The first Reagan administration focused, out of necessity, on the issue of economics, and the successful recovery of a recession-ridden country. In large part, its goals have been reached. The vote on Nov. 6 is strong proof of the support and confidence the American people have in this administration to lead us to a brighter economic future.

The second Reagan administration, therefore, must focus on its opportunity to complete a full realignment that will establish the Republican Party as America's majority party. This opportunity goes beyond economics, to the worldwide obligation of America's majority party to participate in the foreign policy arena.

The Democratic Party accepted this obligation (perhaps out of necessity) during its period of transition to majority-party status. It was, after all, the Democrats who led America during World War II and who presided over the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the war.

Now the "San Francisco Democrats" (with apologies to Jeane Kirkpatrick) seem to have completed the rejection, begun in earnest with the nomination of George McGovern in 1972, of their international obligation.

The void created by that rejection presents the Republican Party with perhaps its greatest challenge. Throughout most of postwar history, the Republicans have been content to be the "party in opposition" on foreign policy issues. At best, we have been the party of bipartisanship, at worst, the party of isolation. Now, under the leadership of President Reagan, we must establish the Republican Party as America's new internationalist party, capable of addressing the challenges of a world moving into the 21st century.

Under conservative guidance, America must clearly define the moral basis for its leadership in the world. Domestically, conservatives have succeeded in challenging the moral dominance of redistributionist economics with an economic philosophy based on growth and opportunity. Internationally, however, we have been reluctant to face the same challenge.

If conservatives look to freedom as the dominant guiding principle in domestic policies, should we not look for the same in the international arena?

Therein lies the great challenge inherent in the question of South Africa. Traditionally, conservatives in the United States have focused their attention exclusively on South Africa's strategic importance to the Western alliance. The moral implications of supporting an avowedly racist government were rationalized away, if not blatantly ignored. But if conservatives are to lead the free world into the 21st century, we must do so on the basis of a policy that has a firm and consistent moral foundation. We must stand firmly for freedom and democracy, and that does not permit us to blind our eyes to a government that denies both to the vast majority of its citizens simply because of the color of their skin.

Recently, 35 members of Congress, most of them conservative Republicans, delivered a letter to the South African ambassador to the United States. While we reiterated our willingness to "endorse policies that produce stronger ties between our two nations," we also stated our concern that the administration's policy of "constructive engagement" might become an excuse for the government of South Africa to maintain "the unacceptable status quo."

We made clear our conviction that as new conservative leaders, we will be "looking for an immediate end to the violence . . . accompanied by a demonstrated sense of urgency about ending apartheid." If appropriate action is not taken, we are prepared to support significant policy changes in our country's relations with South Africa.

For many traditional conservatives, our stand has been viewed as an act of philosophical treason. Given the traditional posture of South Africa in the East-West struggle, this reaction is natural. While South African leaders have promoted the repressive rule of apartheid, they have also been consistent in their strong opposition to communism. Sharing this distaste for communism, however, can in no way eliminate the conservatives' obligation to reject the policies of apartheid.

A strong and aggressive approach to South African racism, besides being morally correct, will strengthen the ability of the United States to pursue other policies. Among the most important is a totally new approach to what has traditionally been called "foreign aid."

Conservatives have traditionally been opposed to "foreign aid" as simply an extension of the domestic liberal welfare state. Failure to develop natural resources through economic policies of growth and investment have led countries into years of poverty, famine and economic decline.

If we are to provide strong leadership for world development and growth, conservatives must now face both the challenge and the opportunity presented by the failure of these liberal and socialist policies in the Third World.

The 1984 Republican Pary platform offers us a beginning to address this open challenge by calling for a bold new initiative in foreign policy: instead of subsidizing socialism, we should seek to export democratic capitalism. Conservative Republicans must rethink their unwillingness to support international assistance. We must demand a total restructuring of the international agencies that have directed the Third World down its disastrous course.

Most important, Republicans must be willing to defend the moral/philosophical basis of an approach to international development based on the principles of democratic capitalism. As Michael Novak has pointed out, democratic capitalism has been proving itself in the real world for a long time, but has been losing the theoretical battle because of an inadequate body of moral/philosophical thought to back it up. We now have that body of thought, as well as a leader who can articulate its principles and send a message of hope and opportunity to millions of people living in hopelessness around the world. This administration should seize the moment and send that message by devising a new and comprehensive approach to Third World development.

Finally, the 1980s has presented the United States with a unique opportunity. For the first time since 1917, we are able to support popular opposition to Marxist dictatorships around the world. In Southeast Asia, Poland, Afghanistan, Africa and Nicaragua, freedom-seeking people are providing flesh-and-blood proof that the "correlation of forces" has indeed been reersed. We are living, arguably, in a period characterized by the political and economic decline of the Soviet empire. If we can resist the Soviet drive for dominance in the one arena open to them -- the military -- we have an opportunity to lead the world toward a vision of freedom and opportunity, provided we are serious and consistent in our approach.

The United States should, as the Heritage Foundation suggests, devise a policy of support for these people and others willing to risk their lives in struggle against communist dictatorship. Our policy will have a far greater chance of success if it is part of a comprehensive and consistent policy of aggressive support for political and economic freedom wherever it is threatened.

The Republican Party's transition to majority status will be accelerated by formulating such a policy quickly and by accepting our obligation as an internationalist party.