The presidential election, now considered too close to call, took on global connotations over the weekend. President Carter urged immediate Senate ratification of the stalled strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union, while Ronald Reaga urged rejection of the "doomed" treaty and immediate negotiation of substitute "SALT III."
Behind the disagreement over SALT II is the personality issue: Which candidate is better fitted to preserve peace through the threatening nuclear storms ahead?
Mr. Reagan, in a paid television appearance Oct. 19, presented himself as a peacemaker, not a warmonger, and reclothed his earlier demand for military "superiority" over the Soviets as a call for "a margin of safety."
"Of all the objectives we seek, first and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace," he said in the evening, prime-time appearance.
Mr. Carter, in a 15-minute paid radio talk earlier in the day that had been arranged before the Reagan appearance was announced, made the question of foreign affairs -- centered specifically on the arms treaty -- the point of attack on the former California governor. Without mentioning his opponent by name, Carter pressed the Democratic theme that the Republican candidate is dangerously combative.
Various ramifications surrounded the two apperances. Former President Gerald Ford charged on one Oct. 19 television panel show that the Carter administration may make unwise concessions to Iran on the hostages in order to secure momentary political advantage. But Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, appearing the same day on another network, specifically told a panel that the administration rejected a political bargain over hostages.
In the background, argues the Carter administration, is a ticking clock: Time is short for the treaty, it's now or never, and if the Senate doesn't ratify the treaty in the forthcoming lame-duck session after the election, the Soviet Union plans to breach the agreement, it says.
The peace-and-war issue was emerged suddenly in the campaign as polls indicate that the race is growing tighter and that Reagan may be vulnerable to Democratic attacks on this issue. The GOP candidate and platform have pledged their goal as arms "superiority," and Reagan says that the prospect of an arms race might bring Soviet concessions.
The Reagan TV appearance, which most observers agreed was effective, gave his most comprehensive discussion of foreign affairs thus far in the campaign. He offered a generalized nine-point review of how he proposed to strengthen the world posture of the United States, ranging from more money of the Voice of America broadcasts to raising pay in the armed services. He chrged that his views on the peace issue had been "distorted," and in a counterattack asserted that "our economic, military, and strategic strength under President Carter is eroding."
In a quiet, direct style he argued the SATL issue, citing criticisms of the treaty by leading Democrats -- Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio and the Senate Armed Services Committee, for example. He clothed his demand for arms "superiority" in these terms:
"An important step, perhaps the most important of all in a systematic program for peace, is to restore the margin of safety for peace in our defense program by working closely with the Congress on a long-term program designed to meet our needs throughout this critical decade."
Carter, by contrast, denied in his radio broadcast that he had let American defense sag.
"A few days ago my opponent promised," he said, "to scrap the nuclear arms treaty we've already signed. His position, and I think I state it accurately, is that by abandoning the present agreement and suggesting an all-out nuclear arms race, we could perhaps frighten the Soviets into negotiating a new agreement on the basis of American nuclear superiority."
Carter called this "a very risky gamble."
The debate is likely to be continued face-to-face in the forthcoming encounter at Cleveland Oct. 28.
The complex nuclear disarmament treaty does not reduce the overall expenditure for arms but strikes a number of compromises which limit specific arms. Without the treaty the Soviets can deploy 25 percent more strategic bombers and missiles by 1985 than they can if the treaty is in force, Secretary Muskie said here Oct. 16. On the other hand, Reagan supporters charge that the Soviets are enlarging their deployment elsewhere.