to the preserva- tion of our national interests throughout the world.

Since 1962, Soviet military capability has grown inexorably. This growth, uninfluenced by fluctuation in U.S. defense spending, has provided the Soviets with both a margin of strategic superiority and a broad range of conventional superiority. Virtually no facet of Soviet military capability has been neglected. Moreover, continuing improvements in the quality of Soviet weaponry, when spread across the massive Soviet inventories, threaten even more rapid and adverse shifts in the military balance.

The Soviet government has achieved its current military standing only by imposing severe privations and hardship on its people. Food supplies are scarce, household conveniences are prohibitively expensive, and luxury goods are available only to a chosen few. There is also recent evidence that the quality of medical care available to the average Soviet citizen is declining.

One might expect the Soviet government to moderate its military expansion, now that it has achieved unprecedented levels of military strength at so great a cost to its population. But this has not been the case. Even today, for every 600 tanks we build, they build 3,000. For every 300 fighter aircraft we produce, they produce 1,300. And for every two or three submarines we launch each year, they launch between nine and 12.

There are other facts about Soviet military power that are equally disturbing, which I have encouraged the administration to declassify and release to the American public. I am convinced that the better Americans understand the nature of the threat our nation faces, the better prepared we will be to deal with it. One thing, however, is clear: the nature of Soviet foreign policy and the scope of Soviet adventurism will not be moderated by restraints in U.S. defense spending. As a former secretary of defense once said, "When we build, they build, and when we stop, they build."

It has been suggested by some that we cannot afford the defense budgets proposed by the Reagan administration or that the proposed size of the defense budget will be detrimental to our economic recovery. That is a very misleading argument. In fact, defense spending has a very positive impact on the economy. It creates jobs and actually returns about 46 percent of our investment to the Treasury as a result of multiple layers of taxation. With interest rates declining and inflation below 6 percent, we must now concentrate our efforts on reducing the high unemployment rate. Reductions in defense spending will only put more people out of work while at the same time weakening our defense posture. I find that an unacceptable proposal.

It should be recognized that during the decade of the 1960s, beginning with the Kennedy administration, the percentage of the gross national product represented by the defense budget averaged almost 9 percent. That was a time when the United States enjoyed undisputed military superiority. Today the military balance favors the Soviets. And yet the proposed defense budget of the Reagan administration, even if approved in its entirety by Congress, will not exceed 7 percent of GNP.

If further reductions must be made in federal spending, then Congress should look first at those areas that have sustained the most growth in recent years. As noted earlier, all of the real budget growth for 20 years has been in social programs, not in defense spending. In fact, over the past 10 years, real defense spending has declined by 9 percent.

Unlike our potential adversaries, we are a nation blessed with the resources to care for the truly needy and at the same time provide for the security of our people. The reallocation of federal budget resources contained in the Reagan program, whereby defense would eventually grow to 37 percent of the budget and 7 percent of GNP, is both affordableeand consistent with historical peacetime trends. Moreover, the proposed defense budget is essential to support a military force capable of meeting our foreign policy obligations and requirements, and is necessary if we are to redress the existing military imbalance. If we retreat from the defense program that the country has supported for the last two years, that imbalance will grow, friends and allies of the United States will question and perhaps challenge American leadership, and our economy will be no better off.

Perhaps nowhere is the relationship between the perceived will of the United States to adequately fund its defense requirements and the effectiveness of its national policy clearer than in the area of arms control. While preparing this article, I had discussions with our negotiator at the Intermediate Nuclear Force and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. In those discussions, one theme was repeated time and again by the men working to reach equitable, verifiable treaties with the Soviets: the realization of sound agreements depends upon the belief by the leaders of the Soviet Union that we have the ability and political will to deploy modern weapons, absent such an accord.

When we do not present the Soviet Union with a credible and unpalatable alternative to negotiated, genuine reduction in tensions and sharp cuts in nuclear forces, we ensure that future arms control agreements will fall short of these objectives.

These are not untested hypotheses. On the contrary, for some 14 years the United States has sought accords with the Soviets aimed at improving strategic stability and substantially diminishing the prospects of war between the superpowers. We have done so while exercising extraordinary and unilateral restraint in developing and deploying strategic weapons systems. For our efforts, we have, by and large, gotten flawed treaties and a strategic and theater nuclear imbalance in which we find ourselves greatly disadvantaged.

Whether one considers the efforts to arrive at agreements aimed at banning anti-satellite weapons or chemical warfare, talks on mutual balanced force reductions in Europe, or the more visible negotiations on strategic and theater nuclear armaments, it is obvious that, in the absence of appropriate incentives, the Soviets are utterly disinclined to give up advantages they have acquired through their own formidable defense spending. So long as they have no reason to believe these advantages will be negated by expenditures of the United States or its allies for systems providing comparable capability, the leaders of the Soviet Union have shown themselves to be remarkably resistant to the world's plea for disarmament and to our proposals for ending competition in various fields of modern weapon development.

In contrast, where we have shown our willingness to commit the resources necessary to develop and deploy weapon systems that the Soviets fear, they have been notably more forthcoming. Our experience with an anti-ballistic missile system is a case in point. In 1972, with Congress having narrowly approved funding to permit deployment of an ABM network, the Soviets agreed to a treaty that sharply restrained the use of such systems.

Unfortunately, recent congressional reductions in defense spending, deemed to affect our national security only marginally, have done much to persuade the Soviet leadership that the United States, as it has so many times before, once again lacks the will and commitment to proceed with essential theater and strategic force modernization. The current Soviet intransigence at the negotiating table is, in my opinion, a direct result of their perception of a lack of American commitment to strategic modernization.

This perception, coupled with the appearance of wavering by our allies in the face of an aggressive "peace campaign" by the Soviet Union, virtually ensures that one of two outcomes will occur: either a U.S.-Soviet arms reduction agreement will not be reached or, if one is achieved, it will be on terms favorable to the Soviet Union.

An alternative can and does exist. It is to support the upgrading of our nuclear forces. With such a policy, we will significantly improve the chances for negotiating sound arms control agreements with the U.S.S.R. The net effect of meaningful, verifiable arms reduction agreements--if they can be reached--may ultimately be to permit significant and long-term budget savings as we live in a world in which fewer weapons are required for our legitimate national defense.

I believe that the size and substance of the Reagan defense program merits the serious, critical and continuing review of Congress. I am convinced, however, that the typical rationale for a significant departure from the Reagan defense budget should be viewed with great skepticism. The Soviet military buildup is real; we cannot wish it away. We must not sacrifice the long-term security of our country, nor the prospects for meaningful arms control, for some ephemeral budgetary gesture whose effect on the overall deficit, when all is said and done, will be minimal.