Mines and law

THE Reagan administration's attempt to mute Nicaragua's complaint before the World Court does not sit comfortably on a global giant that prides itself in the rule of law.

Nicaragua's charge before the World Court in The Hague - that ''the US Government is training, supplying, and directing military and paramilitary actions against the people and Government of Nicaragua . . . to overthrow or destabilize'' the country's leftist regime - comes at a moment when the United States Congress, too, wants an accounting of Reagan administration anti-Sandinista actions.

Disclosure that the Central Intelligence Agency has been directing the mining of Nicaraguan harbors catches the administration out in a bold meddling maneuver , which it should cut short. France's offer to sweep the mines free of Nicaraguan waters, and Britain's protest to Washington, clearly frame the mining as repugnant even in friendly international eyes.

The administration repeats its basic case: Covert CIA operations are intended to defend El Salvador from Nicaragua-led leftist insurgents. The CIA mining program, putting an economic squeeze on Nicaragua, is part of a larger Reagan initiative - including a shoring up of El Salvador militarily through its current election period, and joint military maneuvers in Honduras designed to intimidate Nicaragua if not prepare for an ongoing US military presence. The overarching Reagan rationale is the need to protect the Americas from a dominolike series of leftist takeovers.

These are serious charges, and arguably the World Court is not the place to press or defend them. The administration sought to head off Nicaragua's protest by notifying the World Court it would not accept its jurisdiction on the subject for the next two years. Some legal scholars claim Washington would have had to file for the exemption six months ago for it to stick.

Whatever the World Court's ''jurisdiction'' over Reagan-Central American actions, one would expect the administration to welcome making its case. But again, as in its attitude toward the United Nations and other world bodies, the White House seems not to want to suffer review of its policies by international organizations. It is strengthening its unilateralist image.

There are practical ramifications as well. One Soviet ship, and half a dozen other vessels, have already been damaged by mines. Provoking a US-Soviet confrontation, or disabling a French or British ship, would be no small matter.

The stakes are clearly escalating in Central America.

The White House last week sought to preempt the public stage on Central America by accusing Congress of avoiding bipartisan responsibility for foreign affairs. Reports surfaced that administration officials have begun preliminary planning for direct US troop involvement in the region.

Taken together the four issues - the mining, contingency troop plans, World Court boycott, and charges against Congress - are working in reverse. Further military aid for Nicaraguan rebels could now be blocked in the House. The Senate , which just gave the White House $62 million in emergency Salvadorean military aid, suddenly wants to review the CIA role.

Defenders of the covert ''contra'' operation claim it is having some effect in brushing back the Nicaraguan regime. Critics claim it is only hardening the attitudes of the Nicaraguan people against the US and increasing their support for the Sandinista government.

Time is running faster against the administration's Central American paradox - that defense against insurgents in El Salvador justifies promoting insurgency in Nicaragua.

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