Reforming the UN: its chief launches new ideas for better peacekeeping

Javier Perez de Cuellar has laid down a bold challenge in his first annual report as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

In brief, he wants the Security Council to shape up and fulfill its peacekeeping responsibilities so that nations will regain confidence in the UN - and not, for example, look elsewhere for multinational peace forces (as in the Sinai and Lebanon).

He says he cannot disguise his ''deep anxiety'' at present trends. And he wants a Security Council meeting ''at the highest possible level'' to spur the reform process.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar's exhortations are made in diplomatic language. They are in part a restatement of the UN Charter. Nor is this the first time a secretary-general has asked the UN to examine itself.

But his first report is stirring interest as a forthright declaration by a man who came to office determined, as he said, not to preside over the decline of an organization he believes the world needs more than ever in times of growing polarization.

Among the reforms he would like to see:

* Use the Security Council before the last minute in a crisis. As it is, according to the Secretary-General, member states tend to avoid bringing critical problems before the Council or to wait until it is too late for the Council to have much influence. He would not leave matters to the judgment of the parties in conflict ''to the point where the Council's irrelevance to some ongoing wars becomes a matter of comment by world public opinion.''

He suggests swifter Council procedures for sending ''good offices'' missions or other UN presences to areas of potential conflict. He intends to develop a wider and more systematic capacity for fact-finding to facilitate the Secretary-General's traditional role of watching for problems and trying to forestall them through quiet diplomacy.

* Continue the ''valuable process'' of informal consultations that has been turned to increasingly in recent years; but not let it become a substitute for action or an excuse for inaction by the Security Council.

* Follow up Security Council resolutions with concerted diplomatic support and action to implement them. Resist the tendency of governments to act as though the passage of a resolution absolved them from further responsibility. Find new ways to bring to bear the collective influence of the membership.

* Strengthen UN peacekeeping. An increase in military capacity is only one possibility. Another is enhanced authority through explicit guarantees for collective or individual supportive action by member states.

* Improve the Security Council as a negotiating forum for urgent international problems such as the Middle East. Find means beyond the public debate that generates rhetoric and hardens extreme positions. ''Debate without effective action erodes the credibility of the organization,'' the Secretary-General warns. He says the devising of better means is ''certainly well within the ingenuity and capacity of concerned member states.''

* Develop a more stable system of collective international security. This means countries must look beyond short-term national interests and recognize the ''very great perils'' of failing to develop such a system. Without such a system , the Secretary-General argues, governments will feel it necessary to arm themselves beyond their means and thus increase the general insecurity; there will be no reliable defense for the small and weak; and efforts on the economic and social side, which ''need their own collective impetus,'' may well falter.

* Enhance the working relations between the permanent members of the Security Council - ''a sine qua non of the Council's effectiveness.'' These permanent members (Britain, China, France, the United States, the Soviet Union) have special rights and responsibilities. They ''share a sacred trust that should not go by default owing to their bilateral difficulties.''

''We should examine with the utmost frankness the reasons for the reluctance of parties to some conflicts to resort to the Security Council or to use the machinery of the United Nations,'' he now writes. ''The fact is that the Council too often finds itself on the sidelines at a time when, according to the Charter , its possibilities should be used to the maximum.''

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