United Nations, N.Y. — "As the nonaligned countries watch the beginning of 'Cold War II,' they are preparing to set their differences aside in favor of greater unity and cohesion."
This is the way one leading nonaligned diplomat describes the outlook for those nations that prefer to keep their distance, ostensibly at least, from the world's two superpowers. As East-West detente erodes, he adds, self- protection is essential.
Another third-world ambassador puts it another way: "We must make sure that we are not divided and ruled."
Such concerns will be a central feature of the forthcoming New Delhi conference to which some 100 nonaligned countries will send their foreign ministers early next month.
The decline of detente is seen as making the meeting doubly important. Growing East- West tensions, one diplomat points out, sharply limit the "diplomatic space" between the superpowers in which the smaller, weaker, poorer nations can hope to preserve their independence: "Therefore they must close ranks and reassess themselves as a group."
Indeed, the New Delhi conference coincides with the 20th anniversary of the founding of the nonaligned movement by such towering political figures as India's Nehru, Yugoslavia's Tito, Egypt's Nasser, Algeria's Ben Bella. At that time the basic purpose of the movement was to help its members stay away from bloc politics and avoid becoming satellites of either the United States or the Soviet Union.
Latin American, Asian, and African diplomats on their way to New Delhi now say that superpower tolerance of their position is once again threatened. They fear that both the US and the Soviet Union may soon proclaim, as they did in the 1950s, "He who is not with me is against me."
Last fall, the nonaligned cuntries were sharply divided on issues such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and the pro-Soviet leanings of Cuba, now chairman of the movement. There still is no consensus on these issues. But according to well-placed sources, the delegates at the New Delhi meeting will:
* Seek political solutions in conformity with the UN charter to both the Afghan and Cambodia problems rather than simply issuing condemnations against the Soviet Union and Vietnam.
* Call on Iraq and Iran to end their hostilities and seek a peaceful compromise.
* Warn the US against interference in El Salvador and against a revision of the Panama Canal Treaties.
* Condemn what they see as illegal Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and Israeli intransigence toward the Palestinians.
* Condemn South Africa's refusal to comply with the UN plan for the independence of Namibia (South-West Africa).
* Deplore the collapse of the North-South dialogue on economic matters "as a result of the lack of political will of the rich countries to help bring about a more equitable world economic order."
* Proclaim the need to preserve detente at all costs.
The debates on Afghanistan and on Cambodia are certain to be acrimonious, says one Asian ambassador. But, one analyst here asserts that Pakistan and Afghanistan are moving toward an accommodation and that there is movement also on Cambodia.
"The ASEAN countries [Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia] are increasingly convinced that China's rigid anti-Vietnamese stance is in the long run counterproductive," this analyst maintains. "Cambodia's chair in New Delhi will be empty -- neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Heng Samrin regime will be represented."
The Iraq-Iran war is particularly embarrassing to the nonaligned countries, since it is between two of their own number; but curiously, the conflict is expected to cement the new unity of the nonaligned countries.
Their sympathies with regard to this war are divided, but they are unanimous in feeling that they must stop it and avoid its repetition elsewhere.
"It is fashionable in Western circles to announce periodically that we are hopelessly divided and about to disintegrate as a group," says one African diplomat. "While we are not a monolithic movement and while there are among us countries with different ideological preferences, different degrees of development, and different preoccupations because of their location on the map, all of us know that we are sheep and that we must band together to avoid being devoured by the wolves."