SALT II could dominate the election windup. The Carter administration has abruptly seized the pending strategic arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union as a symbol of the "peace-war" issue; Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie has twice assailed Ronald Reagan for opposing it while President Carter announces that he will resume the Senate ratification fight after the election.
Mr. Reagan, using the words in the Republican platform, calls the treaty "fundamentally flawed." The platform pledges the party "to achieve overall military and technological superiority over the Soviet Union." On Sept. 30 the Associated Press summarized an interview with the Republican candidate: "Ronald Reagan says that as president he would scrap the proposed treaty on limiting strategic arms without allowing a Senate vote on it, then toughen the US negotiating stance, and seek new weapons talks with the Soviet Union."
The issue is one of the sharpest clashes in the 1980 campaigne.
Assailing the Republican doctrine of arms "superiority," Secretary Muskie said in a speech here Oct. 16 to the Woman's National Democratic Club, it "rejects the central principle of this treaty -- that the greatest safety comes from an overall balance in our forces."
Muskie, who defended the treaty aggressively again this weekend, declared earlier, "That is why the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously support early ratification of the SALT II treaty.That is why al of our Europen allies strongly urge up to ratify is promptly."
Mr. Reagan takes the position that an incompetent Carter Administration was outbargained by Moscow in the SALT negotiations. He told the Associated Press Sept. 30 that he would put pressure on the Soviets by raising "the possibility of an arms race." He declared:
"We have been unilaterally disarming at the same time we're negotiating supposedly arms limitation with the other fellow. . . . The one card that's been missing in these negotiations has been the possibility of an arms race."
Carter forces seem to be preparing to make this a climactic issue of the campaign:
* Secretary Muskie charged, Oct. 16, that Reagan "would tear up this treaty and embark on a quest for military superiority that would not only heat up the arms race but freeze the future of arms control."
* President Carter Oct. 18 declared he would seek SALT ratification "at the earliest possible moment" after the Nov. 4 election from whichever Senate, old or new, seemed most likely to go among.
* Muskie resumed the pressure here Oct. 79. The timetable is running out on the treaty, he said, with the Russians required to apply new limits shortly which will botherwise expire. He urged Reagan to "modify" his position for arms superiority. Otherwise, he said, the whole basis of trying to limit the arms race will be "out the window."
* US and Soviet representatives met in Geneva Oct. 17 to try to work out an agreement on a subordinate part of the problem -- European theater nuclear weapons -- soon disclosing the almost hopeless complexity of the situation. Nok agreement seems likely until America acts on the SALT treaty.