THE major item on the agenda when President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev meet in Geneva next week remains an arms control agreement. But agreement to accomplish what? What measures, if any, should be on the Reagan-Gorbachev agenda? What concrete outcomes are possible from a two-day meeting? Directors of 12 public-policy organizations related to national security -- including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the Union of Concerned Scientists -- believe Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev should consider one or more of the following seven proposals:
Support for SALT I and II should be affirmed. The SALT treaties restrain both quantitative and qualitative levels and provide an equitable base for future reductions.
Quantitatively, the treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear launch vehicles, with a sublimit on the number of large, or heavy, Soviet ballistic missiles. With SALT, the Soviets are prohibited from deploying more than 10 warheads on their giant SS-18 missile. Without SALT they could deploy 20 or 30, and the total of their strategic warheads could increase up to 13,000.
Qualitatively, SALT limits both nations to the development of only one new type of ICBM. In maintaining its commitments to SALT, each nation offers to the other a gesture of good faith in coming to new agreements.
Support for the ABM Treaty should be affirmed. This treaty lies at the heart of the doctrine of deterrence, as its limitations on defense ensure that nuclear weapons will serve only one purpose -- to deter use by the other side. But without limitation on defenses, neither power would be willing to reduce strategic offensive weapons; instead the offense would increase to compensate for defenses.
The Soviets will not reduce their arsenal of nuclear weapons unless missile defenses continue to be strictly limited. Without an ABM agreement, there would be wide-open competition in both offensive and defensive systems.
Antisatellite weapons should be banned. The Soviets do not threaten our strategically important satellites in high orbit. These are of great importance to the United States for communication, surveillance, early warning, and monitoring of arms control agreements. The US has an overriding interest in the security of the systems and in stopping the Soviets from developing a capability against them.
Coding of test data should be banned. The Soviets are coding some data from SS-X-24 and SS-X-25 tests, thus creating an obstacle to verification. A complete ban on coding test data on flights of strategic ballistic missiles would remove this obstacle to verifying compliance with strategic-arms agreements. It would be relatively simple to verify compliance with such a ban, since coding can be clearly recognized.
New MIRVed ICBMs should be banned. The US first deployed MIRVed land-based missiles beginning in 1969 to counter the feared development and deployment of Soviet ABMs. This Soviet threat did not materialize; both the US and the Soviets, however, went ahead with MIRV deployment.
Modernization of ICBMs enhances first-strike capability and leads to less stability. More-accurate warheads on either side can lead away from deterrence. The MX and the SS-X-24 are deadly and vulnerable, and there would be strong temptation to use them in a crisis. They would make the world even less secure, and should not be deployed.
Nuclear tests should be stopped. Mr. Reagan should join Mr. Gorbachev in his unilateral cessation of nuclear tests and should agree to resume negotiations on a comprehensive test ban. Tests feed the technological arms race and are powerful stimulants to the spread of nuclear weapons. Their adverse political effects are far reaching. The risk that warheads might become unreliable with time without occasional checking will be equal on both sides. In time, the resulting uncertainty should decrease the po ssibility of war.
Reagan and Gorbachev should agree on guidelines for an interim reductions agreement. Included in such an interim agreement could be a strategic nuclear warhead ceiling and annual reductions in both strategic launchers and warheads. The objective should be to stop and reverse the nuclear arms race promptly.
By agreeing to one or more of these steps, the President and the general secretary will have made an important contribution toward lessening the risk of nuclear war.
Dr. Anne Cahn, director of the Committee for National Security, and David Linebaugh, a member of the committee, are former officials of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.