Ten former government officials and academics released a study yesterday saying that the United States should adopt a "no-first-use" policy for nuclear weapons to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

"The United States should base its military plans, training programs, defense budgets, weapons deployments and arms negotiations on the assumption that it will not initiate the use of nuclear weapons," said the study, which will appear in the August issue of Atlantic Monthly.

The study argues that U.S. policy, which has allowed for first use of nuclear weapons since the dawn of the nuclear age, has increased the risk of nuclear war, drained resources that should have been channeled into conventional forces and weakened NATO unity. A no-first-use U.S. policy not only would reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons would be used, but would allow the United States to devote greater resources to conventional capabilities and would improve the prospects of arms control, the study said.

The study group's conclusions hinge on its determination that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe are highly vulnerable to attack and useless in a large-scale European conventional battle. "Substituting nuclear weapons for fighting men is not the answer," the study said. "Nuclear weapons cannot make up for manpower deficiency. They cannot hold ground."

The study recommends that the United States build up conventional forces -- a proposal some say is too costly but the study group argues is not -- while scaling down the number of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. The group notes that in shifting to conventional deterrence in Europe, a primary task would be reassuring the allies that U.S. resolve to defend them has not decreased.

The study group included former national security affairs adviser McGeorge Bundy, former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara, former ambassador to the Soviet Union George F. Kennan, head of the SALT I delegation Gerard C. Smith and head of the SALT II delegation Paul C. Warnke.

The study recommends removing all nuclear weapons deployed on the NATO-Warsaw Pact border, eliminating the "dual-capable" systems that can launch either conventional or nuclear weapons and scrapping what some critics contend are provocative weapons programs, such as the MX missile, the Trident D5 and the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" research program into missile defenses.

Smith, speaking at a news conference yesterday, offered a dismal outlook for current arms control negotiations, saying a "grand compromise" in which the United States would limit SDI in return for deep cuts in Soviet and U.S. ICBM forces is unrealistic. The compromise deal is "not of any interest to the Soviets" because the United States "can't deploy anything for five years unless it's a 1969 version of hard-point missile silo defense," he said. "I don't see the makings of a serious negotiation there."