Jim Hoagland {Dec. 16} is right to call for quick Senate approval of the INF Treaty -- but for the wrong reasons. Mr. Hoagland argues that the treaty creates "two major problems" for the NATO alliance but that rejection of the treaty or the attachment of amendments and reservations would create even greater problems. Fortunately, senators do not face a choice of the lesser of two evils. The INF Treaty has significant military and political advantages for NATO and should be quickly ratified -- on its own merits.

"Problem One," Hoagland suggests, is that the treaty requires the United States to give up a valuable asset: the Pershing II. However, he does not mention that in its absence NATO will still have large numbers of nuclear systems to hold Warsaw Pact territory, including the Soviet Union, at risk and to ensure the credibility of our strategy of flexible response. Furthermore, he seriously underestimates the benefit to NATO of the elimination of the Soviet SS-20.

The SS-20 has the range, accuracy, mobility and destructive payload (triple warhead) to perform preemptive nuclear strikes throughout the European theater. It is also the Soviet weapon of choice against key NATO ports and airfields. It is thus a highly destabilizing system and a weapon of political intimidation. To characterize the SS-20 (first deployed in 1977) as simply "older and less useful" than the Pershing II is to ignore both the threat it poses and the very real concern of our allies who first raised the need to do something about this threat.

Mr. Hoagland also passes over the fact that the INF Treaty will result in the elimination of the Soviet SS-12 and SS-23, both shorter-range INF missile systems that are capable of delivering conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads, and that pose a threat to NATO's conventional reinforcement capabilities. The United States has no comparable systems to give up. NATO clearly benefits.

"Problem Two," Mr. Hoagland suggests, is that the treaty intensifies West German anxiety about being the battlefield for remaining nuclear weapons with a range of less than 300 miles. This issue need not be "finessed," as stated by Mr. Hoagland. It should be addressed directly.

NATO's political cohesion, as well as its military strategy, is based on the principle of shared risks and burdens. Germany is not the only front-line country. The flank countries -- Turkey and Norway -- are also on the front line. Eight countries with forces committed to NATO have nuclear artillery, six have the short-range Lance missile system, and eight have dual-capable aircraft. Many of these weapons can reach targets well beyond "German soil alone."

Furthermore, several hundred U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads are dedicated to the defense of NATO in the event of conflict. Of course, the point of NATO's deterrent strategy is to prevent armed conflict anywhere in the alliance area and to respond to any attack on one country as an attack against the entire alliance. War in Europe would not be limited to one country.

The administration welcomes a comprehensive discussion of the INF Treaty during which important concerns such as those raised by Mr. Hoagland will be addressed and the merits of the treaty will become even clearer. As the first agreement in history to eliminate nuclear systems, this treaty establishes the principle of asymmetric reductions to achieve equal U.S. and Soviet levels. It also establishes a stringent verification regime that includes several kinds of on-site inspection, an intrusive verification measure that the Soviets have been resisting for years. None of this would have been possible without alliance solidarity and determination both to stand up to the new Soviet threat posed by the SS-20 and to negotiate in good faith.

It is on the basis of these merits that the Senate should give its unconditional agreement to ratification of the INF Treaty.

H. ALLEN HOLMES

Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs

U.S. Department of State

Washington