THE NOMINATION of Paul Warnke as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency puts the right man in the right place at the right time. Mr. Warnke, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, belives strongly that arms control serves the nation's security. As obvious as it may seem to say so, this is exactly the conviction one wants in the man leading the single government agency charged with arms control. At a moment when a major debate is developing about the Soviet-American strategic equation, it is vital to have in this post someone with the stature, intellectual force and argumentative powers of Paul Warnke to assure that this point of view receives the hearing it deserves at the top of the government.

Now, Mr. Warnke's views, long on the public record, are controversial. He doubts, for instance, that it serves either deterrence or diplomacy to add new arms once a nuclear power has a force sufficient to assure the devastation of any other power that might strike it first. He suspects that the negotiating process itself may sometimes impel, rather than restrain, arms programs. He has asked whether U.S. arms programs do not incite some part of the Soviet-American arms competition. These are matters worthy of rigorous public examination. And in view of the fact that Mr. Warnke, while serving as ACDA director, would evidently also head the administration's team in the SALT talks, another question arises. The government's SALT position will surely reflect a mixing of his views with those of others. Could the American negotiating position be weakened if the Russians knew that the man presenting it personally holds other views?

The Foreign Relations Committee will conduct Mr. Warnke's confirmation hearing. But Sens. Sam Nunn and Henry Jackson, among others, who sit on Armed Services, also wish to question him. That's fine. The different viewpoints on arms control deserve exposition by their strongest proponents. The public, not to speak of the government, will learn from the exchange.It could amount to a kind of pre-negotiation SALT ratification debate that could help the administration prepare for the talks. No one need worry about the burdens such a debate would impose upon Mr. Warnke; he is eminently fit to carry the arms control brief.

Even as public hearings are being prepared, however, an anonymous memo is being circulated that accuses Mr. Warnke of favoring "unilateral" disarmament. We find this characterization of his views inaccurate and scurrilous. And we find the circulation of this sort of anonymous memo a positive disservice to policy debate. This is not the first occasion in which Carter appointment initiatives have been met with this tactic. Are some of the people with reservations about Mr. Warnke so lacking in confidence on the merits that they must resort to sneaky smears?