The text of President Reagan's speech yesterday to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Last week I spoke to the American people about our plans for safeguarding this nation's security and that of our allies. I announced a long-term effort in scientific research to counter, some day, the menace of offensive nuclear missiles. What I have proposed is that nations should turn their best energies to moving away from the nuclear nightmare. We must not resign ourselves to a future in which security on both sides depends on threatening the lives of millions of innocent men, women, and children.

Today I would like to discuss another vital aspect of our national security--our efforts to limit and reduce the danger of modern weaponry.

We live in a world in which total war would mean catastrophe. We also live in a world torn by a great moral struggle--between democracy and its enemies, between the spirit of freedom and those who fear freedom. In the last 15 years and more, the Soviet Union has engaged in a relentless military buildup, overtaking and surpassing the United States in major categories of military power, acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military capability. All the moral values which this country cherishes--freedom; democracy; the right of peoples and nations to determine their own destiny, to speak and write and live and worship as they choose--all these basic rights are fundamentally challenged by a powerful adversary which does not wish these values to survive.

This is our dilemma, and it is a profound one: We must both defend freedom and preserve the peace. We must stand true to our principles and our friends while preventing a holocaust.

The western commitment to peace through strength has given Europe its longest period of peace in a century. We cannot conduct ourselves as if the special danger of nuclear weapons did not exist. But we must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the problem--to abdicate our moral duty. This is the challenge history has left to us. We of the 20th century, who so pride ourselves on mastering even the forces of nature, are forced to wrestle with one of the most complex moral challenges ever faced by any generation.

My views about the Soviet Union are well known, although sometimes I don't recognize them when they are played back to me, and our program for maintaining, strengthening, and modernizing our national defense has been clearly stated.

Today, let me tell you something of what we are doing to reduce the danger of nuclear war. The American Record

Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the leader in the international effort to negotiate nuclear arms limitations. In 1946, when the United States was the only country in the world possessing these awesome weapons, we did not blackmail others with threats to use them; nor did we use our enormous power to conquer territory, to advance our position, or to seek domination.

Doesn't our record alone refute the charge that we seek superiority, that we represent a threat to peace? We proposed the Baruch plan for international control of all nuclear weapons and nuclear energy--for everything nuclear to be turned over to an international agency. This was rejected by the Soviet Union. Several years later, in 1955, President Eisenhower presented his "open skies" proposal: that the United States and the Soviet Union would exchange blueprints of military establishments and permit aerial reconnaissance to ensure against the danger of surprise attack. This, too, was rejected by the Soviet Union.

Since then, some progress has been made--largely at American initiative. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, or under water. The creation of the "Hot Line" in 1963, upgraded in 1971, provides direct communication between Washington and Moscow to avoid miscalculation during a crisis. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968 sought to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In 1971, we reached an agreement on special communication procedures to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, and on a seabed arms control treaty which prohibits the placing of nuclear weapons on the seabed or the ocean floor. The Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements of 1972 imposed limits on anti-ballistic missile systems and on numbers of strategic offensive missiles. And the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention bans--or was supposed to--the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.

But, while many agreements have been reached, we have also suffered many disappointments.

The American people had hoped, by these measures, to reduce tensions and start to build a constructive relationship with the Soviet Union. Instead, we have seen Soviet military arsenals continue to grow in virtually every significant category. We have seen the Soviet Union project its power around the globe. We have seen Soviet resistance to significant reductions and measures of effective verification, especially the latter. And, I am sorry to say, there have been increasingly serious grounds for questioning their compliance with the arms control agreements that have already been signed and that we have both pledged to uphold. I may have more to say on this in the near future.

Coming into office, I made two promises to the American people about peace and security: I promised to restore our neglected defenses, in order to strengthen and preserve the peace, and I promised to pursue reliable agreements to reduce nuclear weapons. Both these promises are being kept.

Today, not only the peace but also the chances for real arms control depend on restoring the military balance. We know that the ideology of the Soviet leaders does not permit them to leave any western weakness unprobed, any vacuum of power unfilled. It would seem that to them negotiation is only another form of struggle. Yet, I believe the Soviets can be persuaded to reduce their arsenals--but only if they see it as absolutely necessary. Only if the Soviets recognize the West's determination to modernize its own military forces will they see an incentive to negotiate a verifiable agreement establishing equal, lower levels. And, very simply, that is one of the main reasons why we must rebuild our defensive strength.

All of our strategic force modernization has been approved by the Congress except for the land-based leg of the triad. We expect to get congressional approval of this final program later this spring. A strategic forces modernization program depends on a national bipartisan consensus. Over the last decade, four successive administrations have made proposals for arms control and modernization that have become embroiled in political controversy. No one gained from this divisiveness; all of us are going to have to take a fresh look at our previous positions. I pledge to you my participation in such a fresh look and my determination to assist in forging a renewed bipartisan consensus.

My other national security priority on assuming office was to thoroughly reexamine the entire arms control agenda. Since then, in coordination with our allies, we have launched the most comprehensive program of arms control initiatives ever undertaken. Never before in history has a nation engaged in so many major simultaneous efforts to limit and reduce the instruments of war:

* Last month in Geneva, the vice president committed the United States to negotiate a total and verifiable ban on chemical weapons. Such inhumane weapons, as well as toxin weapons, are being used in violation of international law in Afghanistan, Laos, and Kampuchea (Cambodia).

* Together with our allies, we have offered a comprehensive new proposal for mutual and balanced reduction of conventional forces in Europe.

* We have recently proposed to the Soviet Union a series of further measures to reduce the risk of war from accident or miscalculation. And we are considering significant new measures resulting in part from consultations with several distinguished senators.

* We have joined our allies in proposing a Conference on Disarmament in Europe. On the basis of a balanced outcome of the Madrid meeting, such a conference will discuss new ways to enhance European stability and security.

* We have proposed to the Soviet Union improving the verification provisions of two agreements to limit underground nuclear testing, but, so far, the response has been negative. We will continue to try.

* And, most important, we have made far-reaching proposals, which I will discuss further in a moment, for deep reductions in strategic weapons and for elimination of an entire class of intermediate-range weapons.

I am determined to achieve real arms control--reliable agreements that will stand the test of time, not cosmetic agreements that raise expectations only to have hopes cruelly dashed.

In all these negotiations certain basic principles guide our policy:

* First, our efforts to control arms should seek significant reductions on both sides.

* Second, we insist the arms control agreements be equal and balanced.

* Third, arms control agreements must be effectively verifiable. We cannot gamble with the safety of our people and the people of the world.

* Fourth, we recognize that arms control is not an end in itself but a vital part of a broad policy designed to strengthen peace and stability.

It is with these firm principles in mind that this administration has approached negotiations on the most powerful weapons in the American and Soviet arsenals--strategic nuclear weapons. Strategic Arms Reduction Talks

In June of 1982, American and Soviet negotiators convened in Geneva to begin the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, what we call START. We have sought to work out an agreement reducing the levels of strategic weapons on both sides.

I proposed reducing the number of ballistic missiles by one-half and the number of warheads by one-third. No more than half the remaining warheads could be on land-based missiles. This would leave both sides with greater security at equal and lower levels of forces.

Not only would this reduce numbers--it would also put specific limits on precisely those types of nuclear weapons that pose the most danger.

The Soviets have made a counterproposal. We have raised a number of serious concerns about it. But--and this is important--they have accepted the concept of reductions. I expect this is because of the firm resolve we have demonstrated. In the current round of negotiations, we have presented them with the basic elements of a treaty for comprehensive reductions in strategic arsenals. The United States has also, in START, recently proposed a draft agreement on a number of significant measures to build confidence and reduce the risks of conflict.

This negotiation is proceeding under the able leadership of Ambassador Edward Rowny on our side. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)

We are also negotiating in Geneva to eliminate an entire class of new weapons from the face of the earth.

Since the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union has been deploying an intermediate-range nuclear missile, the SS20, at the average rate of one a week. There are now 351 of these missiles, each with three highly accurate warheads capable of destroying cities and military bases in western Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

NATO has no comparable weapon. Nor did NATO in any way provoke this new, unprecedented escalation. In fact, while the Soviets were deploying their SS20s, we were taking 1,000 nuclear warheads from shorter-range weapons out of Europe.

This major shift in the European military balance prompted our West European allies themselves to propose that NATO find a means of righting the balance. In December of 1979, they announced a collective, two-track decision:

* First, to deploy in western Europe 572 land-based cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles capable of reaching the Soviet Union--the purpose to offset and deter the Soviet SS20s. The first of these NATO weapons are scheduled for deployment by the end of this year.

* Second, to seek negotiations with the Soviet Union for the mutual reduction of these intermediate-range missiles.

In November of 1981, the United States, in concert with our allies, made a sweeping new proposal. NATO would cancel its own deployment if the Soviets eliminated theirs. The Soviet Union refused and set out to intensify public pressures in the West to block the NATO deployment, which has not even started. Meanwhlle, the Soviet weapons continue to grow in number.

Our proposal was not made on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We are willing to consider any Soviet proposal that meets these standards of fairness:

* An agreement must establish equal numbers for both Soviet and American intermediate-range nuclear forces.

* Other countries' nuclear forces, such as the British and French, are independent and are not part of the bilateral U.S.-Soviet negotiations. They are, in fact, strategic weapons and the Soviet strategic arsenal more than compensates for them.

* Next, an agreement must not shift the threat from Europe to Asia. Given the range and mobility of the SS20s, meaningful limits on these and comparable American systems must be global.

* An agreement must be effectively verifiable.

* And an agreement must not undermine NATO's ability to defend itself with conventional forces.

We have been consulting closely with our Atlantic allies and they strongly endorse these principles. Earlier this week, I authorized our negotiator in Geneva, Ambassador Paul Nitze, to inform the Soviet delegation of a new American proposal which has the full support of our allies.

We are prepared to negotiate an interim agreement to reduce our planned deployment if the Soviet Union will reduce their corresponding warheads to an equal level. This would include all U.S. and Soviet weapons of this class, wherever they are located.

Our offer of zero on both sides will, of course, remain on the table as our ultimate goal. At the same time, we remain open, as we have been from the very outset, to serious counterproposals.

The Soviet negotiators have now returned to Moscow, where we hope our new proposal will receive careful consideration during the recess.

Ambassador Nitze has proposed and the Soviets have agreed that negotiations resume in mid-May, several weeks earlier than scheduled.

I'm sorry the Soviet Union, so far, has not been willing to accept the complete elimination of these systems on both sides. The question I now put to the Soviet government is, if not elimination, to what equal level are you willing to reduce? Non-Proliferation

The new proposal is designed to promote early and genuine progress at Geneva. For arms control to be truly complete and world security strengthened, however, we must also increase our efforts to halt the spread of nuclear arms.

Every country that values a peaceful world order must play its part. Our allies--as important nuclear exporters--also have a very important responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. To advance this goal, we should all adopt comprehensive safeguards as a condition for nuclear supply commitments we make in the future. In the days ahead, I will be talking to other world leaders about the need for urgent movement on this and other measures against nuclear proliferation. The Nuclear Freeze

That is the arms control agenda we have been pursuing. Our proposals are fair, far-reaching, and comprehensive, but we still have a long way to go.

We Americans are sometimes an impatient people. I guess it's a symptom of our traditional optimism, energy, and spirit. Often this is a source of strength. In a negotiation, however, impatience can be a real handicap. Any of you who have been involved in labor-management negotiations, or any kind of bargaining, know that patience strengthens your bargaining position. If one side seems too eager or desperate, the other side has no reason to offer a compromise and every reason to hold back, expecting that the more eager side will cave in first.

This is a basic fact of life we can't afford to lose sight of when dealing with the Soviet Union. Generosity in negotiation has never been a trademark of theirs; it runs counter to the basic militancy of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

So, it is vital that we show patience, determination, and, above all, national unity. If we appear to be divided--if the Soviets suspect that domestic, political pressure will undercut our position--they will dig in their heels. And that can only delay an agreement, and may destroy all hope for an agreement.

This is why I have been concerned about the nuclear freeze proposals, one of which is being considered at this time by the House of Representatives. Most of those who support the freeze, I'm sure, are well-intentioned--concerned about the arms race and the danger of nuclear war. No one shares their concern more than I do. But, however well-intentioned they are, these freeze proposals would do more harm than good.

They may seem to offer a simple solution. But there are no simple solutions to complex problems. As H.L. Mencken once wryly remarked, for every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat, and wrong.

The freeze concept is dangerous for many reasons:

* It would preserve today's high, unequal, and unstable levels of nuclear forces, and, by so doing, reduce Soviet incentives to negotiate for real reductions.

* It would pull the rug out from under our negotiators in Geneva, as they have testified. After all, why should the Soviets negotiate if they have already achieved a freeze in a position of advantage to them?

* Although some think a freeze would be easy to agree on, it raises enormously complicated problems of what is to be frozen, and how it is to be achieved and, most of all, verified. Attempting to negotiate these critical details would only divert us from the goal of negotiating reductions, for who knows how long.

* The freeze proposal would also make a lot more sense if a similar movement against nuclear weapons were putting similar pressures on Soviet leaders in Moscow. As former secretary of defense Harold Brown has pointed out: The effect of the freeze "is to put pressure on the United States, but not on the Soviet Union."

* Finally, the freeze would reward the Soviets for their 15-year buildup while locking us into our existing equipment, which in many cases is obsolete and badly in need of modernization. Three-quarters of Soviet strategic warheads are on delivery systems five years old or less; three-quarters of the American strategic warheads are on delivery systems 15 years old or older. The time comes when everything wears out--the trouble is, it comes a lot sooner for us than for them. And, under a freeze, we couldn't do anything about it.

Our B52 strategic bombers are older than many of the pilots who fly them: if they were automobiles, they would qualify as antiques. A freeze could lock us into obsolescence. It is asking too much to expect our service men and women to risk their lives in obsolete equipment. The 2 million patriotic Americans in the armed services deserve the best and most modern equipment to protect them--and us.

I'm sure every president has dreamt of leaving the world a safer place than he found it. I pledge to you, my goal--and I consider it a sacred trust--will be to make progress toward arms reductions in every one of the several negotiations now under way. I call upon all Americans, of both parties and all branches of government, to join in this effort.

We must not let our disagreements or partisan politics keep us from strengthening the peace and reducing armaments. I pledge to our allies and friends in Europe and Asia: We will continue to consult closely with you. We are conscious of our responsibility when we negotiate with our adversaries on issues of concern to you, your safety and well being.

To the leaders and people of the Soviet Union, I say: Join us on the path to a more peaceful, secure world. Let us vie in the realm of ideas, on the field of peaceful competition. Let history record that we tested our theories through human experience, not that we destroyed ourselves in the name of vindicating our way of life. And let us practice restraint in our international conduct, so that the present climate of mistrust can some day give way to mutual confidence and a secure peace.

What better time to rededicate ourselves to this undertaking than in the Easter season, when millions of the world's people pay homage to the one who taught us peace on Earth, good will toward men?

This is the goal, my fellow Americans, of all the democratic nations--a goal that requires firmness, patience, and understanding. If the Soviet Union responds in the same spirit, we are ready. And we can pass on to our posterity the gift of peace--that and freedom are the greatest gifts that one generation can bequeath to another.