BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who has been criticized for never having met a weapons system he liked or a defense budget he wouldn't cut, says he actually thinks the current level of defense spending is about right.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Dukakis said he would cut some programs but maintain the U.S. defense posture nearly as it is pending further breakthroughs in arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, which he considers achievable in the next five years.

In the interview, the governor said that, as president, he would scrap the MX and Midgetman missile programs, cut the size of the Navy and eliminate plans for two new aircraft carriers, and scale back research spending on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the levels of four years ago.

But Dukakis said he would continue development work on the Stealth bomber and the D5 Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile, keep the all-volunteer armed forces at current sizes, maintain American troop commitments in Europe and "be very careful about" pressuring Japan and West Germany to expand their military budgets in a "burden-sharing" effort.

He said the domestic policies of Pakistan and South Korea make U.S. military aid "troubling" and implied that he might favor shifting U.S. troops and bases from South Korea to Japan if the former's human-rights policies do not improve.

Citing the need for increasing the quality and readiness of U.S. conventional forces, Dukakis declined to promise significant reductions in the overall military budget. "There's no way we can deal with this budget deficit without at the very least stabilizing {defense expenditures} where we are," he said. "Whether there can be significant cuts in real terms . . . I think really depends on the progress of negotiations" with the Soviets.

From the time that Dukakis emerged as a major contender for the 1988 nomination, rivals have been questioning his views and credentials on national-security affairs. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Paul Simon (Ill.) and Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.) have cited their first-hand experience with arms-control and foreign policy issues, implicitly questioning Dukakis' credentials.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) has launched a more direct attack. He argues that Dukakis makes broadside criticisms of defense programs, while minimizing the contribution military spending has made to his vaunted "Massachusetts miracle" economy. When Dukakis earlier this summer questioned why Gephardt had voted for certain weapons systems, Gephardt told reporters, "I know what the governor is against, but I don't know what he's for."

During the interview, Dukakis said he has been conferring with defense experts and plans to "lay out my views in some detail over the course of the next two or three months." He declined to identify all his advisers, but cited Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, and William W. Kaufmann, a former Defense Department official and retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Dukakis discounted the U.S. military buildup of the past eight years as a factor in what he, along with many others, hailed as the improved prospects for Soviet-American arms-control breakthroughs. "I do not believe that our rearmament has brought them to the bargaining table," he said, adding, at another point, that if it was a factor at all, "serious Soviet domestic difficulties have been even more important."

Repeatedly, the governor argued that breakthroughs in military technology and weapons offer only an illusion of security. "We're all beginning to realize there is no end to this race," he said. "Each weapon system produces a countersystem . . . . The two superpowers are both being forced to devote more and more resources to the military at a time when there are serious domestic priorities that are going unattended."

"I have serious questions as to whether in the past 6 1/2 years . . . we haven't spent billions and billions on increasingly exotic weapons systems of dubious value, while our conventional capability has been badly neglected . . . . ," Dukakis said.

Among his specific weapons systems judgments:The MX intercontinental ballistic missile: "Highly vulnerable . . . . There isn't anyone who has seriously suggested that it would add significantly to our capability." The Midgetman missile: "Given its cost and expense, I think it's a questionable value."

New Air Force bombers: "Our development of the Stealth {a new plane meant to be nearly invisible to enemy radar} should continue, but I don't know that you need modernized B52s, B1s, the Stealth, cruise missiles. I mean, all of those are just one leg of the triad and don't even take into account the fact that we've got . . . a virtually invulnerable sea-based capacity and a land-based capacity . . . ." The Trident submarine and its D5 missile: "Development, procurement, expansion of the D5 really depend on our negotiations with the Soviets. If we can seriously negotiate deep cuts in strategic weapons and a comprehensive test ban treaty and a flight-test treaty, then obviously that will have an impact on any new system . . . . If we don't, then I think the D5 becomes something that we should develop." SDI: "I'd cut it back to where it was before the president announced his initiative. At that time, it was operating at somewhere around $900 million or $1 billion. I certainly wouldn't do more than that at this point. I think that its wisdom and utility are very doubtful." Areas requiring improvements: "I think there are serious questions about our conventional equipment: tanks, antitank weapons, support for troops in the field. Secondly, there are persistent reports of problems with ammunition, levels of supplies, medical equipment, these kinds of things. Thirdly, there are unquestionably all kinds of communication problems between and among the services in the field. Our antisubmarine capability needs work if we're serious about keeping the sea lanes open. And quite obviously, as we discovered in the Persian Gulf, something like mine-sweeping apparently was not being taken very seriously."

Dukakis said the current U.S. base structure and overseas troop deployment "is in a general way what we need . . . . I think for the foreseeable future . . . . "

But he expressed misgivings about maintaining bases and military aid agreements "in a country where the government is acting in ways which violate our values."

"Pakistan right now is a clear example of that," because of its reported efforts to build a nuclear weapon. "Notwithstanding its effect on our ability to supply Afghan rebels," he said, "I would be very tough on Pakistan. I don't think we can tolerate what is an effort to destroy, ignore or evade . . . the nonproliferation treaty.

"Korea," he said, "continues in my judgment to be a very troubling example . . . of a situation in which . . . we have American troops based in a country where human and labor rights have been trampled . . . . Notwithstanding what may be viewed as some short-term weakening of our defense posture in a particular part of the world, I think we have to be prepared to get very tough with countries that want our arms, want our military support, but aren't prepared to provide their citizens with basic human and labor rights. Now, in most of these cases, there is an alternative fairly close at hand . . . . At least in the long run, do you lose anything by moving your military capability in the region to nations that act in a way that is much more consistent with our values . . . Japan as opposed to Korea."