An independent commission of prominent citizens from all points of the globe, after a 20-month study, yesterday proposed an extensive list of immediate initiatives to reverse the spiraling arms race and halt the march of governments "toward the brink of a new abyss."
Among the recommendations of the 17-member commission, headed by former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme and including former secretary of state Cyrus R. Vance and Kremlin adviser Georgi Arbatov, are the banning of battlefield nuclear weapons and chemical weapons from specific zones in Central Europe.
The commission, outlining a new approach to overall arms reductions in Europe, called for a meeting of foreign ministers before the end of this year to complete the nine-year-old Vienna negotiations on reducing conventional military forces on the continent.
With the land armies thus in check, East and West should and could go on to negotiate European nuclear arms levels that would make the planned U.S. deployment of Pershing II missiles unnecessary, the group said.
Beyond the many recommendations for quick action, the basic thrust of the commission's report is that "the world may be heading for catastrophe" unless national security is seen in a new light and political leaders summon "political will" to break out of the drift toward conflict at ever-higher levels of arms.
"Nuclear weapons have changed not only the scale of warfare but the very concept of war itself," according to the report, which has been presented to the White House, Kremlin and other centers of political power.
A continued fruitless search for security through "deterrence" based on weapons buildups and a threat of mutual destruction must give way to a new concept of "common security" through cooperative undertakings, the report said.
The lengthy program of specific proposals, including 20 that the group said could be implemented within the next two years, was intended in part to be a focal point for discussion during the six-week U.N. special session on disarmament that starts in New York Monday.
Palme and Vance, in a Washington news conference announcing their report, welcomed President Reagan's announcement Monday that the United States will continue to abide by terms of the unratified SALT II treaty on strategic arms so long as the Soviet Union does.
Vance called the announcement "a major change" in Reagan's policy and "a giant step forward" in creating a building block on which future arms reductions can be based.
Members of the commission are current or former high officials of governments of Third World countries as well as advanced industrial countries, including former British foreign secretary David Owen, former Polish prime minister Jozef Cyrankiewicz and former Nigerian head of state Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo.
Vance and others said they considered Soviet participation in the report as particularly significant. There was no claim that Arbatov's approval, which reportedly was hard-won on some issues, represented an official Soviet endorsement but commission members said they had no doubt he checked his positions with higher authority.
The 20 short-term measures for arms control, 16 medium-term measures and five proposals for strengthening the peacekeeping functions of the United Nations were described by the commission as "realistic and attainable objectives." Many, however, cut across stated or developing positions of the Reagan administration.
Among the short-term measures, proposed for implementation within two years, are:
Creation of a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone on both sides of the lines in Europe where short-range nuclear rockets, mines and artillery would be banned to avoid immediate escalation of conventional conflict to nuclear war. In a footnote to the report, Arbatov "expressed doubts" about the value of this but evidently did not oppose it.
Maintaining a "clear nuclear threshold" by abstaining from deployment at this time of "mini-nukes" and neutron warheads.
Creation of chemical-weapon-free zone in Europe as the first step toward containing and eventually abandoning these "particularly abhorrent" and "inhumane" weapons.
Negotiation of "drastic mutual reductions" in the longstanding Vienna talks on East and West conventional forces through personal involvement of foreign ministers. Commission members said these talks were close to a breakthrough several times in recent years.
Negotiation of a comprehensive test ban treaty, a ban on antisatellite weapons in space and a chemical weapon disarmament treaty before new military developments make them much more difficult or irrelevant.
The commission called for "major reductions" in the next round of strategic arms negotiations, a stand paralleling that of the Reagan administration.
However, the group strongly opposed any strategy or doctrine based on "winning" a nuclear war, and said, "The idea of fighting a nuclear war is dangerous."
The Reagan administration is reported to have drawn up a strategy for fighting a protracted nuclear war, and has given new impetus to plans for mass evacuation of American cities to deal with nuclear contingencies.