Evans and Novak seem to have joined forces with the Soviet hard-liners they describe {"Red Army Power Play," op-ed, Jan. 30} in an effort to sabotage the just-signed conventional forces treaty and the START agreement, which is nearly complete.

They depict a resurgent Soviet general staff "blocking troop reductions imposed" by the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. But CFE imposes no troop reductions, only cuts in weapons. Similarly, they claim that "Marshal" Mikhail Moiseyev (Moiseyev is actually a general) told the U.S. ambassador to Moscow that the CFE agreement "has no standing" with the Soviet military because it was negotiated by Eduard Shevardnadze, who announced his resignation in December as Soviet foreign minister. But in January, the NATO Supreme Allied commander, Gen. John H. Galvin, offered a different report on the Soviet military leadership's position on CFE, quoting Moiseyev as saying, "Look, we're not against this. But we just can't move this quickly." And the same day that the Evans and Novak column appeared, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters, "We're satisfied that {the Soviet Union} is complying with the {CFE} treaty." Fitzwater conceded that "we've had concerns . . . and we've been having to confirm some of that and check it out." But he added, "We have never indicated that they're not complying."

Real differences do remain to be worked out in the conventional forces agreement, as Secretary of State Baker testified recently. The United States and its allies disagree with the Soviet Union over the status of military equipment in three (not two, as Evans and Novak wrote) army divisions that have been shifted to the navy, where Moscow says they are exempt from CFE limits. While these account for under 5 percent of Soviet weapons in the area, the matter clearly needs to be resolved before the treaty is submitted to the Senate, as Baker has said.

Questions also remain over discrepancies between U.S. estimates and data supplied by the Soviet Union on its forces in Europe at the time of treaty signature. But most of the reports of an enormous discrepancy are attributable to the fact that the U.S. data did not take into account about six weeks of Soviet equipment transfers out of the CFE area before the treaty was signed, a perfectly legal procedure. Currently, the two sides are 2,000 to 3,000 weapons apart -- by all accounts a bridgeable difference.

On START, Evans and Novak contend that Moiseyev directed his strategic arms negotiators to "repudiate a major part" of the treaty that had just been agreed to. In fact, the major parts of the treaty were agreed on by the end of 1987 -- and right now there is no evidence that Soviet military negotiators are challenging any of these provisions. The handful of remaining issues still in play can be characterized as technical matters having little overall effect on the strategic balance, and could readily be resolved with a push from the top.

A more accurate description of the status of arms control talks between the two sides is that while differences on CFE interpretation and START remain, both are sweetheart deals for the United States, requiring Moscow to cut much more deeply than Washington. After the CFE treaty is implemented, NATO will outnumber the Soviet Union in Europe in every one of the five categories of weapons limited by the pact, from tanks to combat aircraft.

In START, which was advertised as halving the strategic nuclear forces of each side, the only forces that will actually be cut by 50 percent are Soviet ballistic missile warheads in general and the "heavy" SS-18 missile in particular -- the forces the United States says it finds most threatening. Meanwhile, the U.S. programs of greatest concern to the Soviet Union -- the MX, Trident II and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles -- will continue essentially unconstrained, with the U.S. meeting its reduction requirements by decommissioning older weapons.

Recent events in the Soviet Union, including the abrupt resignation of Shevardnadze, the recent crackdown in the Baltics, and evident footdragging by the military are, to be sure, cause for concern. But uncertainty about the future direction of Soviet foreign policy is a reason not to stall but rather to move ahead with the arms control agenda while there is a Soviet leadership that still supports it. Once levels of nuclear and conventional weapons are locked into legally binding treaties it will become more difficult politically and more painful internationally to exceed agreed limits. Once weapons have been destroyed, rebuilding them becomes an expensive and time-consuming process for any government, whatever its political inclinations.

The writer is assistant director for research at the Arms Control Association.