To what purpose?

The administration in Washington is trying hard these days to persuade its allies and friends in Europe that it really does want peace, not war. Vice-President George Bush has just been over in Europe carrying the message. He asserted repeatedly to all who would listen that the President in Washington honestly wants an arms control agreement and wants peace. He calls the prospective MX weapon ''Peacekeeper'' in the hope that people will get the idea that he arms to keep peace, not make war.

And yet a lot of people in many countries, including some in the United States itself, still suspect his motives and think that he is preparing for war, not maneuvering toward a safer relationship with the Soviet Union.

Why do so many doubt the intentions of the Reagan administration?

The answer, I submit, is that the Reagan administration has never yet thought through its own long-term intentions and purposes. Does it know what kind of world it would like to see emerge from present strains, tensions, and uncertainties? Is it truly arming to negotiate, or does it think it must arm in order to be better able to fight the war many of its people seem to think is inevitable?

The answer is unclear. If you go back over the record of the public pronouncements of the top members of the administration on the subject of the Soviet Union and war and peace, you can come up with a wide variety of conclusions.

Some people in the administration have characterized the present as a ''pre-war situation.'' Some are inclined to compare the Soviets today with the Nazis of the 1930s and to assume that since war with the Nazis was inevitable the same must be true of the Soviets of today.

A national strategy can be based on the assumption that war is inevitable. Or it can be based on the contrary assumption that there are many things the US can do which will contain the Soviet Union and so adjust the context around it that war will be quite unnecessary.

Theodore H. White, author of many books on politics and world affairs, is an old personal friend of Caspar Weinberger. They were college classmates. ''Teddy'' White has just done a long magazine article on Mr. Weinberger and his work at the Pentagon over the past two years. Obviously, the writer spent much time with the secretary of defense in preparing that article (New York Times, Feb. 6). If you read it you will find not the slightest hint of grand strategy.

You do find in that article a man dedicated to the assumption that the US needs more weapons. But you do not find a clear sense of whether the US is arming for war, or arming in the middle of an assumption that war is avoidable and that one way to avoid it is to be strong enough to discourage belligerent thoughts on the part of others.

Can the US and its allies and associates so manage their affairs that the Soviets will find it either impossible or undesirable to do those things which could lead to war? Yes, of course. The physical power and the resources of those countries which would be injured by Soviet expansionism far outweigh the Soviet Union in every measure of power.

Among Western experts on the Soviet Union there is a consensus on at least one point, if not on many others. Almost all of them agree that the leaders of the Soviet Union are just as much afraid of war as is anyone in the Western governments. They have imperial ambitions, yes. But war could mean the end of their society and themselves. They seek to achieve their ambitions by taking advantage of opportunities for expansion. But it is usually by ''low risk'' means.

They went into Angola because it was there for the taking. Washington was doing nothing about it. They went into Afghanistan after the US pulled back on aid to the pre-invasion government in Afghanistan. They recaptured control over Poland through the use of the Polish Army. Give them a chance to expand, and they take it. But deprive them of opportunities and they avoid confrontation.

But does the Reagan administration recognize that war is avoidable and does it aim at doing those things which will contain the Soviets within safe boundaries without confrontation?

If it does, you and I do not know it because the administration has not articulated it. There are conflicting statements, but no provable consensus. There is nothing on the record to show that the White House has a grand strategy , or has even started doing the thinking that could produce a grand strategy.

Until it does, there is going to be uncertainty about its aims and purposes.

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