The Carter administration is making quite a stir about the "revolutionary" thinking embodied in its Presidential Directive 59: a nuclear strategy giving priority to attacks on military targets in the Soviet Union rather than on Russian cities and industrial complexes. This is a more realistic and effective way to deter the Soviet Union, which has been inexorably building its military capabilities for the last 15 years. However, several hard questions about the administration's so-called new nuclear strategy still need to be answered.

One would expect that this strategy would bear the distinct imprint of the Democratic Party. I must note with a certain bemusement, however, how far the directive has moved toward the positions of previous Republican administrations and the 1980 Republican platform. Then-secretary of defense James Schlesinger announced in 1974 a similar revision in our targeting doctrine. But the Carter administration did not implement the programs needed to carry it out. In fact, President Carter seriously considered reducing the U.S. strategic force to a minimum deterrence level of 200 strategic missiles, while the Soviets presumably would have been allowed 10 times that number.

The 1980 Republican Party's platform has resurrected the earlier Schlesinger doctrine and calls for the programs to implement it: "Our objective must be to assure the survivability of the U.S. forces possessing an unquestioned, prompt, hard-target counterforce capability sufficient to disarm Soviet military targets in a second strike. We reject the mutually assured destruction (MAD) strategy of the Carter administration, which limits the president during crises to a Hobson's choice between mass mutual suicide and surrender."

It is said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. But the present administration's words describing the new policy are not merely flattering -- they are vindicating. The offer a ray of hope to those of us who registered skepticism about the credibility of America's nuclear deterrent. Up to now, President Carter's approach to nuclear deterrence appeared to rest America's security on a position of minimum deterrence. In January 1979, he said: "Just one of our relatively invulnerable Poseidon submarines, comprising less than 2 percent of our total missile force, carries enough warheads to destroy every large and medium-sized city in the Soviet Union."

We know the concepts embodied in Presidential Directive 59 are not new and have been in bureaucractic channels for several years. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown hinted at a countervailing strategy in his two most recent posture statements. Clearly, we all would have benefited from having it sanctioned and implemented earlier. A more vexing question is why the new doctrine became policy at this time. Was it another ill-timed or ill-conceived leak? A more plausible answer seems to be that it was done for reasons of political expediency.

The most curcial question of all, however, is: Will the strategy in fact be implemented or will it fall by the wayside when the winds shift again? This is the same administration that canceled the B1 bomber, delayed the MX missile, postponed development of both the Trident II submarine missile and strategic cruise missiles and bactracked on the neutron warhead. Has the leopard changed its spots or has it merely camouflaged itself for the duration of the political campaign? If the latter is the case and Presidential Directive 59 falls by the wayside, the nation will be the loser.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter reportedly said that he had learned more about the Soviets in one week than he had in the preceding three and a half years. Yet the military programs that he proposed since that time would increase our defense effort scarcely enough to make any difference.

Secretary of State Muskie's spontaneous reaction to the administration's new nuclear strategy indicates that he questions how it came about. He has just been briefed; we have yet to hear whether Muskie is convinced that the name of the game in deterrence is not what would deter us but what would deter Soviet leaders from attempting to capitalize on their newly acquired military capabilities.

Futhermore, the secretary recently called SALT II "indispensable to our security." Such a statement is ill advised. It is our military posture, not SALT, that is indispensable to our security. SALT II does not improve that posture. And to declare the treaty indispensable to our security is to tell the Soviet leaders that the United States is willing to permit its military security to become hostage to SALT.

Therefore, while the announcement of a new U.S. nuclear strategy is welcome, we must be concerned as to whether this newly enlightened administration can be counted on to act out of character. It is one thing to enunciate policy and quite another to execute it in the form of commitment to programs.

If the new strategic doctrine is to be implemented, our current forces must be survivable. The MX missile must be deployed in the most expeditious and economical manner. We must build more accurate land- and sea-based missiles, improve and protect our intelligence and communications systems and strengthen our virtually nonexistent strategic and civil defenses against nuclear attack. Such programs have not been realistically addressed by the current administration.

In the final analysis, then, the crux of the matter is: Can the Carter administration be counted on to put its money where its mouth is?