Speaking recently to newspaper publishers, Walter Mondale said President Reagan has "weakened" America and "squandered the mandate for a strong, sensible defense." It is good that Mondale acknowledges this mandate delivered by the electorate when it dismissed the Carter-Mondale administration.

But his word "squander" suggests that he had a part in nurturing the consensus for stronger defense. In fact, before running with Carter on a platform promising substantial defense cuts, Mondale was one of the Senate liberals who specialized in attacking the defense budget.

To the publishers, Mondale praised using "our resources for conventional strength," and raising the nuclear threshold by doing "everything we can to strengthen weapons that are not nuclear, so that we will never have to resort to weapons that are." But Mondale voted for measures that would have lowered the nuclear threshold.

In 1971 he voted for the Mansfield Amendment to require the immediate, unilateral removal of more than half the U.S. military personnel in Europe. His side lost, 36-41. In 1973 he voted to reduce U.S. ground troops overseas by at least 40 percent. His side lost, 44-51. In 1974 he voted to reduce active-duty personnel and the number assigned abroad by 76,000. His side lost, 44-46.

To the publishers, Mondale endorsed "a defense budget based on coherent strategy and growing at a supportable, sustainable rate." He praised NATO's commitment to 3 percent growth. But in 1970 he voted to cut the fiscal 1971 defense budget 7 percent. His side lost, 31-42. In 1971 he supported a McGovern amendment demanding a fiscal 1973 defense budget with a $60 billion ceiling. His side lost, 26-58. Opponents argued that you could not make coherent strategy by forcing strategy to fit an arbitrary number. (Also in 1971 Mondale voted to kill the Navy's F14 program, to stop domestic procurement of Harrier aircraft, to slow development of the new main battle tank, and to kill the space shuttle. His side lost each time.)

Although between 1968 and 1972 defense spending plummeted from 42.5 percent to 30 percent of the federal budget, in 1972 Mondale supported a McGovern amendment to limit fiscal 1973 defense obligational authority to 1972 levels, regardless of inflation or the accelerating Soviet buildup. His side lost 33-59. Opponents objected to the capriciousness of setting a dollar figure that would force program cuts not faced up to by the persons setting the dollar figure. In 1973 Mondale voted to freeze defense expenditures in 1974 at 1973 levels. His side lost, 31-62.

To the publishers, Mondale said we should "reaffirm" the 1972 ABM treaty, which he admires. But the Soviet Union was uninterested in negotiating limits to ABMs until Congress voted to proceed with a U.S. system. The crucial measure passed in 1969 by two votes. If it had not passed, there would be no treaty for Mondale to praise. Mondale voted to defeat the program.

To the publishers, Mondale advocated proceeding with "accuracy improvements" on Minuteman ICBMs. In 1974 Mondale voted to ban spending on improved guidance technology until the president certified that the SALT talks would not substantially limit MIRVs. His side lost, 37-49. In 1975 he voted to bar funds for improved guidance technology, without reference to SALT. His side lost, 42-52.

To the publishers, Mondale cited the Trident submarine as one of the programs with which we should proceed. In 1972 he voted to strike $500 million from Trident development and procurement. His side lost 39-47. In 1973 he voted to reduce the Trident program by $827 million. His side lost, 47-49.

To the publishers, Mondale discounted the president's anxieties about U.S. security: "We have weapons like cruise missiles to which they (the Soviets) yet have no effective responses." In 1975 he supported a McGovern amendment to delay flight testing of cruise missiles. His side lost, 33-55. In 1975 he also voted to kill submarine-launched cruise missiles. His side lost, 16-72.

To the publishers, Mondale said: "We must address the vulnerability of our land-based missiles." In 1975 he voted to kill procurement of an additional 50 Minuteman IIIs. His side lost 27-56. In 1976 he voted to kill procurement of 60 additional Minuteman IIIs. His side lost 35-49. He opposes MX. He has consistently opposed the B1, the available system for modernization of the air component of the Triad. And as noted, he favored slowing development of Trident. So he has resisted timely modernization for all three legs of the Triad.

If there is a President Mondale responsible for U.S. security in the 1980s, he will be glad Sen. Mondale failed so frequently in the 1970s.