Heat from the freeze

Those many earnest and sincere workers in the nuclear freeze movement are not going to get what they want, but they should not think that their efforts have been entirely in vain.

They should notice that on the same day that they scored a favorable test vote in the House of Representatives in Washington (which will probably turn out to have been the high watermark of their movement) President Reagan's experts on arms control were preparing for him a new set of options.

The new options include several possible departures from the original White House strategy of standing on their original ''zero-zero'' plan. That plan, still the official US position on arms negotiations for Europe, would cancel the present NATO plan to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe this year if the Soviets would remove all of their new SS-20 missiles from Europe.

In other words, the weight and progress of the ''freeze'' movement added to pressure from European allies has pushed the Reagan administration to think about flexibility in the American bargaining position and to think also about getting on with talking to the Soviets.

This is a change in attitude at the White House.

Originally the administration did not want negotiations with the Soviets until the US had first improved its bargaining position by deploying a next generation of US weapons and regaining equality or superiority. Depending on what the Soviets do, that time could be far in the future.

If there had been no nuclear freeze movement in the US twinned with pressure from NATO governments in Europe, it is probable that Mr. Reagan's present four-year term in the White House would have gone by with no US attempt to seek weapons limitations. That probability has been reversed. The present probability is for some new offer and some negotiating during the third and fourth years of the term.

That does not yet mean a likelihood of agreement. No one in the West can know whether the Soviets will want to try a negotiation with Mr. Reagan during this four-year term or wait out the four years in the hope that 1984 will see the election of some other person to the presidency.

But the people who have worked hard in the freeze movement have made a dent on White House attitudes.

They have stimulated a vast amount of new thinking about nuclear weapons and about new ways of bringing those weapons under control thereby reducing the danger to the human race that is inherent in those weapons.

There is not going to be a nuclear freeze. The ''freeze'' resolution won a 215 to 209 test vote in the House last week. But there must be another vote there after Easter. Then there is the Senate where the administration has greater influence. Even if the resolution were to be passed by both houses of Congress and even if then the administration attempted to negotiate such a matter with the Soviets, the most likely result would be the Soviets saying no.

There has never been solid evidence that the Soviets have more than a propaganda interest in a nuclear freeze.

Even if they were interested the negotiation for such an arrangement would be interminable. And if somehow all that were managed, the net effect would be to leave the nuclear balance in the same condition of instability which has characterized it ever since the US and Soviets went in for multiplying the number of warheads on each missile.

A ''freeze'' would mean that both the US and the Soviets would retain a theoretical capability of launching a surprise attack upon the other - an attack so devastating as to leave the other virtually helpless.

New thinking, which is expected to show up in the report of the special commission working now on a new version of the MX missile, is moving toward getting away from multiple warheads (MIRVS) entirely. For an example of this thinking, see the article by Henry Kissinger in the March 21 issue of Time magazine.

The main idea in the new thinking is that if the Soviets and the US both went over exclusively to missiles with single warheads which were small enough to be mobile, and which were all mobile, then we would all be free of the danger of such surprise attack. A surprise attack would not be effective against mobile missiles.

If the two sides went in that direction and then began to cut down the total number, the world would be safer than from a nuclear freeze with present weapons. Insofar as the freeze movement has stimulated thinking in this new direction, it has been constructive and worthwhile. At some point workers in the freeze cause ought to aim in this new direction and forget about the unattainable - which wouldn't help much even if it could be reached. ''Ban the MIRVS'' would be a more constructive slogan. But it would have to be sold to the Soviets as well as at home.

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