Washington — Every major US presidential contender except Ronald Reagan is urging the United States to comply with old Soviet-US arms control agreements until new ones can be signed.
Even Governor Reagan, according to a new survey, favors some kind of future negotiations with the Soviets to limit nuclear arms -- if future Soviet moves in Afghanistan permit.
In the survey, released May 28 by the non- partisan Arms Control Association, President Carter, Governor Reagan, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. John B. Anderson , and Ambassador George Bush (now only a vice-presidential or Cabinet hopeful), all expressed at least qualified recognition of the need for arms controls.
However, regarding the unratified SALT II arms-control treaty, Mr. Reagan said that it should be withdrawn, and "the US should not abide by its terms prior to ratification."
At the same time, a pro-Reagan West Coast "think tank" warns in a new book that the Soviets will shortly attain "meaningful superiority" unless the US takes rapid remedial steps, including spending $50 billion more each year on defense.
The new study is "National Security in the 1980s: From Weakness to Strength," edited by Prof. W. Scott Thompson of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Its publisher is the defense-oriented, San Francisco-based Institute for Contemporary Studies, whose president, H. Monroe Browne, is a Reagan friend and confidante.
The book's 17 authors mention arms control only in passing terms as something that has helped the Soviets but not the US. They say the new decade is a time of high danger in which the US must "develop strong nerves and speak softly, while rebuilding our defenses."
In discussing SALT II for the arms control poll, John Anderson, George Bush, and President Carter all agreed that the treaty, which Mr. Bush would amend to "correct seriously defective provisions" such as not counting the Soviet Backfire bomber as a strategic weapon, should be the basis for future arms- control efforts.
Senator Kennedy, in the shortest answer, supports the SALT concept. He recalls his proposal of a bipartisan select commission on national security policy "to examine the important issues relating to national security and US-Soviet relations, including our defense needs with or without a SALT agreement."
Both Republicans and Democrats, Senator Kennedy adds, could find the basis of a bipartisan policy of support for arms control in such a commission. Governor Reagan was the only one of the five aspirants not replying to a question on what the US should and could do about arms control in the absence of SALT II ratification.
John Anderson sketches out a three-tiered system under which arms-control progress should continue. He would encourage NATO- Soviet talks on nuclear missiles deployed in the European area, as well as US-Soviet talks on central nuclear systems and NATO-Soviet talks on limiting conventional arms.
Senator Kennedy says the SALT process is essential to world survival. Like Mr. Bush, he wants to improve SALT verification procedures. "Averting thermonuclear war," he adds, quoting exiled Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, "has absolute priority over all other problems of our time."
In space warfare, President Carter recognizes there is "assymetry" between the US and Soviets over anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, because the Russians have tested them and the US has not. The US will continue ASAT development, he has said.John Anderson favors developing an ASAT capability but not testing unless ASAT ban talks with the USSR prove hopeless.
George Bush doubts whether continued talks would halt Soviet development, though he would be willing to continue them. Senator Kennedy supports a "verifiable ban" on ASAT tests, meanwhile continuing US research and development in the ASAT field.
Governor Reagan gave no response to the ASAT question, or to one on what new arms control and reduction initiatives each contender would propose as president in 1981.
President Carter and John Anderson give the largest and most detailed accounts of their new arms-control proposals. Each would seek to cut all arms systems and curb arms transfers.