Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher defined the Carter administration's human rights strategy yesterday as a willingness to use "the full range of diplomatic approaches" and to "adjust our foreign assistance programs as required" when dealing with rights abusers.

While "bilateral aid that benefits the needy is rarely disapproved," Christopher told a House subcommittee, "only compelling considerations of national security can justify providing [military] assistance to countries with very serious human rights problems."

Christopher's remarks were an attempt substantively to explain the objectives, instruments and guidelines of an aspect of administration foreign policy that at times has been criticized as inconsistent and ineffective.

They came in testimony before the House international organizations subcommittee, which is evaluating State Department human rights reports, submitted in January, for countries receiving U.S. aid.

Last year's reports were questioned because of a lack of information on how they were put together and how they are used in deciding which countries should receive U.S. aid.

Those decisions, ultimately made by Christopher and Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, are first discussed in an interagency group headed by Christopher and composed of representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Labor, Treasury, Commerce and Agriculture, along with the National Security Council.

Christopher said the administration initially avoided strict human rights guidelines because it wanted to "respond flexibly" to differing circumstances and to "proceed cautiously" with a "new and controversial policy."

But over the past two years, he said, certain specific formulas have emerged.

While the policy is directed at the observance of "personal, economic, and political rights," Christopher said, "we have found in practice that we are most often called to respond to flagrant violations of personal rights such as widespread systematic torture or arbitrary executions."

The most effective strategy for obtaining human rights improvements, he said, combines diplomacy and threatened an actual withdrawal of aid. Both those elements, he said "must be calibrated and sequential, conveying our concern in a steady, even way while avoiding sudden escalations."

Economic, rather than military aid, is "rarely disapproved" to avoid "penalizing the poor because of their government's misdeeds," he said.

"Only compelling considerations of national security" which Christopher did not specify, can justify continued military aid to violating governments, he added.

Finally, "decisions to extend or withold assistance are are often taken on the basis of trends in human rights conditions," he said.

Christopher maintained that administration policy of human rights diplomacy and tying U.S. aid to rights observance - originally mandated by Congress under the Ford administration - had "clearly been effective in improving rights around the world."

While he said that "serious concern" continues over human rights conditions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Christopher cited examples of "tangible human rights progress." They included steps toward transfer of power from "military to civilian democratic institutions" in the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, Peru, Brazil and Thailand.

Political prisoners, he said, were released in Bangladesh, Sudan, Indonesia, Nepal, Paraguay, Cuba, Guinea and the Republic of Korea.