Charles Krauthammer {op-ed, Oct. 23} criticizes the Reagan administration's proportional response to Iranian attacks in the Persian Gulf as being "gentlemanly combat" unbecoming a state of superpower status. "{O}nce a superpower voluntarily accepts the constraints of proportionality," he suggests, "it forfeits that excess of power which makes it a superpower and which enables it to deter lesser powers." This argument misses the mark about the principle of proportionality, the administration's motivation for using it and the logic of legitimacy that underpins it as a standard for response.

Mr. Krauthammer overlooks the fundamental dialectic of sovereignty characterizing contemporary international politics. That is, national might does not make for international right. Rather, rights and privileges of sovereignty and independence carry duties and obligations for governments that arise out of the need for community and interdependence. Regarding the destruction of the Iranian oil platforms, the right of self-defense was effected proportionally, responsibly and lawfully by U.S. forces.

International law has set a commonly accepted limitation on the right of self-defense: force used by a state in responding to an aggressive act by another state must be reasonably proportional to the danger that is to be averted. By subscribing to the bounds set by proportionality, the retaliation ordered by the administration against Iran fell within the limits prescribed under international law as conditions for self-defense. Far from being an act of gentility, the oil platform attacks were carried out by the United States in a legitimate, measured manner. Such a sensible policy practice seems more deserving of real widespread praise than Realpolitik-based condemnation. CHRISTOPHER C. JOYNER Washington