Vice President Mondale told the U.S. Naval Academy graduates today that advocacy of human rights was as important to America's position in the world as the maintenance of its defense capability.

"We've survived for 200 years as a free people because we've had a strong defense and because we've never . . . lost our commitment to human rights," Mondale told the 950 members of the Class of 1977 and some 18,000 persons who watched them graduate.

Mondale, who said his own military career had been capped by promotion to the rank of corporal in the Army, joined Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor and the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. James L. Holloway III, in presenting diplomas to the honor graduates.

Looking out over the midshipmen in their dress white uniforms, Mondale said it was "fitting that an Annapolis graduate and former submarine officer should remind us, as he did in his inaugural address, that we need a strength "based not merely on the size of an arsenal, but on the nobility of ideas."

"For, as the President understands well," he said, "we cannot teach our children to believe in human rights and democracy; we cannot honor those values in our churches and synagogues and our schools, and then betray those same ideals abroad, without betraying everything for which we stand."

"This administration is not going to be strident in our defense of human rights," Mondale said. "We're not seeking to throw down a gauntlet before any nation. Nor do we have any illusions that regimes which rule by force and terror will disappear overnight."

But he urged the new Navy ensigns and Marine Corps lieutenants to be "proud that our nation, today, is standing up in defense of human rights and human dignity throughout the world.

"I'm proud," the Vice President said, "that no foreign leader today has any doubt that the United States condemns torture and political imprisonment and repressions by any government."