All the West is caught in the cruel trap of ever-increasing danger from nuclear weapons. We have strange company: the U.S.S.R. We and they struggle mightily for a preferred place within our trap, but every struggle draws the net tighter.

Most of you who read this live near Washington -- you will not survive a nuclear exchange. Nor will those who live in New York or Boston or Seattle or Chicago or any of our great cities. Nor those who live in Moscow or Kiev or Tbilisi or Vladivostok or remote Alma-Ata or almost anywhere else in either enormous country.

Our present policy has reached a dead end. So has the Russian policy. But there is a way out of the trap. George Kennan has made a dramatic proposal for the immediate 50 percent reduction, on both sides, of all nuclear weapons, of all kings, without haggling over detail. This is great, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. To see why this is so, read on.

Our basic need is truly to understand the nature of nuclear weapons. They are so enormous that, in a nuclear exchange, the first few weapons arriving do almost all the damage conceivable to the fabric of the country. So we have a military paradox: the power position of either side is not affected much by the size of its nuclear forces. Which way the wind is blowing (carrying nuclear fallout) makes more of a difference than an extra thousand missiles or so on either side.

In a similar way, technology has no great payoff. It makes no difference whether New York, say, is devastated by an old SS11 or a brand new SS19 MIRV warhead. In the absence of effective defenses, it makes no difference whether delivery is by a hypersonic maneuvering re-entry body, or a tired old Bear bomber. The results are the same.

But what bout defenses? Can't we have the missile defenses and air defenses that would shield us aginst a Russian attack? The short answer is: no way. In conventional air defense, it's enough to shoot down a few aircraft at each go -- the cumulative losses soon bring the attack to a halt.

In nuclear defense, the situation is reversed: essentially all weapons have to be stopped or else the damage is done. Effective defense against hundreds or thousands of weapons is impossible.

Isn't accuracy important, and its exotic technology? Well, yes, but only if you want to attack hard, fixed targets such as missile silos, and that brings us to MX.

MX is really two separate and separable ideas. One idea responds to the potential threat against our own missiles by creating uncertainty about their precise location. No matter how powerful and how accurate the attacking missile, it cannot, except by chance, destroy a target it cannot locate.

The idea is good. We make our missiles relatively secure against attack, and we don't have to fire them out in the few minutes of warning time available. The hair-trigger is gone, as is much of the danger from false alarms. But the present scheme is unnecessarily elaborate. We don't have to pave the states of Utah and Nevada and suck dry the water of the West to give security to our force. Much simpler means will do the job.

The second MX idea creates a powerful rocket with numerous and very accurate independent warheads, as replacement for Minuteman. This is a dubious proposal, in its present form. If and to the extent we need to replace an aging missile with a new one, it's a good idea. To the extent we create a force with warheads numerous, powerful and accurate enough to threaten the Russian ICBM force in hard silos, it's a bad idea. Why?

Because the U.S.S.R. will surely respond. They will be no more content than we to see their land-based force threatened by surprise attack. What are their options?

They could live with their vulnerability. This would be very dangerous -- they would feel the hair-trigger necessity to fire out on warning of attack. -

They too could play hide and seek.

There is worse Russian option. That is that they would do both the above. The could elect to keep the hair-trigger force they have, and also to build a force we cannot target. We would end up with the worst of both worlds.

All of this means that the security of both their force and ours is good -- stabilizing. The idea of attacking such forces -- "counterforce" in the jargon -- is a loser. It is destabilizing and dangerous for us and for them.

The missile-firing submarines are pretty secure. Sure, both sides are working hard on anti-submarine measures, and have had some limited success. But with the vast areas of the ocean they both can now hide in, it's inconceivable that any important number can be sunk in the opening hours of war. Three months, maybe -- not three hours.

Still different are the bombers. We've accepted that their chance of getting shot down is so great they must carry cruise missiles to penetrte to the target. Better we should convert most of the bomber force, present and future, to useful military purposes.

This notion, that military force should have useful military purpose, is so self-evident that it seems fatuous to state it. Yet we must, for there is an obvious disconnect in our present forces.

There is no sensible military use for any of our nuclear forces: intercontinental, theater or tactical. Their only reasonble rationale is, first, to deter the other fellow from the use of his and, second, to gain whatever political edge there may be from the appearance of nuclear strength. As a general rule, we can state that nuclear forces are militarily sufficient whenever they are politically sufficient.

So now we know how to escape the trap. It is the usable conventional military power that counts, not the useless threat of distant destruction. Cut back the nuclear forces, ours and theirs, across the board, as Kennan suggests. Give up any notion of first use. Look to the united political, economic and usable military strength of the West to keep us free.