"There are situations in the would where certain nations which have a primary responsibility have got to be willing to move first, and if everybody waits and says, 'After you, Gaston,' I know what is going to happen. We will be fighting here in the streets of Washington... And it is the considered judgment of... President Eisenhower and his advisers that this time has come where we have got to make clear to them that if they are going to go ahead and do what Chou En-lai says they are going to do that means a war."

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in closed-door testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jan. 24, 1955, the text of which was made public in April 1978 .

WHAT CHINA'S then premier and foreign minister had just said was that "the Chinese people are determined to liberate their own territory of Taiwan." And Chou also had just said that "the so-called" mutual defense treaty between the United States and what Chou called "the traitorous Cniang Kai-shek clique" on Taiwan "has further heightened" the "tension" in the area and was "seriously threatening peace in the Far East."

It is that treaty, then before the Senate and soon to be approved and put into force, which President Carter last month announced he would end by giving the required one-year notice to the government on Taiwan, now headed by Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

With the new Congress about to meet and with opponents of Carter's action sure to voice their objections, or even to try to block the move, a look at how that treaty came to pass should put it into the perspective of Sino-American relations.

The treaty, in effect, is a child of Mao Tse-tung's conquest of the mainland in 1949 and his failure to complete that conquest by also retaking some 28 offshore islands (the most important of which are Quemoy and Matsu) as well as Taiwan and the adjoining Pescadores Islands. All but a few of the minor islands still remain in anti-communist hands and Quemoy and Matsu still blockade the mainland ports of Amoy and Foochow.

The 1950-53 Korean War brought China and the United States into direct conflict, cost more than 51,000 American lives and led Washington to conclude defense treaties to contain what it saw as Peking's aggression. The only gap in the resulting "island chain" was Taiwan. Soon after the treaty with South Korea was signed in August 1953, Chiang Kai-shek began agitating for a similar pact with Washington.

But the Eisenhower administration stalled him, chiefly because many Americans had become disillusioned or disgusted with Chiang and his constant talk of a "return to the mainland" which they knew (and Dulles conceded) could be accomplished only with massive American military help. This was a period of "no more Koreas" -- meaning no more land wars in Asia, though Vietnam would not be long off.

What then occurred, as far as the United States is concerned, we now know in rather full detail from memoirs and declassified documents, but what took place in Peking remains largely secret, though its outline is evident.

Mao, Chou and their colleagues became alarmed at hints of a Washington-Taiwan treaty. A July 1954 People's Daily article claimed it was an attempt to "perpetuate" America's "criminal occupation of Taiwan." Two American carriers were ordered to the China coast to search for survivors of a British commercial plane shot down by Communist planes (perhaps mistaking it for a Nationalist plane). U.S. jets, in turn, shot down two of Peking's planes. Chiang's talk of returning to the mainland was bolstered by Korean President Syngman Rhee, speaking in the House in Washington, who called on the United States to join him and Chiang in an invasion of China. The Quemoy Crisis

THE NEXT ACT came at dawn on Sept. 3, 1954. Chinese Communist artillery batteries opened a 6,000-shell barrage against Quemoy, only seven or eight miles off the mainland.The crisis lasted eight months, produced both the defense treaty with Chiang and the broader Formosa Resolution. (Formosa is the Hapanese name for Taiwan, which they occupied from 1895 to the end of World War II.) The world was kept in a state of nervous jitters over the possibility of World War III's beginning.

The only statement I have seen from the Communist side that might be considered revealing is what Mao told Edgar Snow in 1965 (recounted in Snow's 1971 book, "The Long Revolution"). Snow and Mao were talking about the later Vietnam War period but Mao's remarks appear to refer to the 1954-55 era. Snow paraphrased Mao: "... on some occasions China deiliberately made a loud noise, as, for example, around Quemoy and Matsu. A flurry of shots that could attract a lot of attention perhaps because the Americans were uneasy so far away from home."

Whatever Peking's thinking, the crisis escalated on Jan. 19, 1955, when the Communists captured Ikiang, most remote from Taiwan of the offshore islands and less than 200 miles south of Shanghai. Dulles considered this a "probing operation to see how far we will go, and when, if any, a point of resistance is reached." "Going to the Threshold"

AS IF to confirm the rule that in diplomacy as well as in physics every action produces a reaction, Dulles thereupon produced the Formosa Resolution. This resolution authorized the president to use the armed forces to protect Taiwan and the adjacent Pescadores and to take "such other measures as he judges to be required or appropriate" to assure their defense.

This last, deliberately vague phrasing was meant to convey the idea to Peking that Ike could use armed forces to protect Quemoy, Matsu and other offshore islands if it appeared an attack on them was the beginning of an attack on Taiwan. But what was contemplated was not all that defensive.

Dulles told the closed-door Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Ike intended to help Chiang hold Quemoy and Matsu, that unless this was done then, "in my considered judgement" the "eneire situation will disintegrate to a point which is beyond the possibility of recovery." This was the line of reasoning which led Dulles to speak of ending up fighting "in the streets of Washington" -- or in World War III.

What was not public until this reporter wrote it in The Washington Post was this: After the initial bombardment of Quemoy, Eisenhower had overruled the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had voted (with only Army Gen. Matthew Ridgway dissenting) to ask (1) that Chiang be allowed to bomb inland in China and (2) if an all-out attack on Quemoy developed, American planes to the same.

But the potential for holocause went even further; in Eisenhower's 1963 memoirs he wrote that in response to that recommendation he had said: "We're not talking now about a limited, brushfire war. We're talking about going to the threshold of World War III. If we attack China, we're not going to impose limits on our military actions, as in Korea. Moreover, if we get into a general war, the logical enemy will be Russia, not China, and we'll have to strike there."

Nor is there much doubt that any such war would soon have become a nuclear war. In the spring of 1955 Dulles visited Southeast Asia and on his return told Eisenhower taht "if we defend Quemoy and Matsu, we'll have to use atomic weapons. They alone will be effective against the mainland airfields." In his memoirs, Ike added: "To this I agreed..."

The chief Eisenhower administration hawk was the Joint Chiefs' chairman, Adm. Arthur W. Radford. He so alarmed senators that the question of who would "pull the trigger" resulted in an Eisenhower pledge that he (and not Radford or Chiang) would do so, if it were to be done. The Formosa Resolution passed the House, 410 to 3, and then the Senate, 85 to 3. The mutual defense treaty was approved by the Senate on Feb. 9, 1955. The Formosa Resolution was terminated by act of Congress on Oct. 26, 1974, in the era of post-Vietnam introspection and reexamination. The treaty will end after the year's notice just given by Carter. Duel at the Brink

IN RETROSPECT, it is evident that those two very strong personalities, Chou En-lai and John Foster Dulles, were engaging in a duel at "the brink of war," as Life magazine headed its famous 1956 interview with Dulles (conducted by James Shepley, then Time-Life Washington bureau chief and now board chairman of The Washington Star). In the interview Dulles said: "The ability to get to the verge without getting into war is the necessary art. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost."

But in conducting his brinkmanship, Dulles was carefull to "releash" Chiang so that he could not begin a "return to the mainland" and thus drag America into war. This was done in an exchange of letters requiring prior approval of both Taipei and Washington. (For flushing out that as well as the defense treaty and related JCS votes, I was investigated by the FBI for espionage, at the State Departmenths request. But no one talked and no legal proceedings were instituted, as FBI files I have recently received show.)

The 1954-55 crisis ended with Chou, at the Afro-asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, publicly offering to negotiate with the United States. This, in time, led to Sino-American diplomatic meetings, a thin but useful tread of Washington-Peking communication until Mao and Chou played "the American card" with the overture so avidly grasped by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

In an important sense, cancellation of the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan is the penultimate act in the Sino-American story that began with Mao's conquest three decades ago; the final act will concern what the two nations do about Taiwan's "reunification" with the mainland. The National Mood

THERE ARE, of course, numerous and fascinating details in many books and articles about the 1954-55 crisis (and about a second, but lesser, Quemoy crisis in 1958) but they need not be retold here. What should be recalled, however, in considering Carter's termination of the treaty, is the mood of America when it was signed.

(Incidentally, there is nothing in either the secret hearings now released or in the committee report indicating any discussion of the termination clause, Article X, beyond its bare language: "This Treaty shall remain in force indefinitely. Either party may terminate it one year after notice has been given to the other party." Dulles did note that "substantially identical provisions are found in our treaties with Korea and the Philippines.")

In 1953 Eisenhower had ended the unpopular and costly Korean War; in 1954 Dulles had vainly sought to prevent the loss of North Vietnam at the time of the armistice ending what turned out to be the first Indochina War. At the Geneva Conference that halted that latter war Dulles refused to shake hands with Chou, an insult that rankled for decades. Even at that, Dulles came home to assaults by rightwing Republicans for even having been in the same room with Chou. He was in no mood to "lose" any other places, remembering well how the Republicans had made political capital out of charging President Truman and the Democrats with having "lost" China to mao.

It should not be thought, however, that the Democrats by 1954-55 were "soft" on Communist China. The public as well as the closed-door records are full of resounding calls to stand up to the Communists, though frequently tempered with hopes for cease-fires and United Nations action to gain them. Nor should it be forgotten that Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy's anti-communism campaign collapsed only with his censure by the Senate on Dec. 2, 1954, in the midst of the Quemoy crisis.

China remains communist and the United States democratic but there has been a world of change in each side's perception of, and attitude toward, the other since each, in its own form of brinkmanship, risked war. What the new Congress will now discuss is simply whether those changed attitudes in a world also very different from 1954-55 make termination of the Taiwan defense treaty a logical step in the new Sino-American relationship. I have no doubt that it is just that.