In Sunday's Book World, a quotation in a review of Zbigniew Brzezinski's "Game Plan: A Geostrategic Framework for the Conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Contest" contained a typographical error. The quotation from the book should have read: "There is now 'no assurance that the United States would be unable to inflict massive destruction on the Soviet Union in the event of a Soviet first strike.' "

THERE HAS been a good deal of speculation in the West about the effect that Gorbachev will have on U.S.-Soviet relations, but Zbigniew Brzezinski dismisses such interest as pointless. "Soviet intentions", he writes, "are not primarily a matter of the subjective inclination of this or that Kremlin leader. They are the product of deep-rooted historical-geographical drives." The United States and the Soviet Union are locked into a long-term contest, in Brzezinski's view, and the prize is global predominance. Victory in the traditional sense is not possible in the nuclear age, but the United States can "prevail" by transforming the Soviet Union's external conduct and effecting changes in its political system.

Brzezinski stresses the impact of geography on politics, and portrays the U.S.-Soviet conflict as a contest between two empires, one of which controls the oceans, while the other dominates the Eurasian continent. The main focus of the contest is the Eurasian land mass, from which the Soviet Union is trying to expel the United States, and Soviet expansion has to be resisted on three fronts: Europe, the Far East, and Southwest Asia. But the danger exists that a fourth front might open up on the Rio Grande, for the contest also proceeds in peripheral areas, as well as on the oceans and in space.

Military power is the sole basis for the Soviet Union's status as a global power, writes Brzezinski, and it is now essential for the United States to see to its strategic forces, in order to prevent the Soviet Union from using military force to advance its objectives. He asserts that there is now "no assurance that the United States would be able to inflict massive destruction on the Soviet Union in the event of a Soviet first strike," but he does not substantiate this irresponsible claim. He advocates a relationship of "mutual strategic security," in which each side knows that "a disarming first strike against its opponent would be militarily futile and that it is confident that a first strike by its opponent would be suicidal." This sounds like mutual assured destruction, and exists now.

Nevertheless, Brzezinski wants to add limited strategic defenses in order to protect command and control and strategic forces against a possible first strike. These defenses, he says, should not threaten the Soviet capability to retaliate in the event of an American attack. But a space-based defense that was effective against a Soviet first strike might be even more effective against a force that had been weakened by a U.S. first strike (and Brzezinski recommends that at least some counterforce systems be kept). Only if both sides had command and control and forces that were completely invulnerable to attack by the other would it be possible to deploy defenses without increasing the incentive to strike first.

BRZEZINSKI insists that the United States be able to deter Soviet conventional aggression by the threat to use nuclear weapons. Soviet strategy, as he points out, is now giving more attention to the possibility that even a large-scale conventional campaign in Europe might not go nuclear, and the deterrence of conventional attack is therefore an important issue for the United States. But he does not explore as thoroughly as he should how nuclear weapons can deter such an attack under conditions of nuclear parity.

Brzezinski argues that the United States should pursue four geopolitical priorities in order to prevail over the Soviet Union. It should reduce its military commitment to Western Europe, thereby encouraging more self-reliance among its allies; it should construct an informal alliance between the United States, Japan and China in the Far East; it should pay particular attention to shoring up anti-Soviet or independent regimes in Southwest and South Asia; and it should exploit internal Soviet weaknesses (especially the nationalities problem) to force the Soviet empire to contract.

Brzezinski makes his case with great force and clarity. His approach provides an overall picture of the U.S.-Soviet conflict and helps to focus attention on the areas where it is most hotly contested. But he treats all other countries as mere pawns in the U.S.-Soviet game, as though they lacked interests of their own that they might wish to assert. This attitude has led the United States (and the Soviet Union too) into trouble in the past, and could do so again.

The U.S.-Soviet contest is no doubt the most important factor in world politics, but not every government wants to pursue it with Brzezinski's zeal. Many are more concerned to see the conflict moderated or managed in such as way that their own interests are not harmed. To dismiss this as spinelessness is to be blind to the fact that other countries have interests that may not always coincide with the American attempt to prevail over the Soviet Union.