To adhere to SALT II or not to adhere is once again the question dominating the arms control discussions in Washington. As someone who participated in the 1979 SALT II debate in Congress, I am both pleased and concerned that this is a key arms control issue in the spring of 1986.

I am concerned because, seven years later, we still have not reached a domestic consensus on a future course for arms control nor have we made any significant progress in negotiations with the Soviets on a follow-on arms reduction agreement.

I am pleased because, in the fall of 1979, the debate over SALT II was so divisive I never would have projected that one of the few points of consensus on arms control issues over the next seven years would be that SALT II serves our national security interest. We have seen that strategic offensive arms control, modest as this treaty may be, can play a positive role in our national security planning.

The decision to abide by SALT II has been based on both political and military reasons.

Militarily, the treaty restraints have added predictability and stability to the strategic equation, making our military planning that much easier. The treaty has curtailed Soviet production and has required that the Soviets dismantle old systems as they introduced new ones. Since 1972, the Soviet Union has removed 1,007 land-based missiles and 233 sea- based missiles. They also have dismantled 13 submarines to comply with SALT limits. The SALT II treaty has also aided our military planning by delineating the framework of the Soviet strategic threat and, consequently, affording us the opportunity of no longer having to plan against "the greater than expected threat" that drove our nuclear planning budgets in the 1960s.

Politically, we determined that an interim restraint policy would facilitate the negotiation of a news arms reduction treaty and would deprive the Soviet Union of a propaganda heyday in Europe and in the United States. This policy has worked successfully in the past. In 1977 we extended the SALT I Interim Agreements to facilitate the negotiations on SALT II.

These reasons for abiding by the SALT II restraints were very sound, in my opinion, and are still valid.

Unfortunately, our current debate on whether we should continue to adhere to SALT II is repeating the political posturing of 1979 instead of clearly assessing how best to serve our national security interests.

The latest watchword for standing tall against the Soviets is "proportionate response" to Soviet violations. The principal reasons given for renouncing SALT II are that the cost of interim restraint is rising sharply and that reaffirming the SALT II treaty in the face of violations would send a clear signal that the United States is ready to settle for less than we say we will.

The violation issue is very serious and should play a critical role in our evaluation of SALT II or any other current or future arms control agreement. There are legitimate concerns, for example, about whether the SS-25 is a new missile or whether the Soviets are encrypting telemetry in violation of the treaty constraints. But the SALT II violations charges are currently not clear-cut and are causing controversy both inside and outside the government.

One of the fundamental flaws of the proportionate response approach at this time is that it makes a leap of judgment and requires us to respond proportionately before clearly determining the military significance of these violations. Most important, it diverts us from assessing the SALT II treaty within the broad parameters of our overall national security interests and from pursuing a constructive policy on violations.

The treaty set up the Standing Consultative Commission to deal with such compliance issues. One of the main reasons the commission was established was to ensure that the treaty remained responsive to changing technical requirements and ambiguities. But the success of this commission is directly related to the willingness of the two governments to work together to resolve their differences. The commission has worked effectively in the past in resolving the concerns of both sides about treaty compliance.

Unfortunately, the same people within the administration calling most strongly for proportionate responses to violations are also the same people who are denigrating the value of the SCC. One of the principal charges against the commission is that it is "languid, confidential and ineffective." Secretary of State George Shultz recently called on the Soviets to remove arms control policy on future treaties from the public limelight in order to facilitate progress. And President Reagan made the same decision about human rights issues after his meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev last fall. It is paradoxical that this same approach is not applied to our concerns about violations.

The proportionate response policy also presupposes that the United States has been sitting idly, lulled by arms control, while the Soviets are flagrantly violating agreements. In fact, overconfidence about arms control has not been our problem over the past several years. Rather, it has been an unwillingness or inability to assess objectively those areas where limited arms control agreements can serve our national security interests as well as, if not better than, a military option. Since 1979, we have embarked on an intensive strategic modernization program, with arms control and negotiations with the Soviets in general taking a back seat.

Until we are certain that we are facing clear- cut violations and until we have exploited the diplomatic channels to resolve those differences, it does not serve our interests to race ahead and be the only party publicly announcing that we are openly violating arms control agreements, thereby placing the propaganda initiative in the Soviets' court.

Our best approach at this time should be to focus our attention on moving forward on concluding follow-on agreements and moving forward with our military programs, which are determined on the basis of national security needs and sound fiscal policy, not political responses. If the time comes that we will need to respond proportionately to Soviet violations, we should not turn to gimmicky ways to violate arms control restrictions such as drydocking our submarines, but rather proceed with programs we deem to be in our national security interests, regardless of arms control restraints.

The only way we can truly strengthen the environment for future arms control accords is if we prove that we and the Soviets can work together through diplomatic channels to resolve our concerns about violations. This is the only approach that will give us confidence to move toward more complex limitations, which by their very nature will require continued cooperation throughout the life of the treaty.

The most important signal from passing the official expiration deadline of SALT II is not that SALT II has stopped serving U.S. national security interests, but that we are overdue for a new arms control agreement.