Opponents of a "mutual verifiable freeze" consider the notion simplistic sloganeering, citing the editorial condemnations by such venerable publications as The Post, The New York Times and The New Republic. An examination of the concept reveals that such a freeze cannot be made verifiable by declarations alone.

On-site inspection would be mandatory, and the Soviets have historically rejected such a procedure as an intrusion. Second, as applied to our European allies, the freeze would be unilateral, since the Soviets have approximately 600 land-based missiles targeted on Western Europe and our allies have no comparable systems. Finally, a freeze would leave the United States with a vulnerable land- based missile system, a deteriorating bomber force and a submarine fleet that faces block obsolescence in the early 1990s.

Freeze proponents, nonetheless, argue that we have enough nuclear missiles on a Poseidon submarine to destroy every major city in Russia. Not only is the statement inaccurate, but it reflects a deterrent strategy--if you destroy our military sites, we'll liquidate your civilian population centers--that has been rejected for its military and moral bankruptcy.

While the intellectual deficiencies of the freeze arguments are evident, I believe that we make a fundamental error in dismissing the movement with contempt or charges of communist infiltration and manipulation. At the heart of our citizens' concern is the specter of thousands of new weapons being added to our respective inventories, which would deplete our revenues, increase our deficits, but not measurably improve our security. Although we can argue that qualitative improvements (accuracy, mobility, throw-weight, etc.) are far more important than qualitative increases, the fear generated by unrestricted increases in weapons is legitimate--for it symbolizes a mind-set that says more weapons necessarily will purchase more safety.

In looking for possible solutions to our dilemma, we have to devise a formula that will accommodate the need to modernize our systems to ensure that they remain a credible deterrent, while at the same time forcing a reduction in the actual numbers of nuclear weapons.

We could, for example, agree with the level of strategic weapons contained in the SALT II treaty and then insist that for every new weapon added to the force by either side, two older, less stabilizing weapons must be eliminated. The formula is not chiseled in stone, but the principle would remain fixed--the price of modernization would be reductions.

This guaranteed build-down, while not offered as a panacea, would raise the nuclear threshold to a higher, safer level, improve the prospects for lessening world tensions, and reassure our citizens that we recognize the peril of arms escalation.

Admittedly, reducing the number of nuclear weapons addresses only half the problem. Restricting qualitative improvements in the future is equally important. But by establishing a mutually agreed upon formula for preventing the expansion of weapons, we will be in a far better position to seek ways to control the ingenuity of our scientists in developing methods of nuclear one-upmanship.

President Reagan has said that it takes "two to tango." In learning to dance with a bear, instead of fighting with him, however, it may be necessary to take one step at a time.