We are in danger of ceding our destiny to the whims of nuclear weapons, trusting to good fortune to see us through the nuclear arms race when we should be trusting to ourselves.

The strategic forces of the United States and the Soviet Union carry explosive power more than 100,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. Far from saying "enough," both nations are increasing these forces.

We are moving to deploy thousands of nuclear-armed cruise missiles, by their nature difficult to count because of their small size. These missiles--unverifiable--will make existing agreements to reduce the numbers of nuclear arms obsolete and future agreements impossible. We are allowing the seduction of a momentary technological advantage to foreclose future limits on Soviet forces.

Today there are five nations that have tested nuclear weapons; in 10 years there could be 10 more, as well as terrorists adding nuclear explosives to their menace. Yet our policy to prevent the spread of these weapons now features promotion of the exports and technologies that could be fashioned to destroy us.

The SALT II treaty, which put a cap on the strategic arms race and placed significant limits on Soviet military power, has been abandoned. In place of the "real arms control" we were promised a year ago, we have only the promise of endless talks on nuclear arms in Europe and no talks at all on strategic arms until next year.

The results: a restive, divided NATO alliance that questions our competence to lead in a nuclear world, a progressive weakening of the negotiated restraints that can bound Soviet nuclear power and an emphasis on nuclear forces that are unusable in countering the Soviet challenge around the globe.

As we become more remote from the horrors of Hiroshima, there are doctrines of war fighting based on the fantasy of using nuclear destruction for some "rational" end. These doctrines blur the vital distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons. And they encourage the nuclear choice by telling all nations that nuclear weapons are just another instrument of military power.

The truth is that nuclear weapons exist for one purpose only--to deter nuclear war. Once used, they will be instruments of mass destruction, consuming the destroyer as well as the destroyed.

If all Americans should be concerned about these developments, so should we be angered by those who weave a myth of America as a second-rate nuclear power, inferior to the Soviet Union. This myth demoralizes our friends, and it could tempt the Soviet Union to test our power when testing that power could have catastrophic consequences.

The nuclear arms race has a simple, unchanging rule: without limits, without verifiable negotiated restrictions, the United States can add to its nuclear forces, but so can the Soviet Union. For this reason, the MX missile and the B1 bomber are inadequate measures for American security. They merely attempt to match the Soviet military threat; they cannot reduce it. And they do nothing to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

Rather than seeking to close a false "window of vulnerability," America must take advantage of the window of opportunity it now has to limit nuclear arms. Without decisive leadership, suspicion and the weapons both nations are developing will see that this opportunity recedes perhaps forever beyond the reach of humanity. This means serious negotiations with the Soviet Union and mutual restraint while we negotiate. The objective should be major, equitable and verifiable reductions of nuclear arms, coupled with limits on the introduction of new weapons systems.

I emphasize the word "serious," for many in both nations will counsel proposals designed to be rejected by the other side but useful as an excuse for doing nothing.

Negotiations to limit nuclear arms and reduce the risk of war are hard- headed exercises to improve our national security. They signal no approval of other Soviet actions, such as Afghanistan--no more than do sales of American grain to the Soviet Union. They seek, despite the irreconcilable ideologies of our two nations, the common goal that nuclear weapons have made a necessity--the prevention of nuclear war.

In our short time on Earth, we have a choice about the kind of world we leave behind. With nuclear weapons in our custody, our generation carries a heavy obligation. There will be no historian to record one day that we failed on our watch.