ON May 27, the White House issued an announcement of historic consequence. The United States, it said, would ``no longer be bound'' by the limitations of the SALT II arms control agreement. The immediate impact of this announcement was lessened by word that the President had directed the dismantling of two Poseidon submarines, which will keep the US in compliance with the major numerical limitations of SALT II until later this year.
The announcement, however, means that this fall, when our 131st B-52, equipped with air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM), becomes operational, the administration does not intend to take the compensatory steps necessary to keep the US within the limitation governing the aggregate of MIRVed missile launchers and ALCM-equipped bombers.
We have thus been given early warning of a momentous and dangerous step which we still have time to avert. It is to prevent that step that I have introduced, with Sen. Bill Cohen (R) of Maine, legislation that would require that the US remain within the numerical limitations on strategic nuclear weapons systems required by the SALT II treaty.
The legislation is simple and self-explanatory. It would prohibit any expenditure of funds for deployment or maintenance above the levels of the SALT II limits unless the Soviet Union violated the limits or the President and Congress agreed that exceeding the limits is necessary to maintain American national security interests.
While this legislation was introduced as a free-standing bill, we intend to propose it as an amendment to appropriate legislation under consideration by the Senate in the near future, to ensure its timely consideration.
I deeply regret having reached the conclusion that such legislation is necessary. I believe, as a matter of principle, that the president of the US must be allowed as much flexibility as possible in conducting the foreign policy of the United States. In the case of SALT II, however, we face the functional equivalent of a national emergency.
The reason is no secret, within this government or within the Atlantic alliance. Control over the arms control policy of the US has fallen into the hands of those who have sought for years to topple the entire structure of arms control.
As a result, we are now well on our way to a situation that could inflict serious damage on the national-security interests of our nation.
Adherence to the SALT II limits over the past seven years has proved of major benefit to the US, requiring large-scale dismantling of Soviet weapons systems and very little adjustment in our own strategic arsenal. It was for precisely that reason that, in 1984 and again in 1985, the Senate by overwhelming majorities urged the President to continue the ``no undercut'' policy of compliance with the SALT II numerical limitations.
Given the current direction of the White House, more decisive action is now necessary.
A question has been raised whether our legislation is constitutionally proper on the grounds that it seeks, through other means, to perform the function of a treaty. There should be no cause for concern in this regard.
A treaty is a device by which nations are placed under bilateral or multilateral obligations within the context of international law. Our legislation would not place the US under any such obligations.
It would not even require that the United States comply with all of the provisions of the SALT II. It would simply be a mechanism by which we would regulate our own behavior -- in this case the deployment of strategic weapons systems -- according to specified criteria.
This is a perfectly appropriate function for the Congress to accomplish by law.
And it is an action that must be taken unless the White House changes course on this issue.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D) of Delaware is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.