To be or not to be; that is the National Guard and military reserve problem, according to Robert A. Peck {"Few Are Called, Fewer Will Fight," Outlook, Dec. 2}. I disagree. Economics alone dictate that we go back to reliance mainly on part-time citizen-soldiery. But that can be done only if we drastically reduce our overseas military commitments.

At least as concerns major ground combat units, the "Total Force" idea has failed in the Persian Gulf deployment, because too much was expected of it.

It was not the military but civilian leadership, i.e., President Richard Nixon and his secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, who dictated that early deployment missions previously the exclusive province of regulars be shifted to the National Guard and reserves. Having made that decision, Mr. Laird ordered an Army War College study to see how it could be made to work.

It can't. That was the fully documented conclusion of the War College study, of which I was assistant director. Indeed, common sense alone indicates that the high degree of teamwork required of armor, infantry and artillery units and the larger and more complex brigades and divisions cannot be fully achieved on weekends and during a two-week training period, much of which is taken up with administrative matters. There are also serious leadership problems, especially in the politically oriented National Guard.

The War College study was suppressed, partly through the influence of the Guard and reserve establishment, which thought its day of glory had arrived, and partly because the Army saw in the Total Force idea a way to pump up force structure decimated by the post-Vietnam budgetary reductions. When it found itself looking into the mouth of the cannon last August, however, the Army leadership went back to sole reliance on regulars.

Whatever role there may be for part-time combat units will never be known until the Army is required to adopt a standardized performance testing system as reliable as that of the Air Force's Operational Readiness Inspection. Until then the Army will simply pencil in or pencil out whatever degree of readiness is supportive of the bureaucratic and budgetary interests of the moment. WILLIAM V. KENNEDY Wiscasset, Maine