THE WORDS have been very strong with which

Americans--most recently and formally a unanimous House and Senate--have condemned the Kremlin for shooting down the Korean airliner: "criminal destruction . . . coldblooded barbarous attack." But no one thinks words alone will make the Soviets do what most people believe they should do-- apologize, offer restitution and review their border procedures. Certainly there is no doubt on this score among those few in Congress who wanted to go beyond words and use the common outrage to restructure Soviet-American relations as a whole.

Actually, some people are doing something. Some 13 NATO countries starting with Canada (but excluding France), acting in most cases under the prod of their airliner pilots, have cut air links with Moscow for brief periods. Since the Kremlin permits few of its citizens to fly abroad, the immediate effect of the cutoff is mostly to inconvenience Western travelers. Still, there is a satisfying political and emotional fit between the offense and this particular response.

We mention the emotional factor because it is, we believe, central to Americans' judgment of the way other nations have reacted. Most Americans, it seems evident, do not really expect foreigners to put strong sanctions into place at a time when Washington continues to sell grain. They do expect, however, an appropriate measure of outrage and sympathy. Most nations have met this test of resonance. Some have fallen short.

India, practicing a brand of nonalignment indistinguishable from alliance with Moscow, deplored the loss of life but failed to criticize or even name the Soviet Union. In the key vote at the United Nations Security Council, China, Guyana and Nicaragua abstained on political grounds, which are not hard to figure out.

The abstention of Zimbabwe, a friendly non-communist country, was something else. The State Department expressed dismay at Zimbabwe's vote. In explaining it, President Robert Mugabe recalled his own dismay that the United States, alone, had vetoed a 1981 resolution condemning South Africa for a strike into Angola in which some 450 persons, more than half Angolan soldiers, were killed. Our point is not that vote-swapping goes on at the U.N., but that for each country certain issues become litmus tests of their friends' reliability. It is something for all nations to keep in mind.