Yuri Andropov turns out to be a man who knows how to take charge. He has flouted the conventional wisdom that there ought to be a period of internal struggle and consolidation before Andropovism emerges in all its glory. Almost the reverse has been the case. He took power quickly but far from completely; he placed only a few loyalists in key positions, and without waiting began issuing policy pronouncements every other week. He is acting like a prince regent, who developed his own program long ago, but now at long last can proclaim it in his own name. Although he modestly told the Central Committee he did not have all the answers, he is acting as if he does.

He has been most active in foreign policy, of course. This fits his experience. After all, he spent the last 30 years involved in some aspects of foreign policy, and the last 25 years at Moscow Center. He was spared those laborious tours of duty in the provinces supervising harvests or ensuring that factories met their norms, as Khrushchev and Brezhnev did. Foreign policy provides a wide field for maneuver. A new investment program or restructuring of Soviet agriculture may in the end be more important, but for now an offer to meet President Reagan commands international headlines.

In his inaugural address to the Central Committee, he revived detente, on the one hand, and made a new overture to the Chinese, on the other. He refused to be insulted by the curt dismissal of his Chinese interlocutor, Huang Hua, or dissuaded by carping in the West. He skillfully stitched together old arms control proposals into a new Andropov plan. He held out the promise of reducing "hundreds" of Soviet missiles in European Russia, down to the level of the British and French forces. He went on to suggest reductions of continental weapons by 25 percent. A week later he offered to meet Reagan at a summit, and finally he unveiled a new peace declaration in Prague (of all places), which included an offer for a non-aggression pact with the West. Not bad for 60 days.

These were intended to be the carrots, but there has also been a bundle of sticks. Andropov warned that he was not naive, would not disarm, nor beg for peace. He then proved it by threatening to build a new Russian MX (which would be the fourth one) and a new cruise missile. Reagan was charged with using the MX to violate the SALT treaty: this at a time when the Soviets were again encoding their missile tests and preparing to test a second new missile. Pravda wrote off the arms control negotiation as almost hopeless because of Western opposition to peace, but then had the gall to attack the pope. Martial law was ostensibly lifted in Poland, but Lech Walesa was then openly denounced. An abrupt halt was called to any wishful thinking that the Soviets were about to pull out of Afghanistan, and in Syria a new base of Soviet anti-aircraft missiles is under construction.

It should not be too surprising that after the slow drag of Brezhnev's last years, the new regime has a more sprightly style. Andropov should be adept at what the Bolsheviks used to call "agitprop" (agitation and propaganda). This has been one part of his portfolio in the Central Committee and the KGB. His initiatives are well timed. At year's end, as the United States was winding down a miserable lame-duck Congress and a messy debate on the MX, the Soviets seized most of the international headlines, while Andropov was still new enough to be an object of curiosity.

There is another aspect to the Andropov style--a willingness to play hardball. It is not so much the new threats. If anything, Andropov talks softer than Brezhnev did in his last speeches. What is new is a tough self-confidence, if not harsh cynicism. Take the handling of the pope. Almost everyone was stunned that the Soviets viciously attacked the pope in print, because it seemed to give substance to the charge of conspiracy in the assassination attempt. But this brazenness was its very virtue: a routine attack on the church has been standard communist fare since 1917. But an open assault at this very moment commands immediate attention and shows who is really tough, all the more brazen when one considers that the Catholic Church is an important factor in the disarmament debates in the United States.

Style can substitute for substance, but not for too long. Even Khrushchev became tiresome. Beneath the Andropov style there is little that is new. There has been talk of a summit for two years. Some of the disarmament schemes were already proposed in Geneva and turned down. The China overtures date back at least to Brezhnev's speech in Tashkent a year ago. Non-aggression pacts are among the hoariest of Soviet proposals. In short, it is Brezhnevism without Brezhnev.

But this is precisely the point. We are no longer confronted by Brezhnev's prudent plodding, but something akin to a disciplined Khrushchev. Brezhnev in his last years had settled down to trench warfare, digging in on all fronts. Andropov is breaking out and declaring mobile warfare. The proclamation in Prague of a "struggle for peace" is the telltale sign. Over the past 20 to 30 years, the Communist parties have issued a dozen similar peace declarations. As a Central Committee official in the international department, Andropov must have helped draft many of them. So he has been around this track before.

There is a serious, substantive side to Andropov's maneuvers. Brezhnev brought Soviet policy to a dead end after the Afghan invasion. The Chinese broke off their negotiations with him, the West drew back from d,etente, and NATO went ahead with a missile rearmament program directed against Soviet territory. Brezhnev reacted slowly and unsurely. Andropov realizes that 1983 will be a decisive year in Europe given the plan to begin deploying American missiles by the end of the year if there is no satisfactory outcome in the Geneva negotiations. He has grasped what the Americans are slow to accept: that there is a struggle for the hearts and minds of Europe, and the Geneva arms control negotiations are not only a technical exercise in rearranging missiles. Between now and the West German elections in March, the contest is in the very realm of agitprop.

This year may well be a decisive period in shaping a new Sino-Soviet relationship. Brezhnev had virtually produced an encirclement of Russia; he unsuccessfully tried to break out in Afghanistan. What Andropov has in mind is breaking up the encirclement by weaning away China and America's European allies. That is his game, and he is off to a fast start. 4 He is leading from strength. Unlike previous peace offensives, which were often really defensive, this time Andropov can exploit a fluid political situation in Europe and even in the United States on issues of nuclear weapons and peace. There will be elections in Germany, Great Britain, Italy and the United States in the next two years. Nuclear issues will figure in all of them. The Atlantic alliance is bedeviled by intractable problems of political and economic relations, nuclear strategy and disarmament tactics. Andropov offers an easy way out. He also knows that the Chinese are uneasy and uncertain and in a mood to drop their insistence on Soviet concessions in Afghanistan and Indochina. He may even escape without any troop reductions on Sino-Soviet borders. What Andropov senses is that he has an unusual chance to make some cheap gains.

The paradox is that he is also leading from some fundamental weaknesses. He is gambling that quick fixes in foreign policy will strengthen his position at home, much as Malenkov tried to do after Stalin's death. His position is much stronger than Malenkov's, of course, but he still must build up his own power structure. And this can only be at the expense of the old Brezhnev Politburo. Moreover, he has no experience in economic policy or agriculture. He seems to hint at the need for basic reforms, but all of his years in Soviet politics must warn him that reforms challenge the very bureaucratic structure that put him into the top job. So he needs time to develop an economic policy, but he must gather power as quickly as possible. Foreign policy is thus the easiest place to start. Most of the Politburo can happily go along with still another peace appeal. As long as he has the support of Marshal Ustinov and the professional military plus Gromyko, he is in fairly good shape. But he may not want to remain beholden to the military for too long. Ustinov may be in the same position as Marshal Zhukov in 1957, when he was purged after helping Khrushchev to defeat Malenkov and Molotov.

Thus, in the end, if there is to be Andropovism there will have to be some de-Brezhnevization. Here, too, Andropov is showing a subtle style. His minions are privately denouncing Brezhnev for the last years of disasters, beginning with Afghanistan. But publicly Andropov pledges continuity and dutifully renames villages and city squares for the late general secretary.

How do we deal with all of this? Certainly not by counter-punching, awaiting each new Soviet move, and then carefully explaining why it is unacceptable. That may be sound diplomacy, but a sure loser in the short run. We need to maneuver, and we should be able to do quite well.

Andropov needs a summit meeting as a sign of legitimacy. Reagan can live without it. Thus, we can take charge of the timing and the terms.

Until now we have defined the framework of major arms reductions, and the Soviets have moved in our direction. The president should now unleash his chief negotiator, Paul Nitze, who has the skill and experience to discover whether there is any room for compromise. This sign of flexibility will put Andropov back on the defensive, please our allies, and might even lead to a surprisingly acceptable outcome. A prudent decision to preserve the MX will also strengthen our hand in Geneva, especially if the new recommendations relate a new plan to an arms control strategy.

We can compete in China much more easily than Andropov; we have no fundamental conflicts with the Chinese, but the Soviets certainly do. There is a limit to how far Andropov can really go in withdrawing troops along the border if he wants to retain the support of his military. But we can go quite far in providing modern technology and even some military assistance to Peking.

Finally, we need to bear in mind that Andropov has put on a dazzling display because he is a man in a hurry. At the next regularly scheduled Party Congress in March 1986, he will be almost 72. Thus, the next three years are critical for him. This should give the president considerable leverage, if he intends to run for re-election.

Two months ago everyone was asking: who is Yuri Andropov? What did he do in Hungary? Does he really speak English?--etc. Now we know that whatever else he may be, or may have been, he is a shrewd tactician, adept at the game of politics at home and abroad. After a three- year respite, the Great Game with the U.S.S.R. is on again, and we will have to start playing it soon lest we fall behind in points.