AMID the daily influx of news from the world's trouble spots, it often seems hard to step back and gauge the impact of the cold war's end on international security.
A report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), however, identifies some encouraging trends. Its 1992 yearbook, released June 15, also reinforces the notion that the international community must do a better job of responding effectively to conflicts that stem from ethnic tensions.
Among the encouraging signs:
* Global defense spending has dropped 15 percent since 1991, for the most part due to cuts by the former Soviet Union.
* Arms exports dropped by roughly 25 percent, although the United States remains the largest exporter. In 1992, it accounted for 46 percent of international arms shipments.
* Five countries embroiled in war in 1991 were at peace last year: El Salvador, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Western Sahara, and Uganda.
* Several significant arms-control agreements and security pacts were signed during the year, including the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention, the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia, and the Open Skies Treaty between NATO and members of the former Warsaw Pact.
The United Nations has played a large role in dealing with international conflicts.
Between 1991 and 1992, the number of military personnel in peacekeeping operations grew from 10,000 to 15,000. By the end of 1992, the number had grown to about 48,000. Yet for their increased numbers, UN peacekeepers have met with decidedly mixed success.
In general, the annual report holds that the trend in reduced defense spending will continue through the rest of the decade and will contribute to a "very gradual decrease in the annual total of conflicts."
These signs, however, are tempered by the 30 "major" wars, which SIPRI defines as those with more than 1,000 casualties, still being fought. Tragically, the five nations that left the conflict category last year were replaced by five others: Kashmir, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Laos, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That 30 major conflicts remain on the world's agenda is unacceptable. Dealing with them will remain as much a function of international resolve as of numbers of diplomats, soldiers, tanks, or planes.