Reagan administration arms control policy is increasingly in the hands of relatively moderate officials. In the latest of a series of personnel moves widely seen as diminishing the influence of conservatives on national-security decisionmaking, Army Maj. Gen. William Burns is to be nominated as head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
The ACDA is the principal adviser on arms control and disarmament matters to the president, the National Security Council, and secretary of state.
The appointment of General Burns, currently a senior State Department official, shows the waxing power of Secretary of State George Shultz, according to government officials and analysts from both sides of the political spectrum. Secretary Shultz is moving his people into key spots, while more conservative rivals, such as former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, have left the administration.
As the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, Burns has been second in command of what is in essence the State Department's own little Pentagon for national-security analysis. Before taking this spot last December, he was the representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe. He thus has intimate knowledge of the talks that led to the INF Treaty signed last week by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Kenneth Adelman. Mr. Adelman, who survived a bruising confirmation fight, was a favorite of conservatives for espousing a hard line on such matters as arms treaty verification.
``It appears that [Burns] is not as ideologically opposed to arms control as Adelman was,'' says James Rubin, research director of the Arms Control Association, a private pro-treaty group.
Adelman announced his intention to leave months ago, and the jostling over who would succeed him has been a minor but entertaining Washington sporting event.
Shultz reportedly had originally favored Paul Nitze, his special adviser or arms control, for the post. Conservatives were pushing retired Gen. Edward Rowny, currently a special arms control adviser to the President. After both these candidacies stalled internally, attention turned to compromise candidates - with Burns seen widely as a name put forward by Shultz.
Meanwhile, there had been an exodus of the administration's most prominent defense conservatives - Secretary Weinberger and former Defense Department arms control officials Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney. Shultz prevailed, and in doing so, stamped his mark on an agency that is nominally independent. According to its charter, ACDA is supposed to report directly both to the secretary of state and the president.
``This appointment seems in effect a downgrading of ACDA. They're almost folding it back into the State Department,'' says James Hackett, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation.
Founded in 1961, ACDA is the only part of the government whose job is thinking up ways to control the arms race. In the past, its influence in the bureaucracy has been determined largely by the strength of personality and contacts of its chief.
The first director, William Foster, was a dynamic former Marshall Plan adminstrator. While at ACDA he was the chief US negotiator of such arms control milestones as the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty and the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The second agency chief, Gerard Smith, also headed the US SALT I delegation. Under President Nixon, however, the agency lost influence. Its budget was cut by a third as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated arms control behind its back.
In more recent years, ACDA and its head have become prime targets for whatever group does not like an administration's arms control policy. President Carter's first ACDA chief, Paul Warnke, was attacked virulently by hard-liners. Liberals returned the favor when President Reagan nominated Mr. Adelman.
As ACDA chief, Adelman has at least been able to attend all the important meetings, say government officials and outside analysts. But they add that under no circumstances is he the principal arms control adviser in the administration. The proliferation of special advisers such as Mr. Nitze and General Rowny point to the decline in ACDA's substantive influence.
Instead, Adelman is widely seen has having filled the role of public front man for the President's arms policies. He is personable, popular with the press, and articulate. After leaving the government he will become a columnist for Washingtonian, a slick city magazine.
Burns, before entering the arms control bureaucracy, served as a brigade commander in West Germany and head of an Army task force studying modernization of the Lance short-range nuclear missile. Currently on active duty, he is expected to retire before assuming the ACDA post.