United States-Soviet strategic arms talks resume in Geneva a week from today with new expectancy of progress. Yet this renewed hopefulness is accompanied by the sober realization that both superpowers will have to accept major shifts in position if the buildup in intercontinental nuclear weapons is to be reversed. In some cases, fundamental strategic doctrine and practice may be at stake.
US negotiator Edward Rowney says he is returning to the bargaining table June 8 with new offers in his arms control kit, offers designed to propel the discussions from their currently stalled state. These will focus on balancing the ratios of warheads to launchers (principally intercontinental missiles), which most experts see as necessary to increase superpower stability and reduce the likelihood of nuclear war.
Brent Scowcroft - probably the most respected Washington participant in the formulation of arms control and strategic doctrine these days - told reporters over breakfast recently that President Reagan sincerely wants an arms control accord.
''There's no doubt in my mind that the President is seriously interested in arms control,'' said the former Air Force general who headed the President's Commission on Strategic Forces. ''He has some fairly strong and fixed views about the Soviet Union. But I think he is prepared to make a deal.''
Reagan's representatives return to Geneva armed with new political support, both domestically and from the NATO alliance. Congress has bought the MX missile , at least for the moment; and Westil10l,0,27l,5pern leaders departing their summit meeting at Williamsburg, Va., this week reaffirmed allied solidarity in the face of Soviet threats to build and deploy new nuclear weapons.
But Congress now is filled with arms control experts, and the administration is far from home free on the issue. Key Republicans who voted for MX research and testing are on record with demands for arms control progress if missile procurement is to proceed. And it seems more and more likely (as General Scowcroft said recently) that parallel talks on strategic weapons and intermediate-range missiles based in Europe will have to be melded if any meaningful accord is to be achieved.
This could further complicate the problems at Geneva.
The Scowcroft Commission recommended that 100 MX missiles be deployed in existing Minuteman missile silos; that research begin on a new smaller, single-warhead missile; and that arms control proposals be changed to encourage a shift to less threatening and destabilizing nuclear weapons. In approving the first steps toward MX deployment, Congress insisted that the President accept all three of the major Scowcroft recommendations. In letters to key House and Senate members, Reagan made such assurances.
The administration's START proposal, detailed a year ago, would reduce US and Soviet missile warheads from about 7,500 to 5,000 and limit land- and sea-based missiles to 850. Critics of this plan (including Scowcroft Commission members) warn that this encourages both sides to continue deploying such weapons as the American MX and Soviet SS-18s and 19s, which directly threaten an opponent's land-based missiles and move either side toward a more dangerous''launch-on-warning'' doctrine.
The Scowcroft rationale for the MX is that the US needs to show Moscow that the heavy ICBMs on which it relies for about three-quarters of its strategic forces are vulnerable. Deploying no more than 100 MX missiles, says General Scowcroft, would clearly make this point but would not be enough for an American first strike.
The new START proposal is likely to encourage both sides to move away from large, destabilizing missiles in two ways.
It would raise or perhaps eliminate the launcher (missile) limit, thus making more attractive smaller, mobile missiles which are less vulnerable and therefore less likely to be launched in times of superpower stress. At the same time, American negotiators may seek to reduce the vast Soviet advantage in throw-weight, which makes carrying larger and more numerous warheads possible.
The difficulty will be in making such a proposal that is reasonable and assured of serious consideration. Asking the Soviet Union at this point to drastically reduce its advantages in land-based missiles and throw-weight could doom the START talks to continued impasse or collapse, it is acknowledged.
Within the administration there continue to be differing opinions on whether to emphasize launchers or throw-weight.
President Reagan will have to resolve such intramural differences within the administration when the National Security Council meets just before General Rowney's return to Geneva next week.