Should micro-states be allowed to be full members of the United Nations? Are they economically viable? Are they entitled to UN technical assistance? Should they have the same voting power as rich and large nations?
"No," some US diplomats say privately. "Yes," say most of the representatives and UN officials here.
The "problem of the micro-states" is not a new one. American, and to a lesser extent, British diplomacy, has periodically expressed annoyance that tiny states, which are sometimes not self-sustaining, are granted the same voting rights in the General Assembly as the big powers. This matter was brought before the Security Council by the United States in 1965 and 1967.
Now, since some new-member micro-states in the Caribbean (Grenada and St. Lucia -- with more to come) have shown a tendency to vote with the nonaligned group and therefore against the United States, new grumblings are heard from the US State Department against the inflationary membership trend.
Objections raised about the full participation of micro-states in UN activities have been rejected before and, according to analysts here, are likely to be rejected again, for a number of procedural and political reasons.
What criteria should one apply to decide when a state is a micro-state?
Military power? Population? Wealth? Size?
Luxembourg, with only 350,000 inhabitants, and the Maldives, with fewer than 100,000, were admitted to the UN without any objections. Luxembourg, of course, has a thriving economy, and the Maldives were expected to vote alongside the West.
Nobody was ever preoccupied with Bahrain's membership: This tiny island is a large oil supplier of the West. Nor did anyone question Iceland's right to UN membership, even though its population does not exceed 200,000. Its population is white and its location strategically useful to NATO.
The Bahamas also have a small population (180,000), but vote with the West and therefore, raise no criticism. The same is true for the Seychelles (population 60,000) -- a very low per capita income ($688), but a "good" voting pattern.
So the question remains, who will decide -- and on what basis -- that a small state is a micro-state?Where exactly should the dividing line run, demographically, geographically, financially, or politically?
To create a second-class-citizen status for micro-states (which presumably would be allowed to participate in all UN activities but not to cast their vote in the General Assembly), the UN charter would have to be revised. This, say influential diplomats here, would open a Pandora's box. According to the UN Charter, all sovereign states are entitled to UN membership if they fulfill two conditions: They must be peace-loving and they must fulfill their obligations to the UN.
There can be little doubt that Caribbean, Pacific, or Middle Eastern micro-states are less of a threat to world peace than large states. It is a matter of record that they have always, up to now, paid their annual assessment to the UN.
The constructive and imaginative role played at the UN by Singapore (the size of a city) is by all accounts more significant than the role played by many large countries. Even tiny Fiji, a country with little income, has provided the United Nations peace-keeping forces in Lebanon with 1,000 men. Nobody has dared mention Kuwait in connection with micro-states. A slip of the tongue could quickly make itself felt at the gas pumps.
Meddling with the UN charter could bring about undesired and explosive results. Japan and West Germany, for example, could make a solid argument for replacing Britain and France at the Security Council. Given the population of China and India, these two countries could make a good case for why they could be granted more voting power than the US and the Soviet Union.
If nations were to be categorized by special criteria, the UN would split up in several groups: A club of the financially rich, a club of the nuclear powers, a club of the oil producers, and perhaps even a club of the culturally most-advanced countries.
"General Assembly resolutions are not binding anyway," says one UN observer. "The powerful nations have a veto power in the Security Council, the only real decisionmaking organ of the UN. So what is all the fuss about?" he asks.
Some very small states do receive proportionately larger technical assistance from the United Nations Development Program than larger countries, but the amounts involved are insignificant. Between 1972 and 1976, Fiji received $5 million, the Solomon Islands, $1 million; Mauritius, $5 million; the Maldives, $ 1 million; Papua, $5 million; Sao Tome, $500,000.
In fact, the present UN budget of $2.9 billion to keep peace and help develop the world is barely larger than the $2.3 billion spent this year in the US on hair-care products.
St. Vincent, following the lead of St. Lucia, Grenada, and Dominica, recently became independent and shows a left-wing inclination in Grenada threw out a brutal, corrupt regime. St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Kitts, also freed themselves of oppressive regimes. this trend worries France (which has two overseas departments -- Martinique and Guadeloupe); Britain, which still owns a number of islands in the area (Antigua, Monserrat, Nevis, and Anguilla), and the US, which fears for safety of the sea lanes leading to Panama.