A workable arms control proposal by Senator Hollings

It promises to be a long, and autumn for the United States and its NATO allies. The attack on Vice-President Bush's motorcade by antinuclear demonstrators in West Germany in mid-June manifests the opposition that will surely spread as the inability or unwillingness of the Reagan administration to reach a compromise accord with the Soviets on the installation of 572 Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) becomes more evident. Months away from the December deployment date, equipment and personnel for the launching sites have already been sent to bases in Europe. As West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has said, ''Unless there is a miracle (at the Geneva arms talks), and I don't see one happening, we will have to deploy the missiles and we intend to do so.''

A miracle is not needed; a meaningful, workable first-step accord leading to further reductions is, however.

The recent proposal by Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina is such an agreement. As Senator Hollings stated in San Francisco: ''What is needed is not more posturing or publicity-seeking for zero options which have zero chance of success. What is needed is a realistic interim agreement which will pave the way for further reductions.''

When the Soviets started in 1977 furiously deploying their mobile SS-20 intermediate-range missiles aimed straight at the heart of West European cities, a clamor arose in the NATO countries for a response. It was decided that the only way the US could get Moscow to back down from this unprovoked threat was to schedule the installation of United States intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). Hence was born the Pershing II/ground-launched cruise missile deployment scheme.

But NATO countries agreed to this plan contingent on a serious effort by US negotiators to get the Soviets to bargain away their SS-20s. Now, after two years of the Reagan administration, they are deeply concerned that this US government is more interested in public relations than serious arms control. They are concerned that the Reagan administration will refuse to put forward a realistic negotiating proposal that could lead to a stable and equitable solution.

Fortunately, a US senator has now taken up the challenge abdicated by the current administration with an intelligent, well-thought-out plan of his own. The proposal put forth by Senator Hollings calls for the US to deploy only 58 of the planned 108 Pershing II missiles and launchers in West Germany; to deploy only 164 of 464 GLCMs and 68 of 116 GLCM launchers in Great Britain and Sicily, canceling GLCM deployment in West Germany, Holland, and Belgium; and to withdraw one squadron of F-111 attack planes from Great Britain.

In return, the Soviet Union would be required to reduce the number of SS-20 missiles and launchers from 300 to 125; the number of SS-20 warheads from 900 to 375; and the aggregate number of SS-4 and SS-5 warheads, missiles, and launchers each from 280 to 130. These weapons would have to be dismantled, so as not to allow them to be transferred to other theaters.

The reduction of GLCMs greater than the reduction in GLCM launchers introduces the new concept of Excess Launcher Capacity (ELC) into the arms control vocabulary. ELC means deploying fewer missiles than the launchers have the capacity to fire, thereby reducing the first-strike threat to the Soviet Union, lowering the number of missiles and warheads to be actually deployed in Europe, but allowing the US a ready-made escape clause to easily increase missile deployment in case of Soviet treaty violation.

Verification in the Hollings plan would be by on-site inspections, as agreed to by both sides in comprehensive test-ban treaty negotiations; by low-level air reconnaissance flights, including helicopters; exchanges of data and test notification; and other measures.

What makes the Hollings proposal realistic and workable is that it does not ask of either the US or the Soviet Union any reduction or measure they have not already offered or agreed to before. The Soviet Union would have to cut fewer total missiles, warheads, and launchers than in the controversial ''walk in the woods'' agreement reached unofficially by negotiators Paul Nitze and Yuli Kvitsinsky last summer. The US would retain a far more potent force than allowed in that agreement, with the potential for building back up through the ELC factor should Moscow violate the agreement.

It would also significantly reduce the level of tensions and threat over the IRBM deployments in Europe. The air and first-strike threat to the Soviet Union would be lessened, while the triple-warhead mobile, first-strike threat to Western Europe from the SS-20s would be greatly reduced and frozen for further cutbacks in the future. The Soviets would be offered several options on the deployment schedule for the dreaded Pershing II - to serve as a good faith measure - and the particularly difficult verifiability problems of the smaller, more mobile GLCMs would be lessened with their cutback.

It is of genuine importance to avoid massive proliferation of ground-launched cruise missiles on the continent of Europe by both the USSR and the US. To proceed down that path would lead to potentially irreversible obstacles in verification. The Hollings plan would keep the GLCMs offshore of the continent, allowing them only in Sicily and the United Kingdom.

Political tensions within NATO would be eased, with all missiles scheduled for deployment in Belgium and Holland canceled as well as over 70 percent of those previously scheduled to be deployed in West Germany. The overall reduction of 1,125 nuclear warheads would not only be a reduction in the threat to Europe, but to the US as well. There are few outside the current administration that believe in the suspect doctrines of nuclear warning shots and limited nuclear war: If an American intermediate-range missile from West Germany hits Moscow, the retaliation will be against the US, not just the Rhineland.

In its 34 years of existence, the NATO alliance has survived many crises. During that time it has remained the bedrock of the Western security system. There is no reason to unnecessarily strain its unity over the uncompromising deployment of these IRBMs. The American missiles are being installed not so much for their military rationale, but to counter the attempted political intimidation of Europe by the Soviets with their SS-20 deployment. Every Soviet target that can be hit by either a Pershing II or GLCM from Western Europe is already accounted for several times over by our own strategic arsenal, naval forces, and air capabilities.

NATO has demonstrated its political resolve to the Soviet Union and the world by its determination to deploy American IRBMs if Moscow refuses to compromise. Now let the determination also be demonstrated that the US and Soviet Union are serious in resolving their differences peacefully and through a meaningful approach to arms control. The Hollings plan is a commendable first step.

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