America's defense requirements now exceed our military capabilities. This deterioration in America's international position evolved over 15 years and four different administrations: two Republican and two Democratic. Whatever the outcome of the election on Nov. 4, one hopes the search for blame will end and the rebuilding of a national consensus on defense and foreign policy will begin.

How do we form a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy and national security policy in our nation? Whoever is elected, this should be his No. 1 priority. Although there are many components in seeking this goal, one of the first that will have a profound effect will be the disposition of the SALT II treaty.

If Carter is reelected, he will have to face certain realities: there is no possibility of putting together a two-thirds Senate vote on SALT II unless the Senate is convinced that the administration has coherent and comprehensive national security goals and strategies; that it is embarked on a dedicated effort to provide the resources necessary to achieve these goals; that it has a team of defense, intelligence and foreign policy experts on board who are capable and willing to work together toward these goals; and that the president himself is dedicated to providing the leadership required for our nation to stay the course.

Reagan, if elected, will face the same challenge from a different philosophical direction. He cannot build a national consensus in the Senate, the House or the nation simply on the foundation of 30 to 40 senators who oppose SALT II. Mustering one-third of the Senate in opposition to the treaty is far easier than building a defense and arms control policy that will be supported by the people of our nation, by a majority in Congress and by our allies.

Before withdrawing SALT II, Reagan, if elected, would be wise to consult with the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle to determine if the treaty can be amended in a way that meets his fundamental objections and secures the support of two-thirds of the Senate. Even if an amended treaty is ultimately rejected by the Soviets, it would at least demonstrate a degree of continuity on the part of America and a good-faith effort to continue the arms control process.

During the last decade we have pursued arms control with a capital "A" and defense will a little "D." In the future, both pursuits must be capitalized if the combination is to protect our security.

Even a balanced approach in the defense-arms control area, however, falls well short of constituting a comprehensive national security policy. In the military field, the United States no longer possesses nuclear superiority and, therefore, can no longer rely on nuclear weapons alone to deter conventional military actions by the Russians directly or through their proxies. If we are to avoid superpower conflict at every level, we and our allies must develop essential equivalence at the conventional as well as nuclear levels. This will require not only a wise military strategy but skillful leadership in burden-sharing, allocation of missions and interoperability.

American taxpayers will demand that increased defense dollars be expended efficiently and effectively. The present structure, planning, management and budgeting of U.S. security organizations that have evolved over a long period of time result in substantial waste in our defense effort. In fiscal year 1981, we are spending approximately the same amount in constant dollars as in fiscal year 1964, yet we have 600,000 fewer personnel in uniform, 50 percent fewer ships and 40 percent fewer aircraft.

Pentagon management is drowning in budget detail. The best minds in the Pentagon spend so much of their time working on the continuous budget presentations that they have little time to devote to either long-range planning or the relationship of current spending to overall defense requirements. Congress itself must ease this intolerable burden by replacing the present archaic one-year budget process with multi-year authorizations and appropriations.

It is time for America to take a fresh look at our use of technology. Our defense establishment has demonstrated that it can produce the most sophisticated weapons systems known to man. It has not, however, channeled our technology in a direction dedicated to make these systems affordable and maintainable. State of the art weapons without state of the art tactics, maintenance and personnel may be a liability rather than an asset.

Our failing manpower procurement policies are another example of gross inefficiency. Unless we are prepared to drastically reduce our treaty obligations and redefine our vital interests, the volunteer force must be given a decent but prompt burial. Among knowledgeable European defense experts, the weaknesses of the U.S. volunteer force exceed the erosion of our nuclear deterrent in downgrading the credibility of America's treaty commitments.

Our security posture cannot be built on military power alone. Strategic nuclear weapons will not prevent the Soviets from invading Poland. SALT II will not protect the Strait of Hormuz. The Rapid Deployment Force cannot be used each time the Soviets transport Cuban troops to the Third World. We have many political, economic and diplomatic options available to help protect our worldwide interests, and they must be developed.

In many areas of the world, there are forces politically or militarily opposing Soviet domination who would welcome assistance well short of direct American intervention. Some Americans: apply the lessons of Vietnam to this Soviet exposure and predict a Soviet bog-down and eventual disaster. They conveniently forget the massive Soviet and Chinese assistance to North Vietnam that played a critical role in producing America's Vietnam disaster.

The point is not that we should automatically assist all the forces in the world who wish the Soviets ill nor that we should seek to aggravate Soviet problems, but rather that there are potential areas of meaningful U.S. and Western non-military retaliation if the Soviets continue down their agressive path. Once the Soviets are put on notice that, if sufficiently provoked, we are capable and willing to play the game on their end of the field, their international behavior is likely to moderate. A prerequisite, however, is a rebuilding of U.S. human intelligence and covert capabilities and a discarding of the post-Vietnam presumption that the possession of such capabilities is tantamount to the unwise or unauthorized use of them.

In an age of nuclear essential equivalence, the Soviets have demonstrated a willingness to take Third World military risks with little fear of a Western response. The absence of meaningful responses to numerous hostile Soviet moves is dangerous. Continued Soviet tolerance of liberalization in Poland and Eastern Europe is unlikely unless they are convinced that a Soviet invasion of Poland would be very costly. The Soviets should be put on notice that we are not pursuing arms control and detent to make the world safe for Soviet aggression. This message must be delivered quietly but quickly by America and its allies.

Our challenge is to develop a broad consensus on a national security strategy to cope with the threats of the decade ahead. The question is not whether we have the resources to provide for collective security and promote world peace, but rather whether we have the wisdom, the cohesiveness and the will.