Virtually encircled by hostile revolutionary socialist countries and Idi Amin's unpredictable and violent dictatorship, Kenya is reacting to the sharp pangs of isolation

As Somalia and Ethiopia to the north and Uganda to the west are being armed to the teeth by the Soviets, and Chinese-equipped Tanzania in the south acts belligerent, Kenya is drawing closer to the United States and is being forced to strengthen its defense posture.

During the past year Kenya has been threatened with remote but real possibilites of war by Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania.

Wile few voices in pro-Western Kenya are saying war is now near, calls for intensified military preparedress and spending are being made.

Kenya's 6,500-man army is hardly larger than the forces it inherited from Britain when it received independence 14 years ago, while all its neighbours have been racing to increase their military strength in recent years.

Uganda and Somalia, for instance, with smaller populations than Kenya, have well-equipped armies of about 20,000 men and air forces that include about 35 to 40 MIG jets each. Kenya's small air force is made up of 14 obsolete British planes.

Last August, Kenya and Uganda came near the brink of war after Kenya cut off its landlocked neighbour's fuel supply. Apply a few months earlier, Uganda's President Idi Amin claimed about a third of Kenya's territory.

And earlier this month Amin announced that the Soviet Union would soon provide Uganda with "the most modern type of nuclear reactor as well as establish the biggest Soviet base on the African continent."

Although radio Uganda said Amin made the announcement with Soviet Ambassador Evengi Moussiyko at his side, there has been no official Soviet confirmation.

Observers are skeptical that either the reactor or base will actually be built, but there is enough concern here that the government-owned Voice of Kenya editorialized against "the marriage between Kampala and the Kremlin."

Unlike Uganda, Somalia's Soviet-trained army is believed to be well disciplined. With its 275 Soviet-made tanks, it is thought easily capable of winning a war with Kenya. Kenya has no tanks.

Since Kenya gained independence, Somalia has claimed the arid third of the country that is populated largely by Somali nomads. Recently the calls for a "greater Somalia" have intensified and, according to some reports, the current official map of Somalia does not show a fixed border with Kenya.

In 1967 Tanzania adopted a socialist development strategy and its relations with capitalist Kenya have gradually deteriorated. Recently they plunged to an all-time low.

Last month, Tanzania permanently closed its border with Kenya having seized millions of dollars worth of Kenyan property earlier in the year. Tanzania's army is twice as large as Kenya's and, in addition, it has a highly politicized and exuberant citizen militia of 35,000.

Kenya still has a mutual defense pact with Ethiopia, signed in the days when Haile Selassie was emperor and both countries felt a threat from Somalia.

Although the threat has become more serious than ever, there is little indication of enough in common between the two countries to justiegime is now the most radical in East Africa while Kenya's government is the most conservative.

Kenya is being forced to build a modern arsenal. Since independence in 1963, it has spent only 8 per cent of its budgets on defence while 40 per cent has gone to education. The ratio is no longer considered realistic.

The first acquisition will be a dozen Northrop F-5 jet fighters, although the date of their arrival is secret. The sale was finalized last year by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a visit here.

It is acknowledged that Kenya is quietly relying on the United States for its security needs and observers believe Washington has made a commitment to assist Kenya in case of an attack from Soviet-backed neighbors.

As an American diplomat in Nairobi said, "We didn't look for this involvement, but had little alternative when the British were no longer interested in carrying the load."