Stylishly, as ever, my colleague James J. Kilpatrick has laughed the ultra-right critics of the INF treaty right off the field. According to Kilpatrick {op-ed, Dec. 15}, they're hysterical Henny-Pennys who mistake a falling acorn for a falling sky. He writes:

''The Henny-Pennys would have you believe that without intermediate nuclear arms the West would stand naked before its enemy. What hokum! The sky isn't falling. It's right there . . . in nearly 11,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S. strategic arsenal.''

Very funny. But if worries about the treaty are such a scream, why isn't Henry Kissinger laughing? Or Zbigniew Brzezinski, or Brent Scowcroft, or James Woolsey, or Gen. Bernard Rogers? That's three former national security advisers, an ex-undersecretary of the Navy and a former supreme commander of NATO. All are troubled by the treaty, and Gen. Rogers is dead set against it. What do they know that even Kilpatrick doesn't?

Begin with this. The fans of the treaty, Kilpatrick included, regard the U.S. nuclear deterrent as one great stack of largely indistinguishable weapons. Hence any subtraction (including the withdrawal of the Pershing and ground-launched cruise missiles from Europe) is by definition a good thing. It reduces the sum total of nuclear weapons and therefore (a non sequitur rarely challenged) the danger of nuclear war.

But as Kissinger, Scowcroft, Woolsey, Brzezinski and Rogers know also, evaluating an arms-reduction treaty on quantitative grounds alone is a fool's errand. Deterrence is not simply a military idea; it is psychological and political as well.

The INF Treaty that President Reagan signed with Mikhail Gorbachev Dec. 8 kicks the middle rungs out of the ladder of U.S. deterrence, leaving only the first and last in place. The city-busting ICBMs remain at one extreme, the symbols of nuclear Armageddon. At the other extreme, there are the so-called battlefield-range weapons -- depth charges, artillery shells, obsolescent Lance missiles with very short ranges of 17 or so miles. The West Germans suspect they would be on the receiving end if these ''battlefield'' weapons were ever fired. A clamor to get them out of Europe on the heels of the ''intermediate'' weapons is predictable and could become politically irresistible.

What benefit, after all, does Mikhail Gorbachev hope to get in exchange for allowing ''intrusive'' on-site inspections on the soil of Holy Russia? Not merely the drastic reduction of U.S. deterrent credibility, but a first-class row between the Germans and other NATO partners over ''denuclearization.'' That's what.

Nonetheless, President Reagan is playing the numbers game enthusiastically. He boasts that for the first time ''in history'' a whole ''class'' of weapons is to be scrapped; and in his mind this is a major selling point. Gen. Colin Powell, the new national security adviser, should pull down the Britannica and introduce the president to the Washington Naval Agreement of 1922, in which the United States and other naval powers of that age agreed to scrap capital warships.

That treaty, the INF agreement of its day, was wildly acclaimed as a symbol of hope and economy. But according to Samuel Eliot Morison, our best naval historian, the results were ultimately calamitous:

''The U.S. Navy scrapped 15 new capital ships . . . {but} at the end of 1934 Japan denounced the . . . treaties and started a frenzied building program which, by the time war broke out in the Pacific, rendered the Japanese navy more powerful in every type of ship than the U.S. and British Pacific and Asiatic fleets combined. . . . Naval limitation saved the American taxpayer of 1922-1937 millions of dollars, but the taxpayer after 1941 paid a hundredfold for this futile gesture.''

No, not even the most formidable warships of 1922 were the civilization-wreckers nuclear arms are. And like all historical parallels this one is inexact.

But there is a common denominator. The quantitative approach, isolated from political and psychological factors, is a treacherous guide to arms control. The famous 5-5-3 ratio among naval powers of the 1920s and 1930s would have worked beautifully if the Japanese militarists had not had aggressive designs on Manchuria. Likewise, INF would be great if the Soviet Union had clearly renounced its imperial aspirations in Europe.

In such a world, we could scrap all the nukes and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it's not the world we live in.