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Should arms control be given to top State official?

Two defense experts who served with the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) say the agency ought to be abolished. In a carefully argued, 25-page article published June 22 in Foreign Affairs magazine, Barry M. Blechman and Janne E. Nolan propose a reorganization that would give the agency's mission to an undersecretary of state. The undersecretary would be a person with independent standing in the arms control field, a person senior enough to deal effectively with other top officials and with foreign leaders.

As it is, the authors say, the agency is in no position to fulfill its responsibility to be an effective voice for and implementer of the nation's arms control policies.

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Mr. Blechman and Ms. Nolan argue that the ability of Kenneth L. Adelman, President Reagan's new ACDA director, to manage the arms control agency and promote its objectives has been limited by a long and bitter fight over his Senate confirmation and by the narrow margin with which he was confirmed.

In theory, the ACDA director is supposed to develop arms control initiatives and act as a principal adviser to the president and secretary of state. More often than not, however, such initiatives are a product of interagency debate in which the arms control agency exerts less influence than its director would like. Henry Kissinger undercut the chief negotiator, Gerard Smith, during the SALT I negotiations, dominating the most important elements of the talks through his own back channel to Moscow. During the Carter administration's pursuit of SALT II, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, rather than ACDA director Paul Warnke, assumed the chief negotiating role.

For the Reagan administration, there have been two separate nuclear negotiators: former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Nitze, for intermediate-range nuclear forces, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny, for strategic forces. General Rowny at one point declared in a memorandum that he would not take orders from Mr. Adelman.

According to Blechman and Ms. Nolan, the Reagan administration, upon taking office, fired virtually everyone not protected by Civil Service status at ACDA and reduced the overall size of the agency by almost a fourth. The administration cut the agency's research budget in half and delayed appointments to most of its executive positions by two years or more. On Jan. 12 of this year , Mr. Reagan fired Eugene V. Rostow, the first director whom he had appointed, and replaced him with Adelman, a man who, a number of senators contended, lacked the experience and stature for the job.

Blechman and Ms. Nolan concede that over the years, ACDA has made contributions to arms control. They assert, for example, that the agency's technical and analytical support of strategic arms negotiations has been ''extremely important.'' They add that the agency played a decisive role in the formulation and implementation of policies that led to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.

''Offsetting past successes are many other stances in which ACDA has been unable to carry out its institutional mandate,'' the authors say. ''Moreover, the existence of this separate agency has sometimes reduced the coherence of American policy, misled foreign governments, and contributed to the public's confusion about arms control.''

In sum, they say, ''ACDA has been a headache for every president since John F. Kennedy. Repeatedly purged, always distrusted, criticized by its friends, savaged by its enemies, the agency has been the center of turmoil and discord for more than 20 years.''

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The authors assert that the factors that have weakened ACDA are structural, consequences of the ambivalence dominating the origins of the agency. It was designed to be an integral part of the executive branch, but also a watchdog over its activities.

In the end, they conclude, the ability of any administration to achieve meaningful arms control agreements depends on a president's goals, priorities, and the skills of the individuals he appoints to key positions. The changes they propose, the authors say, would not offer a panacea but would ''make it somewhat easier for officials to conceive and implement effective policies by assuring some protection for arms negotiations from political tides and by facilitating the integration of arms control with other instruments of US security policy.''

Ms. Nolan is a Washington-based foreign affairs and defense consultant who served with the ACDA during the Carter administration. She currently works for Science Applications Inc. Blechman is vice-president of the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies in Washington. He was assistant director of ACDA from 1977 to 1980. He has negotiated with Soviet officials over proposals to reduce conventional arms sales to third-world nations. He supported the strategic arms limitation, or SALT II, treaty negotiated by the Carter administration but left unratified by the US Senate. He has been highly critical of Reagan administration arms control efforts.

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