The Reagan administration - and the international banking community - have ample justification for their concern about the economic and political turmoil buffeting Argentina the past few weeks. The continued stability of the global banking and trading systems will in large part ride on how well Argentina resolves its debt crisis.
Equally important, the way the issue is met will have a direct effect on the degree to which a new civilian government can manage that nation - assuming elections scheduled later this month go ahead as planned.
The debt challenge could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Argentina , which has a foreign debt of $40 billion, is in the midst of an intense presidential election, in part fought over such economic issues as soaring inflation and calls for pay increases in both the public and private sectors, as well as the deterioration in the standard of living of ordinary citizens. The election would return civilian rule to that nation after 71/2 years of military government.
What bothers the world banking community is that the debt issue could so color the election as to lead to increasing calls for a repudiation of that debt. Political and military leaders insist the debt be repaid.
To pay interest on the current debt, as well as finance its world trade with other nations, Argentina needs new loans. Yet, to obtain the new loans, the nation has to refinance the existing debt. An international package that would have provided new credit has been stymied by a federal judge in the southern tip of the country who arrested the president of the nation's Central Bank and ruled that Argentine law supersedes New York State law. Such a ruling, which caught the nation's military government by surprise, could, if upheld, rationalize a possible repudiation of Argentina's debt.
While a debt repudiation, if it were to occur, would almost surely lead to an eventual renegotiation of the terms of that debt and plans to repay it, the event itself would be highly disquieting to world financial markets.
As of this writing, the government has moved to regain its initiative in the debt dispute. A federal appeals court has stripped the local judge of jurisdiction in the refinancing case. That means the way is open for a new loan package to be worked out. The government has also ordered banks to freeze foreign-currency deposits to protect exchange reserves.
Obviously, Argentina's government and that nation's banking community will have to take the lead in resolving the debt problem. But the US should do everything that it can behind the scenes - as is now the case - to allow that nation to work out a renegotiation package that is as well attuned as possible to Argentine sensitivities. The last thing that would be needed would be a package that could be construed by Argentina's electorate as a ''sellout,'' or loss of sovereignty to the US or the world banking community.