In a column on The Post's op-ed page (Dec. 7) Philip Geyelin proclaimed that the president's Strategic Defense Intitative had more than enough strikes against it to declare it "out." His call of "Four Strikes Against Star Wars" was prompted by an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in which the four authors (McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara and Gerard Smith) announced that the president could have either his "Star Wars" defense or new opportunities to reach agreements on arms control with the Soviet Union -- but not both. They opposed the president's proposal to develop a defense against ballistic missiles, and their criticism ranges from accusations of "intrinsic absurdity" to a call to Congress to block "the president's dream." These are strong words, especially on the eve of the initial round of umbrella arms control talks in Geneva.

But we shouldn't be so anxious -- or so guillible -- to accept the claim that defense and arms control are mutually exclusive. It's not enough for Geyelin to assert: "The Gang of Four has struck again. With no ifs or buts, they've prety nearly devastated President Reagan's cherished Strategic Defense Initiative." In fact the gang's historical accomplishments, and their foresight, hardly merit that kind of fawning adulation.

In his oft-quoted April 1965 report to Congress, Robert S. McNamara, then secretary of defense, said: "The Soviets have decided that they have lost the quantitative (nuclear) arms race, and they are not seeking to engage us in that contest . . . there is no indication that the Soviets are seeking to develop a strategic nuclear force as large as our own." I'm sure that today Ed Rowny, as our START negotiator, would welcome having to face a Soviet strategic force "only" as large as our own.

Gerard Smith, on the other hand, was the key architect of the 1972 ABM Treaty, which the Gang of Four calls ". . . our most important arms control agreement." Yet they then turn right around and agree that the "large Soviet radar in central Siberia does raise exactly the kinds of questions of intentional violation which are highly destructive . . . to public confidence in arms control." They go even further to point out that this cannot be seen in any light other than ". . . a clear violation of the express language of the Treaty." I am absolutely baffled by their logic. The Siberian radar has been in planning and construction for at least a dozen years. The ink of Brezhnev's signature on the ABM Treaty was still wet as the Soviets proceeded with its violation. This is "our most important agreement"?

Each of these four men played a key role in shaping the situation we face today. As such, their legacy is hardly reassuring. Soviet resolve to achieve superiority exceeded the gang's wildest imagination, and their arms control theory has provided little restraint as the Soviets have continued to build. The president's commitment to achieving real reductions in strategic arms deserves more than bitter sniping from those who have failed in the past.

Inevitable advances in technology have now put both superpowers' retaliatory forces at risk to preemptive attack. And while the diversity of our own "triad" (ICBM, bomber and submarine) forces greatly complicates any attempt at first strike, both sides view such possibilities with increasing concern. The president recognizes this reality. Rather than ignore the rising tide of technical advance, he proposes the superpowers use it to mutual advantage. As a first step, competent ballistic missile defenses remove any rational perception that a first strike could be successful. That in turn could permit a large decrease in the retaliatory arsenals, instead of constant proliferation as they become increasingly vulnerable.

Faced with this logic, the Gang of Four then accuses the president of defending weapons, not people as he promised. They then go on to ridicule the prospect of defending people, since defenses cannot be made perfect; and since they can't be perfect, "the end is unattainable, the means harebrained and the cost staggering." Geyelin sets up a similar straw man by proclaiming that SDI promises "nothing less than an airtight defense against nuclear weapons and an end forever to the threat of nuclear war." Now the teams of several hundred scientists and engineers that examined this issue last year were very emphatic that extremely effective defenses were becoming available since we last looked at these issues almost 15 years ago. But the SDI has never promised such absolute perfection, and the president would never propose such a bold step if only perfection would suffice.

Deterrence is a time-honored concept. Common sense would show that even an initial ballistic missile defense makes a first strike virtually inconceivable by either side. This would return us to an era when ballistic missiles represented a retaliatory deterrent, not a preemptive threat. That, in turn, provides a path to balanced reductions in missiles to the point where both sides need maintain only small numbers in purely retaliatory roles. Arms reduction negotiations to this end would be the next step toward the president's ultimate goal of "making nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." Further improvements in defensive technologies would continue to reduce the utility (and our reliance) on nuclear weapons, and the likelihood of nuclear war would be small indeed. And that is the central goal of arms control.