Washington — To understand how shifting from multiwarhead missiles to single-warhead missiles might make the world less dangerous, it helps to understand the Lodal plan.
The Lodal plan?
If you've never heard of it, don't be surprised.
In June of 1981, Jan M. Lodal, a former director of program analysis for the National Security Council staff, laid out his ideas in succinct fashion on the opinion page of the New York Times.
Lodal wrote that there was an alternative to the ''shell game'' shuttle of MX missiles then under consideration, an alternative that Pentagon studies seemed to have played down.
Instead of the 10-warhead MXs, Lodal proposed deploying a large number of small, single-warhead missiles, each in a protective silo like those that house the nation's Minuteman missiles.
Such a system, Lodal argued, would be superior to the MX system from all points of view: military, environmental, political, and economic. But Lodal said that the Midgetman had not been considered because it would violate the SALT II agreement signed by President Carter but never ratified by the Senate. SALT II limits the number of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, rather than the number of warheads, in American and Soviet arsenals. Lodal proposed that the United States seek a new agreement that would limit warheads, thus reversing the ''destabilizing'' tendency of both superpowers to put increasing numbers of warheads on their missiles.
The Lodal proposal caused scarcely a ripple. But it did draw admiring comments from a few specialists. Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Lodal's former boss, also looked at the Lodal plan and corresponded with him about it.
Lodal proposes a ceiling of 11,000 on the number of warheads on each side with a range greater than 1,000 kilometers. In the view of some experts, the plan has the advantage of simplicity. It combines both strategic and intermediate nuclear forces and does not explicitly require either side to restructure its forces.
But some experts have criticized the plan because it might create negotiating problems with the Soviets, leaves out some shorter-range weapons systems, and could cost more than the MX system.
Lodal says it was a mistake for the Reagan administration to reject the SALT II agreement. He adds that the nuclear freeze movement has been useful in that it has put pressure on the White House to negotiate a new agreement. But Lodal says he believes a total nuclear freeze would be damaging because the American nuclear weapons force does require some ''modernizing.''
''We do have a greater need to modernize our forces than the Russians,'' said Lodal in an interview. ''Their forces on the average are considerably newer than ours.''
The tall, slender Lodal is currently the executive director of a computer services firm, but he never strays far from the issues of nuclear defense and arms control.
He has been advising former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale, a Democratic presidential candidate, on national security issues.
When President Reagan appointed a bipartisan commission, headed by retired Air Force Gen. Brent Scowcroft, to take a fresh look at strategic forces with a focus on the MX, Lodal was among those with whom the commission consulted.
The day after the commission delivered its report to President Reagan on April 11, Mr. Scowcroft called Lodal to thank him for his contribution. That evening, Lodal, along with several other experts, went to the home of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts for a dinner discussion of the Scowcroft commission report.
Lodal, an engineer by undergraduate training and an expert on systems design and development, says that it would be difficult to defend the Scowcroft commission's proposal to deploy a limited number of MX missiles except in conjunction with the proposal to make the Midgetman its successor.
He says he thinks Congress must find a way to enforce a policy change in the direction of small, single-warhead missiles.
Lodal said that his own ideas on Midgetman started to gel when he was traveling to Paris from a conference at The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. It all came together, he said, on May 9, 1981, a beautiful spring day, as he sat chatting with the then US Ambassador to France, Arthur Hartman, in the garden of the ambassador's residence in Paris.
Does Lodal ever stop thinking about nuclear weapons?
The answer, he says, is yes. He gets away from it all on a farm near Culpepper, Va., which he shares with Jim Johnson, Mr. Mondale's presidential campaign chairman. He hikes, plays tennis, and goes swimming. Most of all, he says, he enjoys playing with his two children, a three-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy.
Lodal rejects the idea that the nuclear weapons strategists study their problems only in an abstract way, with no regard for the destructiveness of the weapons they are dealing with. He says he believes that a prime motivation of many of his fellow ''professionals'' is to stabilize and, if possible, end the arms race.
At the same time, Lodal acknowledges that arms control negotiations with the Soviets have greatly disappointed many of the experts, because the talks came nowhere close to fulfilling the expectations they raised.
''Nobody would have predicted that we would end up with so many weapons,'' said Lodal.