For rank hysteria in scholarly garb, it's hard to top Harvard Professor Richard Pipe's Commentary article, "Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War," reprinted in last Sunday's Outlook. It's worth jousting with a bit because it's typical of so much of the worst-case alarmism that the military-intellectual complex passes off as serious argumentation.

Pipes, a Soviet specialist and member of the "Team B" invited to critique CIA intelligence estimates last year, believes that what counts "above all" is Soviet intent, and that such intent can be accurately divined from Soviet military doctrine: Official thoughts on using force aborad. He marshals quote after leaden quote to demonstrate that Moscow feels it could fight and win a nuclear war and has prepared to do so.

By contrast, Pipes goes on, the United States has accepted "mutual assured deterrence," a doctrine holding that both sides' bombs are now so destructive that the sure anticipation of mutual mass killing, regardless of who hits first, is the best guard and an adequate guard against war. Since the United States believes that the workings of deterrence will save it from having to fight a war, Pipes suggests, it has not prepared to fight one, and therein lies the danger.

It is, first of all, misleading to ignore the ongoing between-the-lines Soviet debates on nuclear war and to credit only the starkest version argued. It is even more misleading not to ask what relationship military doctrine has to actual Soviet policy. Would Brezhnev in the clutch take solace and determination from the throught that the loss of tens of millions of Russian lives wouldn't really believe formal doctrine, whatever it is, would be his only guide?

In fact, the whole matter of basing policy on a measurement of the other fellow's perceived intent is suspect. That method licenses a reading as narrow, or as extravagant, as the reader's central nervous system. It is too open-ended, too undisciplined, too subjecttive. Pipe's reading is less anlysis than Rorchach test.

In the 1960s military-oriented conservatives argued that you couldn't judge Communists by their intent; you had to measure their capabilities. Now that Soviet and American capabilities are so roughly equal and so difficult to sort out they have more throw-weight, for example, while we have more hard-target kill capability, conservatives rally around intent.

But what is worst is Pipe's blindness to what the United States has been doing to acquire the very war-fighting capability that, in Soviet hands, he deplores.

As early as 1970 President Nixon, openly questioning exclusive reliance on deterrence, suggested that to be credible the United States had to be able to respond other than by all-out city-busting to a limited Soviet nuclear attack. Thus were initiated the changes in targeting from cities to missile launchers) and in weaponry (to the more accurate, powerful and reliable misslies needed to hit those new targets) developed since. In a wod, war-fighting.

Listen to the last Pentagon "posture statement," where American doctrine is defined: We believe that a substantial number of military forces and critical industries in the Soviet Union should be directly targeted, and that an important objective of the assured retaliation mission should be to retard significantly the ability of the U.S.S.R. to recover from a nuclear exchange and regain the status of a 20th-century military and industrial power more rapidly than the U.S. . . .

The Soviets, by their activities, indicate that they are not interested in mutual assured destruction. Accordingly, they must be accepted for what they are, not for what we want them to be. Their actions indicate that they take nuclear war seriously; the U.S. must do not less. Part of taking it seriously is responses short of full-scale retaliation in our strategic nuclear capabilities."

Pipes seems to have missed entirely the efforts of American stragists over the better part of a decade to work their way out of what they regarded as an unusable deterrent, one threatening so much force as not to seem credible.

It is startling that someone who presumed to correct what he felt were toorosy CIA intelligence estimates evidently ignored the impact on Soviet programs and plans of the growing American war-fighting capability.

There is a strange process at work here. The devil that seems to drive Pipes and others of his stripe, such as Paul Nitze, a fellow member of the Committee on the Present Danger, is the conviction that American policy is in the hands of raving doves . But this is absurd. I don't understand it.