A MOMENT when a Third World country is subjecting the United States to an imprecedented humiliation is not the best time for an official commission to suggest that the United States care more for the Third World. Awkward timing, however, is one of the risks Jimmy Carter accepted when he decided last year to accept his son Chip's recommendation to make a major public splash on the world hunger issue, rather than simply sift the bureaucracy for its best ideas. Chip Carter had come to hunger through some enthusiasts in the "human potential" movement. So it was that Mr. Carter set up a special panel whose members ranged from entertainers to experts.Charged not just with making recommendations but also with winning public support for them, the President's Commission on World Hunger checked in yesterday.

As you would expect from this sort of single-issue group, it puts its cause at the center of the universe, and it offers a full range of good reasons -- moral, security, economic -- for the United States to embrace the elimination of hunger as the "primary focus" on its relations with the developing world. This is all to the good. Few would deny the need to search harder for ways to relieve the misery of the millions, and by that the commission does not mean simply more American aid. Its emphasis on getting developing countries to grow more of their own food, in a contest of eradicating poverty, is sound. This panel can surely help focus the attention of Congress and the public on hunger.

Yet a nagging question arises: what do developing countries desire as the primary focus of their relations with the United States? A depressing number of them, a depressing proportion of the time, have something else in mind. They want arms. They want prestige industrial projects. They want support for domestic arrangements favoring an elite and condoning mass poverty. They want political confrontations with "imperialism." And they want perhaps most the feeling of controlling their own destinies. In this spirit, many of them are likely to find this report an evasion of their demands for the changes in trade, money, commodities and energy that constitute the "new international economic order."

There is an irony here, for this report is startlingly sympathetic to much Third World thought. It approvingly cites the "determined measures" taken by the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, among others, in their "most successful national campaigns against poverty and hunger." It uncritically relays the indictment by Julius Nyerere, whose own policies have had a harsh impact on Tanzania's food suply, that one group of people has access to the world's resources and one group does not. It attributes population growth to "inequitable social and economic conditions" and, unforgivably, says not one word about family planning. Since the report issued yesterday is "preliminary," surely that fault, and a few others, will be corrected before the final report comes out.