East and West alike may ponder where Romania's sympathies lie. The answer is and always has been: with Romania. Often the stands of this communist country may look on the surface to favor or seem vaguely aligned with the West. But at the heart of its actions is Romania's own special interests.
This may lead to a commendable (in the West's view) independence vis-a-vis Moscow. But it does not lead to the domestic reforms which would commend it more to Western democratic thinking.
On some issues, like human rights, the government of President Nicolae Ceausescu tends toward Soviet practices. On others, like East-bloc maneuvers and defense expenditures, or at the just-concluded European security review conference in Madrid, Romania bolts from its Warsaw Pact allies and sides with the West. And in the crucial area of arms control, it stands on the sidelines making ambivalent statements.
* Human rights. Romania's record is the worst in Eastern Europe, as bad in many respects as the Soviet Union's. More than any of its communist neighbors, Romania has restricted freedom to travel and emigrate, suppressed the rights of church and labor groups, and curbed the media.
In his recent visit to Bucharest, Vice-President George Bush warned his hosts that whatever its merits in international affairs, Romania's record in domestic, human affairs will be weighed more carefully in the future.
Romania's relations with the United States and West Germany dipped close to an all-time low last year. The US nearly revoked Romania's most-favored-nation status on tariffs on its exports this summer over an ''education tax'' forcing would-be emigrants to pay $4,000 to $5,000 in hard currency for every year of higher education. The tax was waived only when West Germany and the US made clear they would withdraw economic support if the tax remained.
Freedom of expression is repressed more than in other East-bloc countries. Early this year a decree required Romanians having or buying a typewriter to register it (and its typeface) with the police, a transparent move to preclude uncensored written material.
* Arms control. If the Romanian leader sometimes breaks ranks with Soviet foreign policy, he has done it lately in a cautious way that holds East and West alike to blame for present crises.
His idea, for example, of a Balkan ''zone of peace'' would require not only removal of all foreign forces and bases, but also severance of military ties to outside blocs.
This would remove Romania (willing) and Bulgaria (unwilling) from the Warsaw Pact, though in neither country are there Soviet troops (as there are in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and East Germany).
Current demands that no more medium-range missiles be positioned in Europe and existing ones be destroyed might imply that the Soviet Union as well as the US are to blame for the present situation.
But, said at a time when the US, not the Soviet Union, is making the first new missile move (by placing cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe starting December), Bucharest's position is, as usual, ambivalent.
* Defense. Earlier this year, Romania was under intensified pressure from the Soviets over Warsaw Pact maneuvers and some of the basic national ideology adopted under Ceausescu.
Since 1978, Ceausescu has countered Warsaw Pact proposals about the ''necessity'' of increasing defense spending by demanding instead that it be cut by both East and West. He later put a purported freeze on Romania's military budget at the 1982-83 level until 1985. Ceausescu has since called on both East and West to follow suit.
In another show of independence, Romania supported a Western proposal for meetings on human rights at the Madrid conference. But this was thought to have been prompted by US and West German decisions shortly before to go on assisting Romania economically.
The US will continue to give Ceausescu moral support in his quasi-independent stand with the Soviets.
But the economic support will be conditional. Until Ceausescu mends his ways over human rights, suggested Mr. Bush, Romania's most-favored-nation status will not be granted on a long-term basis, but continue to be reviewed each year.