President Carter's expected nomination of Paul C. Warnke as chief arms control executive is already drawing frire from the Senate even though he has not yet been formally nominated.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, critically questioned Warnke's past remarks about the limited influence of nuclear weapons, while unidentified opponents began circulating a memo in the Senate accusing Warnke of favoring "unilateral" disarmament.
The campaign against Warnke appears similar to the one waged against Theodore C. Sorensen before he withdrew as Carter's nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nunn requested during an Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday that Warnke be called before the committee to explain the following statement eh made in 1972:
"Even substantial nuclear superiority, short of nuclear monopoly, could not be a decisive factor in any political confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union."
Nunn read the statement to Gen. David C. Jones, chief of staff of the Air Force, who was testifying on nuclear issues at the committee hearing, and asked him if he agreed with it.
Jones replied that the strategic nuclear superiority the United States had over the Soviet Union in 1962 helped bring a favorable outcome to the Cuban missile crisis, adding that he would not want "the shoe to be on the other foot."
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) is expected to join Nunn in requesting that Warnke appear before the committee if Carter nominates him to head the Arms Control and Disarmement Agency. Normally, only the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would conduct a hearing on a nomination to that State Department job.
In the House, Warnke's oppoents include Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, who said Warnke "might give away the store" in strategic arms limitation talks.
The unsigned memo against Warnke includes the charge that the former assistant secretary of defense "supports unilateral arms reductions to levels far below anything being proposed in current arms limitation talks."
A White House aide said yesterday that Warnke's nomination has been held up pending security checks being conducted by the FBI but would go forward as planned. However, this time Carter may be holding off until he takes a more careful measue of the congressional opposition than he did in the Sorensen incident.
Warnke, when queried by The Washington Post last night, said he had not heard from the White House yesterday nor did he make any inquiries on his own.
Asked about the quotation Nunn read at the hearing Warnke said the thrust of his statement was not whether the United States needs its nuclear deterrent but whether "we would use our strategic forces as a political instrument to enable us to come out on top in a political situation."
"No sane President would go to wa to gain political objectives," Warnke said but he added that this does not mean the United States could do without "an assured nuclear deterrent." The umbrella of strategic nuclear forces, he continued, enables the United States to use its conventional forces effectively.
In the Cuban missile crisis, Warnke said, the United States had "the tremendous advantage of naval superiority." The U.S. conventional forces, working under the nuclear umbrella, were "the decisive factor" in that confrontation, he said.
Chairman John C. Stennis (D-Miss.) had left the hearing before Nunn started quizzing military witnesses about Warnke's statement on the political limits of nuclear weapons. Stennis had focused on the B-1 bomber, asserting that the Air Force should consider buying fewer than the 244 planned.
"We ought to take a mighty hard look at the number that are needed," Stennis said.
Many Pentagon officials are predicting that Carter will not scrap the B-1 program altogether but will settle for producing a limited number of planes.
"We are not wedded" to building 210 operational modesl of the bomber, Jones told Stennis.
Stennis also chided the Joint Chiefs of Staff, through Jones, for waiting so long to rebut statements by Maj. Gen. George J. Keegan Jr., former head of Air Force intelligence, that the United States has lost its strategic edge to the Soviet Union.