True strength . . .

THE ground on which one takes his stand can determine the outcome of a battle. Something needs to be said about the ground on which the United States currently faces the Soviet Union. The approach of the Reagan administration has been to build up the defenses of the United States, which it judged weakened during the 1970s, and then from a basis of superior strength conclude arms agreements which would eventually reduce the need for some of the defense expenditures now being made by both the US and the Soviets.

There is, however, a higher ground from which to face the Soviets than military superiority. This is not to argue that military preparedness is unnecessary. The nominally Christian West has never at the level of public policy produced a nonviolent, or pacifist, approach to conditions of human conflict. Thus, proposals for unilateral nuclear disarmament find little acceptance in the United States or Western Europe.

But reaction to any human situation is influenced by one's analysis of the causes of the problem. Today there is a growing divergence between the ways Europeans, who live right next to the Soviet Union, see that country's behavior and the way Americans see it. To most Europeans, the Soviet Union is the country next door, or at least on the same block. It will always be there, even if the regime changes. The issue is whether, in their behavior, the Soviets are playing the role of a worldwide aggressor, such as Adolf Hitler did 50 years ago, or acting out a combination of historic Russian defensiveness plus a paranoia connected with the world's quite natural reaction to the claims made in the name of communism.

Never being certain of the Soviets' intentions, the West needs to maintain a strong defense. The risk in emphasizing defense, however, is that in the end it merely pits one power's military strength against another power's military strength and does not deal with the basic causes of human distrust and conflict. Every step we take they also take, or if they seem to get ahead of us, we follow after them.

A global strategist would pick a battlefield that he could excel on. The United States has such a strategy available and, at its best moments in history, has relied upon it. It is to speak from a position of moral authority that knows that ultimately truth prevails and that societies founded on the pursuit of truth and individual freedom are the strongest ones. This does not obviate the need for defenses, but the defense strategy would become the outcome of a convincing commitment to the welfare of all mankind that would draw much of mankind's sympathies along.

In today's terms this would include a recognition of the world as seen from Moscow and an extended hand that never tires of reaching the extra distance. A position that emanates from a fundamental conviction that right is on the side of free men and free institutions has a moral force behind it that would eventually break the wall of suspicion that grows higher each day. One can be justly proud of much in America without claiming that this society is the incarnation of good and Soviet society the incarnation of evil.

The Soviet Union is a society in trouble. Its rulers are trying to govern by a rulebook that conflicts with human nature. What is best for the Russians is not necessarily American-style capitalism, with its own historic roots; but they need to be helped to find their way out of a maze of their own making.

US reliance on military force is not the highest ground from which to battle the world's ills. Identification of the Soviets as the ''adversary'' does not bring about the desired conditions for peace.

The world may not be as simple as the one Edwin Markham described: ''He drew a circle that shut me out . . . . But Love and I had the wit to win:/ We drew a circle that took him in.''

But it is that approach of a cherished and shared humanity - particularly when buttressed by the conviction of an overriding principle upholding every step toward morality among nations - that will place the US on that high ground from which its foreign policy objectives deserve to be successful.

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