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Reagan's foreign policy

Ronald Reagan's impressive sweep of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama continues to alter the look of what was once a wide-open Republican horse race. There is still plenty of potential left for a lively GOP convention in July if Gerald Ford decides to join the fray. Or if John Anderson, his campaign already quickened, wins next week's primary in Illinois and also does well in Wisconsin. But Mr. Reagan's commanding lead now appears to make it extremely difficult for any challnger to deny him his long-sought prize. In any case, given the former California governor's surge of momentum, it is time for the American people to be making a closer examination of the man who could become the next president of the United States.

What we would like to look at today is Mr. Reagan's approach to foreign policy. His record in California -- generally pragmatic -- will serve to help assess his pronouncements on the economy and domestic policy. There will be no similar guide or experience by which to measure his thinking in the area of diplomacy. Yet, in a shrinking world in which events even in far-off places have an impact on America's well-being, Mr. Reagan's positions strike some critics as simplistic and overgeneralized. He has spoken of the "desperate need" for a foreign policy strategy to preserve the peace and the nation's security. But his views often seem to belie that unassuilable goal.

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Take SALT. Mr. Reagan vehementlyopposes the strategic arms control treaty on grounds it permits the Soviet Union to build up its nuclear arsenal while holding down the US. Yet he seems to ignore that the purpose of arms controlis to preserve a rough strategic balance, so that neither side can aspire to superiority. Without such an agreement, the Russians would be under no constraints to stop producing nuclear bombs at a given level. Mr. Reagan's answer to this, as he told the New York Times, is that the USSR is "probably at the maximum of its ability to build armaments" because it already has squeezed its civilian economy, so it would be "foolish" to expect it to exceed the SALT II limits.

On the contrary, some analysts believe that the Soviet military production system has a momentum of its own and that the Russian leadership would continue to strive for nuclear superiority, in numbers of quality, without an arms limitation treaty. To assume otherwise is risky; it would also be dangerous. It is also not true that it is the US which is being restrained under the pact. The US is permitted to proceed with those systems, such as the MX, which it deems essential to its future security. Mr. Reagan needs to elaborate on this and tell voters precisely how he would resolve the problem of an extremely costly unrestrained global arms race.

To cite another topic, the governor's stand on Panama leads to questions on how he would react to other third-world challenges. It would be helpful if he could spell out his apprach in the months ahead. Beyond the mere question of whether the US should or should not have hung on to a piece of property is the larger issue of how the US should deal with countries where popular feelings and nationalism have challenged the US or Western presence. Would Mr. Reagan simply suppress national movements, whether in southern Africa, Central America, or the Middle East? We were intrigued to hear such a conservative as Barry Goldwater say on television the other night that, once the hostage crisis was over, the US had little choice but to try to get along with Iran. No talk of reprisals here. What is Mr. Reagan's prescription for improving relations with third-world nations? Does he in fact think this important in light of growing US economic dependence on them?

What, in short, is Mr. Reagan's vision of the world in the 1980s? How does he propose to deal with the problems of world hunger, overpopulation, poverty which lie at the root of much of today's turbulence? How would he stabilize the nuclear balance? How would he help mankind to progress toward greater cooperation and unity of purpose? These are some of the fundamental issues the American people will need t have scrutinized and answered as the campaign proceeds. Mr. Reagan has called for a new strategy. He has yet to define it.