WITH THE ELECTION of former foreign minister Andrei Gromyko to the presidency of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev has consolidated his leadership. By placing his own man -- Eduard Shevardnadze -- in charge of the foreign ministry, Gorbachev has taken control of Soviet foreign policy. The period of relative Soviet passivity and reacting to American initiatives in the international arena is probably over. We can now expect the Soviet Union to begin looking for opportunities to exploit American vulnerabilities.

The general outline and directions of Gorbachev's foreign policy are becoming increasingly clear. The new Russian leader has three basic goals:

To reestablish the Soviet international image as a superpower that is strong, decisive and determined to pursue a global role of "equality" with the United States.

To damage significantly the image of the United States in the international arena. This second goal suggests that the Soviet Union will be looking for opportunities to embarrass the United States and aggravate its problems abroad whenever possible -- most likely in Nicaragua but also possibly in Pakistan, the Philippines, Korea and Egypt.

To obtain an arms control agreement that will permit him to concentrate on more pressing domestic economic and social problems.

It is entirely possible, indeed quite likely, that these goals, especially the second and third will prove to be contradictory and impossible to pursue simultaneously. In that case, Gorbachev will be faced with the necessity of having to choose which is more important. Or, in the alternative, he may find the third goal foreclosed by American action in response to Soviet initiatives or simply by American determination to pursue the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Formulating foreign policy is not always a purely rational venture. Emotion as well as logic plays a role. As a result, it is entirely possible that the United States and the Soviet Union again will face some tense moments somewhere down the road.

By virtue of his own moves and the situation he has inherited, Gorbachev is in an extraordinary position now to direct the direction of Soviet foreign and security policies. The replacement of the 75- year-old Gromyko by the 57-year-old Shevardnadze is clearly significant. Gromyko's departure from a position of real power is a giant step in the elimination of the Old Guard from the inner circle of Soviet decision-makers.

During the interregnum presided over by Gorbachev's predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko, the making of Soviet foreign policy was for all practical purposes concentrated in the hands of Gromyko and his deputies. Gromyko's authority within the leadership, in recognition of his expertise, was extremely high.

Gromyko's replacement, Shevardnadze, is little known even in the Soviet Union. His power base is in Soviet Georgia, where for the last several years he has occupied the position of first party secretary. In his new position in Moscow, therefore, he is and will be entirely dependent on Gorbachev's good will and support, and on the new leader's successful accumulation of greater power. He will be a minister of foreign affairs for whom the policy will be made by Gorbachev and his closest associates.

Similarly, in formulating security policy for the Soviet Union, Gorbachev is in a strong position. Dmitri Ustinov, whose authority as defense minister was unchallenged, died last December not long after he dismissed Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov as military chief of staff. Neither Ustinov's replacement, nor Ogarkov's, has the authority of his predecessor.

As Gorbachev puts his own imprint on Soviet policy, he is acutely aware that the Soviet Union is in the throes of a deep domestic crisis that is not only economic but also social and political. His priorities are unquestionably domestic.

But the Soviet's international situation, the revitalization of America's world role and especially the crucial arms control negotiations in Geneva do not leave Gorbachev the luxury of a semi-isolationist choice. He must play actively in the international arena.

Gorbachev inherits awesome military power from his predecessors, but he also inherits an international situation long typified by a passive or reactive Soviet foreign policy. Gorbachev's three foreign policy goals take into account both the Soviet Union's domestic situation and the diminished international role it has been playing in the last several years.

The Soviet international image has been tarnished by the last several years of leadership paralysis in the Kremlin. In pursuing his first goal -- improving that image -- Gorbachev seems determined to maintain Soviet control over traditional or relatively new areas of influence or dominance. In its international policies, the Soviet Union, in Gorbachev's eyes, may be too weak to show weakness.

A key example of this policy goal is the emerging Soviet hard line toward its East European "allies." Eastern Europe is as hard-pressed economically as the Soviet Union itself. But Eastern Europe cannot expect significant help from the Soviet Union. Favorable economic performance in Eastern Europe, fundamental to the region's social stability, depends primarily on close economic relations with the capitalist, industrial democracies of the West.

But, pursuing closer relations with the West to gain social stability conflicts with the political orthodoxy Gorbachev has chosen to demonstrate Soviet strength. The political orthodoxy and the crackdown on liberals in Eastern Europe is meant to prevent political unrest and the drift of Eastern Europe from tight Soviet control. It is a hard- line policy that does not respond favorably to the desires of the leadership of most of these countries for closer ties with the West. It is a policy that demands greater contribution from Eastern Europe to the development of Soviet natural resources while trying to force on East Europeans higher prices for Soviet exports and lower prices and better quality of Soviet imports. It is a policy directed against political and economic innovations in Eastern Europe.

Evidence of the Soviet pressure on Eastern Europe comes from sources there who attended the Comecon ( the Eastern bloc "common market") meeting earlier this year where the Soviets were partially successful in raising prices for their goods and lowering prices and improving the quality of goods imported from East European countries.

Another example of this hard line can be clearly seen in Gorbachev's Afghanistan policy. Soviet military pressure in the Afghanistan civil war has increased, while efforts to close the lifeline of anticommunist guerrillas from Pakistan has dramatically intensified. The scorched earth policy, intended to destroy the guerrillas' infrastructure, if anything, has become even more ruthless.

Whatever the frustrations of the Soviets in their prolonged Afghan adventure, there is no sign that under the new leadership they will settle for less than a secure communist government in Kabul. Negotiations with Pakistan are only a Soviet attempt to curtail Pakistani aid for Afghanistan.

In Angola and Ethiopia, the areas of especially active Soviet intervention in the good old days of the 1970s, the Soviets seem determined to continue commitments that involve their prestige and credibility.

The second basic goal of Gorbachev's emerging foreign policy is to damage significantly the current image of the United States in the international arena. In the last several years, while the Soviets have either been passive or reactive in their foreign policy, the image of America as a strong and decisive global power was revived. It is imperative for Gorbachev to undermine the impression of American ascendancy by exposing and exploiting areas of American weakness.

There are a number of trouble spots in the world today where, by choice or necessity, American interests are engaged. Although the roots of these trouble spots are domestic and regional and were not created by the Soviets, the Soviets can, and in my opinion increasingly will, aggravate and exploit them.

One example is Pakistan, which may become the most likely area of Soviet-American confrontation. The confluence of a number of factors leads to such a conclusion. The internal stability of Pakistan is questionable. Soviet help to those who oppose the present regime inside Pakistan may be quite effective.

Pakistan may soon be able to produce nuclear weapons, which might well invite a preemptive Indian attack against Pakistan's nuclear facilities. Pakistan is under much-increased Soviet pressures to end its role as a haven for Afghan refugees and a training base for Afghan guerrillas. Soviet attacks against Pakistani territory bordering Afghanistan have increased significantly in 1985. America's ability to provide effective military support to the Pakistani regime is limited. All these factors make the regional situation in South Asia explosive.

Another example of a trouble spot ripe for Soviet exploitation is Central America, particularly Nicaragua. The Soviet Union seems to be quite happy with the extraordinary American preoccupation with Central America. They may be particularly gratified that the Reagan administration made of Nicaragua a cause celebre, guaranteeing that the survival of the Sandinista government will be widely seen as a major American defeat.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's meeting with Gorbachev this spring in Moscow signified an increased Soviet interest in Central America and an upgrading of the Soviet commitment to provide military and economic aid to Nicaragua. The Soviets have little to lose in Central America. Their aid to the revolutionary forces is indirect and on a scale that precludes a Soviet-American confrontation of the Cuban missile crisis magnitude. What the Soviets want is to place the United States in a no-win situation.

Even if Congress relaxes its stringent restraints on American aid to the Nicaraguan contras, Soviet and Cuban help is sufficient to assure the survival of the Sandinista regime -- short of an American invasion. After all the Reagan administration's rhetoric about the strategic significance of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas will be a glaring example of American impotence. On the other hand, an American invasion of Nicaragua would brand the United States as an imperialist power throughout the Third World and also among American allies in Europe.

Another key example of American vulnerability is the Philippine time bomb, which is close to the point of explosion. The unfortunate situation in the Philippines resembles too closely for comfort the Iranian situation of the late 1970s. The key difference is that the major anti-regime forces in the Philippines are not Moslem fundamentalists but primarily leftist revolutionaries sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Soviet help for the Filipino insurrectionists would appear to offer too good an opportunity to diminish American international stature for the Soviets to pass it up.

The United States seems to have no attractive options to counter the approaching disaster. A policy of all-out support for President Ferdinand Marcos is doomed to failure. The Philippine military forces are too closely connected with Marcos to provide even a temporary alternative. The democratic forces in the Philippines are disjointed and weak.

There are many other areas where the Soviets can try to harass the United States -- the potentially unstable situation on the Korean peninsula, for example, or the Middle East, particularly Egypt, which has severe domestic problems.

The third goal of Gorbachev's emerging foreign and security policy should be of the greatest importance to the West. I believe that the new Soviet leadership is deeply interested in avoiding a new major cycle of the unending arms race. I believe that Gorbachev understands the uniqueness of the present moment in the international security situation when both superpowers are poised to cross new thresholds of arms competition with consequences that are difficult to predict. We are at the point where the momentum of major technological advances threatens to take charge of our nuclear strategies and long-range security policies.

We are also reaching a stage in the development of new weapons, particularly space- based, land mobile systems and cruise missiles, where the essential principle for arms control -- verifiability of agreements reached -- may become extremely difficult if not impossible.

Needless to say, Gorbachev's interest in reaching a comprehensive arms control agreement with the United States is dictated primarily by his concern for Soviet security, and by the domestic economic and social consequences of an escalating arms race. The relative costs of a new cycle in the arms race will be much higher than they were in the 1970s. The burdens of sharply-increased military expenditures will significantly affect Soviet plans for industrial modernization. They will make all but impossible an increase in Soviet standards of living, a necessary ingredient for higher labor productivity.

The extremely sophisticated technology involved in America's proposed strategic defense initiative will put the Soviet Union at a clear disadvantage and require heroic efforts for a continuous catch-up race with America. Therefore Gorbachev's concerns provide a major reason for his genuine interest in a comprehensive breakthrough in arms control negotiations.

Does it seem likely or even possible that the United States will be inclined to turn away from the Strategic Defense Initiative if the Soviet Union is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy elsewhere? A Soviet effort to pursue both an arms control agreement with the United States and an aggressive foreign policy elsewhere is reminiscent of the Soviet policies of the 1970s that ultimately brought an end to detente.

Gorbachev may believe that he needs to demonstrate Soviet strength in order to drive a successful bargain with the United States. That view may be a tragic misunderstanding of how the United States regards the Soviet Union. If Gorbachev succeeds only in arousing American distrust, will he be able to back away from an aggressive policy in order to pursue arms control? Or will he then decide that moderating an aggressive policy will be a fatal sign of weakness?

How Gorbachev proceeds may depend in large measure on the progress made in Geneva. The Soviet Union will continue trying to achieve a deal in Geneva that will be most advantageous to itself. But such a deal does not have to be disadvantageous to the United States.

The United States has two choices for enhancing its security. The first choice is to press for mutual, drastic, verifiable and equitable reductions of offensive weapons. The second choice is to press forward with unilateral plans for missile defense -- the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In my judgment the first choice is better- suited to achieve the key goals of arms control -- to deny either power the capability to launch a first strike; to build stability into the Soviet-American strategic balance and to establish a new balance based on finite deterrence, that is, the minimum forces necessary to deter the other side from attacking.

Despite the good intentions that may be behind it, the Strategic Defense Initiative will destabilize the military situation. Before rejecting the first choice, we should at least explore patiently the extent of concessions that Gorbachev would be willing to make to avoid a new arms race.

Of course the United States has to oppose the first and second goals of Gorbachev's foreign policy -- for example, the hard line in Eastern Europe and exploiting American vulnerabilities in the international arena. Yet the United States should keep an open mind with regard to Gorbachev's clear desire to prevent a new arms race spiral. To reach an agreement with the Soviets on the comprehensive reduction and equitable balance of offensive weapons is in the interests of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Whether the unlinking of arms control from the general foreign policies of the two superpowers is possible, however, is clearly an open question.

Five months from now, Reagan and Gorbachev will meet in Geneva. This summit meeting may improve the atmosphere of Soviet-American relations and prevent their further deterioration. There are, however, very few items of the current international situation about which both sides can agree.

The past decade has made us conscious of the basic irreconcilability of Soviet and American global interests. In this situation, the arms control negotiations have to carry almost the entire weight of improvement of Soviet-American relations and of the management of our conflict away from disastrous confrontations. We have to hope that at the November summit both sides will seriously and with an open mind explore ways to break the stalemate of the Geneva arms negotiations.