For an unregenerate hawk, these are unhappy times. It is all too apparent that Congress is about to make substantial cuts in the defense budget and that the administration lacks convincing evidence of the essentiality of many of its major military programs. This criticism applies to both conventional and strategic programs, but on this occasion the discussion is limited to two principal faults in the Reagan strategic policy--a defective concept of deterrence, which underlies his policy, and a belief in the continued validity of the Triad doctrine that distorts it.

As to the deterrence concept, there is general agreement on all sides that the reason for having strategic weapons is to deter the Soviets from attacking the United States and its allies. But how can we be sure that our forces will have this deterrent effect? Administration spokesmen and many analysts in this field would respond that, to achieve deterrence, we must have strategic forces at least equal to the Soviets' in numbers of weapons, warheads, megatonnage and the like. Hence the objective of our policy has been to acquire as soon as possible the weapons needed to catch up with or exceed the currently superior numbers of the Soviets.

The reasoning behind any such conclusion is unsound, primarily because of what I shall refer to as "the numbers fallacy." Obviously, it is not numbers of weapons per se that will restrain Moscow. It is their destruction potential, which depends in large measure on their reliability in getting to target and their survivability in a combat environment. Thus sufficient destruction potential, not nmbers alone, should be the measure of adequacy for our forces, one based not upon what the Soviets have but on what our security is likely to require.

Furthermore, fear caused by destruction potential is not the only thing that contributes to the deterrence of Soviet leaders. They may be deterred by uncertainties that plague them at night, such as 1) the unpredictable performance of their strategic weapons, which, like our own, are of necessity incompletely tested; 2) the way an American president may react to a nuclear attack; and 3) the likely behavior of the Soviet people and unfriendly neighboring states under such circumstances. The doubts arising therefrom will surely influence any Kremlin decision bearing on the use of nuclear weapons.

Also, it is just possible that Soviet leaders may have no intention of ever attacking us with nuclear weapons because they have no national objective important enough to run this risk. Or they may believe they have surer and safer ways of getting what they want from us--for example, depending on the intimidation of Western leaders or awaiting the "inevitable" collapse of world capitalism in accord with Marxist-Leninist expectations.

Although these non-military adjuncts to deterrence are important and add substantially to the improbability of deliberate Soviet nuclear aggression, I shall put them aside in this article and concentrate on a procedure to ensure a sufficient destruction potential on the part of our strategic forces. The first step in it would be to agree on the level of destruction potential that should serve as a measure of deterrent sufficiency. While opinions vary on this point, I would define destruction sufficiency as an ability to inflict on the Soviets damage and losses in a few hours at least equivalent to those they suffered in four years of World War II. These few chilling words convey more vividly the disaster inevitable for both sides in a major nuclear exchange than any description couched in abstract military or scientific terms. It also presents a picture the Russians can comprehend.

The next step would be to determine the specific targets that must be destroyed to achieve such havoc and the weapons required for the task. These computations would assume maximum weapon reliability and survivability, but would include a reasonable factor of safety that would take into account the uncertainties in weapon performance.

If the foregoing procedure were carried out, when a weapons program eventually reached Congress for funding, Pentagon spokesmen could defend its essentiality not by a need to keep up numerically with the Russian Joneses but by its contribution to carrying out essential destruction tasks.

So much for a procedure to remove the numbers fallacy from our concept of deterrence and substitute a far more realistic measure of force sufficiency. Now let us pass to the other major defect of our strategic policy--the Triad doctrine.

Under the traditional terms of this doctrine, in order to ensure against the possible failure of any major category of our strategic weapons, whether launched from land, sea or air, our forces should contain a roughly equal proportion of all three. Over the years, the requirements imposed by Triad have seriously constrained the development of our strategic policy. Its dogma has been used to justify retaining highly vulnerable ICBMs based on U.S. soil and to defend the essentiality of the MX missile despite all its obvious liabilities. It accounts for some of the delay in procuring promising cruise missiles, which, having a launch capability from land, sea and air, threaten the Triad balance of categories.

In summary, the pernicious effects of both the numbers fallacy and the Triad doctrine include: 1) a misleading measure of force sufficiency--namely, numerical equality with the Soviets; 2) an indefensible requirement for an unnecessarily large number of strategic weapons in order to match the Russians and to comply with the terms of the Triad doctrine; 3) assurance of an indefinitely prolonged arms race with the Soviet Union; 4) the constraints imposed by the Triad upon a progressive strategic policy; and 5) lack of defense of our real deterrent needs before Congress.

There are many things that we could do to correct these defects, some already noted. In lieu of the numbers fallacy, we can take sufficiency in destruction potential as the measure of deterrent effectiveness. We can refuse henceforth to race with the Soviets and, instead, base force requirements on sufficiency of destruction potential. We can abjure the outmoded Triad doctrine and select our future weapons not on the basis of their launch mode but on the basis of their reliability, survivability and contribution to approved destruction tasks.

More specifically, we can cancel the MX program, progressively phase out all land-based ICBMs and transfer their targets to air- and sea-launched missiles. We can organize a budget defense before Congress based upon the provable essentiality of the major budget items in carrying out assigned tasks. In doing these things, we would also provide guidance to congressional budget cutters as to what is and is not truly important in the defense budget. This guidance would also indicate to our arms control negotiators the point at which proposed weapon reductions may deprive us of forces with the destruction potential deemed necessary for effective deterrence.

If all or most of these actions are taken, a mission important to our security will have been accomplished.