The United Nations at 40 There appears to be a consensus that the UN has not entirely lived up to expectations, but many observers also say that it plays an indispensable role in world affairs
United Nations, N.Y.
BORN in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations Organization marks its 40th anniversary next Thursday, Oct. 24. Experts are divided in their opinions over the future of the UN. There appears to be a consensus that the organization has not entirely lived up to expectations -- but there are differences over the reasons for this.
Some observers, pointing to the inability to prevent numerous wars since 1945, say the organization is growing increasingly irrelevant. Others blame the UN's troubles on the superpowers who, one observer says, see the world in terms of ``mine'' and ``yours.''
Public opinion, according to a recent Gallup poll, also reflects these divisions. Sixty percent of those polled in the United States, France, Britain, and West Germany, say the UN is doing a good job. But roughly 40 percent say the world might be better without the UN.
A lack of in-depth coverage of the UN's activities in the Western media is one reason for its ``relatively low standing in public opinion,'' says one highly-placed, pro-Western UN official.
``The UN's successes -- patient behind-the-scenes efforts to bridge gaps, avoid new conflicts, the release of political prisoners -- are not brought to the attention of the public,'' says the official. ``How then can the average citizen form an intelligent opinion about the UN, what goes on there, what it is up to?''
Diplomats, familiar with the operations of the UN, tend to be more optimistic about the organization than the average American, German, or Japanese.
Opinions differ as to the kinds of changes that should and can be made in the UN's operating methods.
Part of the explanation for the UN's difficulties can be found in the changing nature of international politics in the 40 years since its founding, according to Jacques Leprette, former French ambassador to the UN.
``The world has undergone tremendous transformations and some of the basic assumptions upon which the UN was founded have collapsed,'' Mr. Leprette says. ``The US and the USSR have ceased to be allies and become adversaries. Decolonization added 100 new member states to the UN. Social and economic problems were added to the problems of peace and security which had been the UN's original concern.''
However, the UN has ``been useful in bringing about compromises'' on many occasions says Leprette. The UN apparatus sometimes moves slowly, he agrees, but ``there are no shortcuts in diplomacy.''
``Patience, flexibility, [and] perseverance are the stuff of diplomacy and this is what the UN is all about,'' Leprette concludes. The UN and international law
The UN has been particularly active in international law where it has broken new ground.
``Thanks to the UN's creativity in the field of law, there is more law and order in the world today than there would have been without the UN,'' says Tommy Koh, Singapore's ambassador to Washington and former representative at the UN.
Various laws and conventions on use of the seas, torture, refugees, chemical warfare, and international navigation ``represent lasting contributions to international cooperation and coexistence,'' Mr. Koh says.
However, intergovernmental rivalry, power plays, and the principle of national sovereignty appear to cause friction and prevent the smooth functioning of the UN.
``The system of collective security has malfunctioned because the five permanent members of the Security Council have . . . . at different times stopped the UN Charter from being implemented through using their veto,'' UN Secretary-General Javier P'eres de Cu'ellar says. ``Other UN member states have also refused to use UN mechanisms to settle their disputes,'' he continues. ``They all profess to love the UN and to be law abiding countries but when their interests are at stake they trample these no ble principles and return to the law of the jungle where might means right.'' Can the world get by without the UN?
The response to this question appears to be mostly negative.
``Technically speaking, the UN has become indispensable . . . [and] has been a useful stock exchange of ideas and formulas,'' says former Ambassador Leprette.
``Diplomats from every part of the world, from every ideology have come into contact here, have exchanged their points of view, have learned from others,'' he says. ``I myself have witnessed how diplomats moved beyond their previous righteousness, looked at things through new angles after having talked to people from other countries.''
``Frankly, I don't believe the UN is fated to slowly die as did the League of Nations in the '30s. The powerful nations of the world will come to realize once more that they cannot manage world affairs on their own,'' Mr.P'eres de Cu'ellar said in an interview.
``They will decide that the UN is indispensable as a face-saving device, a problem-solving mechanism, [and] a forum from where to conduct multilateral and bilateral diplomacy effectively and discreetly,'' the Secretary-General said. Criticisms
The UN has come under fire in the past for a variety of reasons:
Repetitive speeches and resolutions.
Anti-Western bias as expressed in many speeches.
Politicization of technical issues.
Waste of money, and bureaucratic duplications.
``Listening to some of the speeches can be frustrating. But that is the price to pay for democracy in international relations,'' says Sweden's permanent representative, Anders Ferm, in response to the first criticism.
``There was a time in the '50s when the UN was seen as dancing to the American tune [and] a time when, in the '70s, it leaned toward the left. But to say, as some do, that it is basically anti-West and pro-Soviet is preposterous and not borne out by the facts,'' Mr. Ferm asserts.
``As for duplication and waste, the UN is no more guilty in this area than any of the large national bureaucracies, such as the US Pentagon, for instance,'' he adds. ``Besides, the UN budget growth has been reduced to zero by P'erez de Cu'ellar.'' The issue of one country, one vote:
Is it realistic to give the same voting power at the UN to small countries with a few hundred thousand inhabitants and limited economic resources as to the US and the Soviet Union?
This is a question often asked by observers who wonder whether the UN Charter should or can be altered to accommodate international realities.
``There are many inequities at the UN,'' Indian ambassador Natarajan Krishnan acknowledges, referring to this sometimes contentious issue. (Under the UN Charter, each member country in the General Assembly is entitled to one vote; in addition, the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the US -- have been granted special veto powers.)
``[But] votes at the General Assembly are not binding. They express wishes,'' says Mr. Krishnan. ``Only Security Council votes are -- theoretically -- binding, and there the US and the USSR can adequately protect their interests; whereas India, Japan, Brazil, and others cannot.'' hould the US leave the UN?
In recent years, there have been rumblings of discontent, particularly from Western nations, over the usefulness of belonging to the UN. The main issues are politicization of nonpolitical matters, an apparently anti-Western bias, and inefficiency of operation.
Earlier this year, the US withdrew from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) citing such problems. Britain and Singapore have also threatened such withdrawal.
Does this point to a trend that may increase in the near future?
Indian ambassador Krishnan does not think so. ``Isolationism is today an empty formula, wishful thinking,'' he says. ``We have all become too interdependent to be able to simply go our way without taking the others into account. We need the West and the West needs us.''
``At the UN everybody wins a few, loses a few, settles for half a loaf,'' Krishnan says. ``No one, not the US, not the USSR, not Japan, not China, not India can get away with playing the Big Bully or the Lone Ranger.'' Looking ahead:
``Instead of mocking or criticizing the UN, the powerful nations of the world should use this occasion [the 40th anniversary] to recommit themselves to the UN Charter and to the UN principles,'' says Claude de K'emoularia, France's representative to the UN. Many Western diplomats agreed that a renewed dedication and commitment to the UN's ideals is much needed.
Mr. de K'emoularia cites ``the danger of nuclear war . . . gross violations of human rights . . . nonimplementation of decisions unanimously accepted by the Security Council and the General Assembly,'' as primary reasons for supporting the UN.
``Notwithstanding its shortcomings and weaknesses, the UN remains an essential and irreplaceable instrument of international cooperation,'' K'emoularia maintains. ``. . . The Charter is flexible and offers wide possibilities for the future.'' Proposals for increasing UN's relevance and efficiency:
These proposals include:
Redistributing voting power, so that in some cases regions, rather than individual states, participate in ballots. This would create a more balanced voting pattern in which the tiniest country would weigh as much as the largest, some observers say.
Expanding the Security Council, enlarged once before, to admit regionally influential nations like West Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil as permanent members.
Developing a more regionally inclusive outlook. ``As long as regional issues such as Angola, the Palestinian question, Cyprus, Namibia, etc. are merely pawns in a superpower planetary chess game,'' says Mohammed Sahnoun, former Algerian ambassador to the UN, the possibility of settling disputes is virtually nil.
Non-aligned bloc responsibility. Many diplomats, including third-world representatives, admit that the West is not the only one to be blamed for the erosion of the UN's credibility. ``Non-aligned'' diplomats have often used vitriolic language and are sometimes accused of using the UN as a propaganda forum. But this trend has shown signs of diminishing in the last few years, some observers say. What does the future hold?
The answer cannot be found at UN headquarters, say many observers. In the final analysis, the UN is the sum of its components and will play the role Washington, Moscow, Paris, Brasilia, New Delhi, and other capitals want it to play. MAP AND LIST: UNITED NATIONS MEMBERSHIP Charter members 51 Other UN members 108 Nonmembers 12 The 159 member-nations of the UN are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Byelorussia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Rep., Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Germany, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equato rial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy , Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, North Yemen, Nor way, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa Western, Sao Tom'e and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Yemen, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukrainian SSR, USSR, United Arab Emirat es, UK, USA, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Germany, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Zambia, Zimbabwe Nonmember states include Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Nauru, North Korea, San Marino, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican UN STRUCTURE General Assembly: It is the deliberative body of the UN, composed of representatives of all member states. Security Council: A 15-member body with primary responsibility form maintaining international peace and security. Permanent members: China, France, UK, US, USSR. Economic and Social Council: 54-member body responsible for organizing economic and social programs and promoting human rights. Trusteeship Council: Supervises certain non-selfgoverning territories. International Court of Justice: Also known as the ``World Court,'' it is composed of 15 elected judges. Secretariat: Administrative arm, headed by Secretary-General appointed by the General Assembly. Preamble of the UN Charter signed June, 1945, by 51 nations in San Francisco: WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .
to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights. . .
to establish conditions [for] justice. . . , and
to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom AND FOR THESE ENDS
to practice tolerance and live together in peace. . .
to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security
to ensure. . .that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.