Nothing in Mr. Gorbachev's record suggests that he is coming to Geneva to change something fundamental in Soviet attitude toward the United States or the world in general. And contrary to emerging conventional wisdom, his previous performance can be characterized more by calculation and shrewdness than by boldness and experimentation.

Nevertheless, it is obvious by now that the general secretary, while pursuing a strategy not yet much different from his predecessors, is capable of an impressive tactical flexibility. He seems to be trying new approaches to accomplish traditional Soviet ends. And the Soviet leader is creative enough to develop such approaches to key diplomatic problems. . . .

(U)nder (Mr. Gorbachev's) leadership the Soviet Union is proving to be simultaneously a more agreeable partner and a more formidable rival. Unfortunately, it is the rivalry rather than cooperation that has always occupied the center stage of the U.S.-Soviet relationship in the postwar era.

Can this unhappy fact of life be altered in Geneva? Short of military defeat or internal crisis or a change of regime, great powers do not radically change their behavior at the negotiating table. There is no reason for the Geneva Summit to be an exception. No historic opportunity is in sight.

But if the Reagan administration succeeds on the one hand in preventing Mr. Gorbachev from achieving a cheap public relations triumph, and on the other, to impress him both with U.S. determination and with open-mindedness, there will indeed be a good chance to put the basically competitive U.S.-Soviet relationship on a more stable and rational footing.