Over the past decade, relations between Germany and the United States have frequently been strained despite strong ties that bind the two countries.

Especially in recent years, the two allies had begun to develop conflicting conceptions of Germany's future course in dealing with the Soviet Union. Differences over the pipeline issue are the most dramatic expression of the present strain, and until the recent change of government in Bonn, some feared that the coalition under Helmut Schmidt would be faced with enormous pressure to chart a new course for its Ostpolitik.

The election of Helmut Kohl is clearly a corrective, and a timely one, for the drift and misunderstanding that seem to have become commonplace, yet unwanted, by both sides. Schmidt, a determined, self- assured and frequently testy leader, simply lost his majority and his capacity to lead, the victim of an increasingly strident left wing in his own party.

That Helmut Kohl, an exceptionally experienced and able man, is said to be "an unknown quantity" in the United States only demonstrates how much our links with Germany have changed in the last 15 years. In earlier days, we knew every potential German leader well.

Fortunately for both men, the president and the chancellor greet each other today as friends who first met when both were in the opposition, headed on the path to leadership. That meeting took place at Reagan's initiative four years ago this month, in Bonn. Kohl and Reagan hit it off well. Reagan came away clearly impressed that he had met a man of character and quality. That impression was reconfirmed last year when Kohl visited Reagan in Washington.

The Kohl program is one to gladden the hearts of the Reagan administration, and it comes at a crucial time for the NATO alliance. Declaring the alliance to be "the first central element of our raison d'e,etat," Kohl insisted in his first major policy statement to the Bundestag that he would "dispel the doubts that have fallen on German- American relations," and that this would be done by "reaffirming and stabilizing our friendship."

Across the board, the Kohl regime will begin the difficult process of trying to synchronize its outlook and policies better with those of the United States. But Kohl will not, as some SPD and German leftist critics already charge, come to Washington to get his marching ordera. He is direct and emphatic on this point, and knows that the German people neither want nor expect that kind of Germany; he also knows that Ronald Reagan will not seek that type of relationship. In a revealing interview with Die Welt a few days ago, Kohl said: "Partnership and friendship demand that people speak to each other and not about one another; that one side does not give commands to the other. In German-American relations, there is neither an order-taker nor an order-giver."

In his first meeting with Reagan in 1978, Kohl described in poignant detail how he felt about us by recalling his own early postwar experiences, and I have heard him repeat it many times since. In the Die Welt interview, he also said: "I come from a generation that as children experienced the end of the war and the arrival of the Americans. We were half-starved. The Americans were the first to help, with food, with Care packages. Nobody else helped us, but the Americans did. We should never foreget this."

On the crucial issues of East-West relations, Kohl's views will be well received by the president. The Federal Republic is determined to carry out the 1979 two-track NATO decision on the stationing of cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe, supports the Reagan "Zero-Option" plan, and has already called on the Soviets to negotiate seriously on the administration's START proposal for the reduction of strategic weapons.

The new chancellor also wants a solution to the pipeline controversy, and has expended great effort to get some progress on this vexing and divisive issue. He will properly deserve, and get, a major share of credit for a successful outcome, something that will demonstratre to the German people that they have a man who can deal effectively with an American administration that had become accustomed to disagreement, tension and not a few unkind remarks from previous German leaders.