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How many billions?

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Furthermore, even if CIA estimates are taken as a guide, the picture is not complete wihtout comparing NATO and Warsaw Pact spending, and here NATO is the undisputed leader. Figures put out by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies show the Atlantic alliance considerably outspending the Eastern bloc. NATO also has more men under arms.

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However, the basic point is not how much is spent, but how efficiently and effectively it is spent -- whether the arms and personnel at hand are sufficient to their mission. Here attention must be given not only to the state of current weapons systems and manpower but to Western defense strategy itself -- to organization and doctrine as well as equipment.

One innovative concept heard there days comes from a group of defense analysts who say that, with new strategies, the US could have a much stronger defense -- and without big increases in spending. These specialists, led by retired Air Force colonel John Boyd, argue that the US armed forces are weighed down by a cumbersome, expensive strategy based on overwhelming an enemy by superior numbers of soldiers and weapons. They favor instead "maneuver warfare, " a strategy based on defeating an enemy by agile attacks at its weak points with smaller, more cohesive divisions and with smaller, cheaper, and less sophisticated planes, tanks, and ships. Ironically, this is the strategy of the Soviet Union, which maintains large numbers of lean divisions for swiftly overpowering the adversary in intense but short campaigns.

This is not to accept the Boyd group's call for institutional reform at face value. It may not be valid and we are in no position to judge its merit. But it does raise intelligent questions, and it is therefore hoped that Mr. Weinberger and his aides are looking at this and other analyses as they consult with NATO allies and work out a long-term military policy. Challenging conventional thinking could open up fresh ideas and approaches.

One other major item concerns us: moving forward as quickly as possible on SALT. We appreciate that Mr. Reagan needs time to review the whole platter of arms control issues before starting talks with Moscow. But, meanwhile, it is disquieting to hear voices calling for scrapping of the 1972 ABM treaty and other changes. The years ahead are likely to be marked by a higher level of US-Soviet military competition and tension, which would make nuclear arms control even more crucial if the superpowers are to preserve a balance and contain the risks of nuclear war. Both sides are developing new systems, such as counter-silo capabilities. Both are scurrying to keep up with new vulnerabilities. This spiral, driven by military institutions on both sides, needs to be broken.

Economics alone should bring both sides to the negotiation table. It is hard to imagine the Reagan administration will not be eager to pursue arms control -- and to scale down its budget projections -- when it realizes the impact on the US economy of rising defense costs. Few believe the President will be able to balance the budget and cut taxes without also curbing arms outlays.

Otehr issues could be touched upon, including the massive defense-budget waste which the outgoing US comptroller general says runs into billions of dollars annually. Subsequent editorials will deal with the MX, bombers, naval strategy, and the draft. But the main point we would make today is that US security cannot be bought by throwing dollars at the very real problem of Soviet military growth. Americans want to be assured that the White House and Congress are applying standards of cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and legitimate purpose as they seek to put the nation's defenses in pro per order.