At a time when President Reagan is asking sacrifice and greater efficiency in the civil sectors of government, he would be well advised to display equal toughness in examining the military policy recommended by the Pentagon. To do so, he should require evidence of how major military requirements relate to the protection of specific national interests and to the support of the foreign policy he expects to carry out. Thus, he could verify the correlation of military with foreign policy before committing himself to the vast new military programs, consisting largely of high-priced weaponry, now being pressed upon him.

No such linkage between foreign and military policy hs ever been effected in the past. A recent example of failure of policy correlation was the sudden proclamation last year of the Carter Doctrine in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. With little warning, the armed forces found themselves responsible for the defense of the Persian Gulf region, barren of bases and allies and practically on the doorstep of the Soviet Union. The Department of Defense is still struggling to give some credibility to the political decision by shifting naval forces needed elsewhere to the Gulf while touting the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force. The latter, to date, consists only of several hundred officers and men, a few contingency plans and a couple of robust interservice feuds.

As it takes a fresh look at our overall foreign policy today, the Reagan administration has a precious opportunity to demand from Defense a clear and timely military policy consistent with its major political objectives. But the civil leaders must be ready to give the military specific guidance of a sort generally lacking in the past.

For maximum utility, such guidance should clearly outline the major tasks the armed forces would be expected to perform in the next five to 10 years. In the case of the strategic forces, it would likely reaffirm their primary task as the deterrence of a Soviet strategic attack on us or our allies. But what kind of forces would produce this deterrent effect? The guidance might properly prescribe that adequate forces be able to destroy certain specific Soviet target systems under certain stated conditions with a minimum acceptable percentage of probability. On the other hand, it might revert to the fallacy of seeking parity with the Russians in numbers of weapons.

For the general-purpose (non-nuclear) forces, it would no longer suffice to say, as in the past, merely that they should be able to fight one-and-one-half or two-and-one-half wars simultaneously without indication of where and how long they would be expected to fight without benefit of major reinforcement.

In NATO, the immediate question is how to offset the increase in the strength of the Warsaw Pact and, in so doing, how to obtain a larger military contribution from our allies. Our military chiefs will need to know to what extent, if any, they should plan to modernize NATO weaponry despite allied coolness to the idea and whether to consider a further increase in our own forces currently deployed there. In the latter connection, they need to know what percentage of our current combat strength can be safely committed to this area beyond an ocean that our Navy may not be able to control.

In the Middle East, the first question to answer is whether the Reagan administration adheres to the Carter Doctrine unchanged and expects the Pentagon to give it military meaning. If so, what level of defense is desired -- a military presence merely to show the flag, or a tripwire force big enough to force the Soviets to attack and face the possibility of unpredictable escalation? Or will the eventual goal be a major defensive front comparable to that currently in Western Europe? In any case, where will the trained manpower come from to provide combat-sustainable forces without a return to peacetime conscription?

Because of the costs involved, the military planners should receive guidance as to the level of readiness to be required of operational forces. It will not do to say merely that all forces should be ready to fight anywhere at any time but, rather, that specified task forces should be ready to go to certain places in an order of priority. A trained combat unit in the United States has little timely value without the ships and aircraft to move it to its destination overseas and a supply line to forward it munitions, supplies and loss replacements. Task readiness of this sort requires carefully coordinated interservice planning -- something we have done imperfectly in the past.

In addition to these longstanding threats in Europe and the Middle East, there are new conditions arising worldwide, affecting our interests that a new military policy must recognize. There are particularly important: the growing dependence of the economy on access to overseas markets, the instability and turbulence resulting from excessive population growth in many Third World countries of vital interest to us and the dangers to our citizens and our overseas assets of international terrorism. To cope with the foregoing, our military leaders are entitled to know what role the armed forces will be expected to play where and under what conditions.

With comprehensive guidance of the sorts I have mentioned and a presidential mandate to produce and maintain forces capable of the tasks indicated, the Department of Defense should be able to produce an appropriate policy and force structure. If so, the results could be extraordinary.

For the first time, we would have an appropriate linkage of foreign and military policy and, at the same time, a sound basis for justifying military needs.

We would have established task-readiness as the measure of military sufficiency and, in so doing, rejected the fallacy of matching numbers with the Russians.

The armed forces would be protected from their innate inclination to prepare for the kind of war they would prefer to fight.

In due course, the president would regain a voice in international councils strong enough to ensure the close attention of all present -- especially the Russians.