Dear Mr. President,

In your recent moving statement accepting Caspar Weinberger's resignation, you praised your secretary of defense for his service to the country in many ways. One of the most striking to me was the recognition you extended to him for his handling of several controversies for which he has been roundly criticized by others.

I am speaking of the highly publicized revelations during Secretary Weinberger's tenure of several instances of cost overruns and other failures of the Defense Department's procurement system. Despite the fact that for most of the past seven years, Cap has been caricatured with a $500 toilet seat around his neck, you rightly credited him with finding and fixing these problems. In thus commending Secretary Weinberger for his unwillingness to tolerate inadequate performance and unsatisfactory products where they were found, you have set an example that we all should emulate.

In this spirit, I write to express my concern that your administration and the nation may shortly become embroiled in a new controversy over inadequate workmanship and insufficient quality control. This one doesn't involve coffeepots or "gold-plated" hammers; rather, it involves an agreement with our adversary to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. The analogy, however, may be useful in illuminating the causes of my concern.

Like so many of the procurement horror stories, the basic approach was entirely acceptable. Your administration has for six years sought an INF agreement based on a sound structure -- the so-called "zero option." As a direct result of our patience, tenacity and alliance cohesion, an accord based on this principle is at hand.

If there is a problem with the INF treaty, it will in all likelihood be a result of the same phenomena that occasionally mar defense procurements: unexpected complexity, unanticipated scheduling pressures and corners that had to be cut to get the job completed within the time and resources available. The responsibility for such a problem would not, of course, lie with some contractor or procurement official; indeed, it may not lie with any single individual. Yet the consequences can be every bit as unpleasant and contrary to the national interest -- or more so.My guess is that, if there are resultant problems with the treaty, they will lie in the area of verification. This may seem incredible in view of its unprecedented provisions for intrusive on-site inspection and continuous monitoring of selected U.S. and Soviet facilities. On the face of it, such measures seem to go so far beyond what has been negotiated in support of past arms control agreements that many will conclude that the treaty is, by definition, verifiable.

Unfortunately, the INF treaty can have a range of novel verification measures undreamed of by the framers of the flawed SALT II accord and still not enable us to ensure Soviet compliance. It is for precisely this reason that your administration early on enunciated as a matter of policy a requirement for "effective verification" of any future agreement.

While this term can mean many things, for us it has always had certain cardinal features in the INF context: elimination of the entire infrastructure for supporting INF missiles; comprehensive exchanges of detailed, internally consistent data about the forces being controlled; clear, unambiguous treaty text; and short-notice on-site inspection not only at present and formerly declared facilities associated with treaty-limited items, but also at suspect sites.

This sound verification agenda was made necessary by bitter past experience with Soviet cheating on arms control agreements. If we have failed to keep in mind past lessons in the rush to finish an accord on INF in time for the summit, the risks to the national interest will vastly exceed the damage done by high-priced coffeepots and toilet seats. The prescription for addressing the problem should be the same, however: spare no effort to uncover and assess the errors and accept whatever inconvenience might be caused in fixing them.

In this vein, Mr. President, I urge you to do what Cap Weinberger would have done in a comparable procurement situation, namely call a "time-out," take stock of the situation with the best experts you can find and, if necessary, make adjustments to correct any deficiencies revealed in the process. A week remains before you will be asked to sign the INF Treaty; I strongly recommend that you use that week to review the treaty with key individuals, particularly members of the Senate and others outside the government who are likely to be influential in the upcoming ratification debate. After you and they have had a chance to read the fine print, several questions must be addressed:

Does the treaty actually eliminate the Soviet Union's INF missile infrastructure and capacity?

Is the Soviet-supplied data complete, consistent and compatible with our own intelligence estimates of treaty-limited systems and activities?

Does the treaty language have important ambiguities or loopholes or provisions that otherwise might lend themselves to future debates about meaning and interpretation?

Is there an effective on-site inspection regime for suspect facilities?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is no, by finding it out now -- before you sign the treaty -- it is possible to seek adjustments with the Soviet Union and avoid these issues' becoming a matter of Senate debate and amendment.

Naturally, many will say such an idea is out of the question. They will maintain that this is the best agreement we can get with the Soviet Union, that it cannot be improved. In this regard, I remember how often Cap Weinberger was told that a nonperforming contractor was doing the best he could or that there was no alternative to accepting an inferior product. To my knowledge, he never failed to reject that advice and to set in train the necessary, albeit sometimes inconvenient, corrective steps.

For that matter, your own experience in negotiating with the Soviet Union has decisively demonstrated that determined insistence on sound arms control terms is rewarded in due course by Soviet movement toward our position. Nowhere should this be a more likely outcome than in the area of verification, where Soviet rhetoric about openness and transparency have recently reached new heights.

So, if it comes to that, "Just say no." The United States will not accept another unverifiable arms control agreement, no matter how smartly it is packaged in verification "breakthroughs," steps which for all their novelty will not materially alter the difficult task of ensuring Soviet compliance. After all, there is a lot more riding on this than a bad report card from the General Accounting Office.

The writer was assistant secretary-designate for international security policy at the Defense Department.