The Reagan administration has chosen a bipartisan arms control team that is a blend of diplomatic and political experience as well as conservative ideology. The choices send several clear messages to the Soviet Union, to the European allies, and to the United States Congress. The messages are: the Reagan administration wants to move quickly to reestablish arms negotiations with the Soviet Union; it wants an agreement to reduce nuclear arsenals and not just cap their growth; and it intends to continue with its strategic modernization programs -- including space-based systems -- as long as such an arms-reduction agreement remains elusive.
The team will be headed by conservative Democrat Max Kampelman, who will also negotiate the space weapons portion of the tripartite talks. Recently retired Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas will take the US lead on discussing strategic (intercontinental) missiles and aircraft, replacing Gen. Edward Rowny. Senior foreign service officer Maynard Glitman will head the intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) group for the United States.
Of the three, only Mr. Glitman has had arms control negotiating experience. He was deputy INF negotiator under Paul Nitze, who will remain a close adviser to Secretary of State George Shultz and President Reagan (as will Mr. Rowny).
Glitman headed the US group discussing reduction of conventional forces in Europe by NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. He has worked closely with European officials and so is familiar with their concerns.
Mr. Kampelman also has had considerable experience dealing with the Soviet Union. He represented the US in follow-up talks to the 35-nation Helsinki agreement on security and human rights issues in Europe. Overall Soviet conduct in such areas thus may be linked to arms control progress.
Early in his Washington career, Kampelman worked for the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. He is close to UN representative Jeane Kirkpatrick; both are members of the Committee on the Present Danger, a hawkish group that continues to warn that the United States is militarily behind the Soviet Union, especially in strategic forces.
Mr. Tower spent much of his 24-year career in Congress focusing on defense and national security issues. He has been a consistent supporter of the Reagan administration's defense buildup. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he fended off would-be Pentagon budget cutters. Just after the announcement of his appointment, Tower said he would insist on ``dramatic and substantial reductions'' in nuclear stockpiles.
Nonetheless, arms control advocates -- many of whom have been urging the administration to be more flexible at Geneva -- are not displeased with the choices.
``I would not regard this as a bad move at all,'' said William Kincade, a senior associate and arms control expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``Glitman is a very tough-minded and able foreign service officer. Kampelman, I think, can bring home the bacon.''
``Tower is a tough man, undoubtedly, but probably more of a politician than an ideologue,'' said Dr. Kincade, who has worked on Capitol Hill and until recently was executive director of the Arms Control Association.
``I'm a little bit uncertain as to whether he has the diplomatic equipment going into that elaborate minuet,'' Kincade continued. ``But he is a quick study. Not an intellectual genius, but very, very smart.''
Noting that Tower (like most Senators) opposed the SALT II treaty, Kincade predicts that if the Reagan administration should achieve an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union, ``it'll be very hard for the `bitter enders' in the Congress to say they're soft on the `commies.' ''
The United States would like to resume negotiations quickly. President Reagan realizes that it may be a matter of months and not years before he is considered a lame duck and begins to lose his negotiating clout with the Congress as well as with the Soviet Union.
Reagan also knows that he will have to at least appear forthcoming on arms control if he is to retain congressional support for his defense budget, especially funding for the MX missile.
US officials have proposed that talks start in Geneva in March, but Moscow has yet to agree to a date. In any case, Secretary Shultz acknowedged, in anouncing the new arms control team, that it will likely be ``a difficult process, and probably a long process.''
This month's agreement to begin new talks on strategic, intermediate, and space weapons left major unresolved differences between the superpowers about the interrelationship of the three areas to be discussed. The Soviets apparently remain very wary of US plans to continue researching space-based antimissile defenses, and this is the most obvious potential stumbling block to progress at Geneva.
Friday, the Soviet news agency Tass accused Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger of ``distorting and even revising'' the agreement crafted by Secretary Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Mr. Weinberger's recent defense of the US strategic defense initiative, or ``star wars'' program.
It remains to be seen whether the new US arms control team will be able to get beyond the mistrust that such comments indicate still remain on both sides.