In the end, there were more questions than answers, and what was left unsaid became as important as what was said. Yet, as they left New Delhi this weekend, after a summit conference of 101 nonaligned states, many delegates acknowledged that, despite an unbalanced political declaration - in which the United States was chastised 11 times - hard economic considerations dictated that the world's developing nations clearly needed the West.
Thus, there were subtle olive branches extended at this seventh summit of nonaligned nations. No responsibility was assigned for the nonstart of global negotiations - which the summit called for again - between the industrialized northern nations and the developing states of the southern tier. A confidential letter regarding such negotiations, from President Reagan to Gen. Mohammed Hussain Ershad of Bangladesh, chairman of the ''Group of 77'' developing nations , was referred to by a number of delegates as containing some elements that were positive.
Socialist Algeria stressed the need for a moderate, less doctrinaire economic approach; and the wings of the economic chairman Nicaragua were clipped by a number of fellow socialists. Industrialized nations and their multinationals were thus not indicted for the evils of the world and in the economic declaration there was a bit of knuckle-tapping for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, along with the West, for their inadequate assistance and development aid.
''Even though it's never articulated,'' said an Egyptian delegate, ''North means the United States and Western Europe. The Soviet Union, as a source of assistance, hasn't been mentioned in any of my talks. And, as we found out in Egypt, when you make economic deals with the Soviets, they're never to your advantage. Thus, even the socialists in the movement realize with whom we must have an economic dialogue.''
Calling for an energy financing organization, underwritten by the World Bank, the nonaligned implicitly de-emphasized proposals for a Bretton Woods-style conference to restructure the primary institutions of the world's economy. It was also a tacit admission of one of the summit's harsher realities of economic life: the oil giants within the movement made it clear that they were prepared to do little more than they haveto redress the developing countries' poverty.
(The purse strings of many member nations are held by the oil-rich Gulf. Saudi Arabia sent a low-level delegation to the summit, and both the emir of Kuwait and the president of the United Arab Emirates left New Delhi as soon as they addressed the summit's plenary.)
''What is needed,'' said Sri Lanka's seemingly tireless President J. R. Jayawardene, ''is something to emulate the boldness and wisdom of a new Marshall Plan. . . . As I speak, a child dies every two seconds for want of shelter or food, and I want to tell this to the leaders of the developed world.''
He proposed as a first step the establishment of a committee of chiefs of government or state, two from each region, to meet the leaders of Japan, West Germany, France, Britain, the Soviet Union and the US. Their mandate: to press for emergency financial measures aimed at global recovery.
This proposal, along with a call for an international conference on currency and finance and the adoption of a series of immediate economic measures in the fields of food, energy, and rescheduling of the developing world's colossalexternal debt - now estimated at $540 billion - were among the summit's strongest appeals.
This very recognition and growing momentum for global economic reform, and the need for self-help among developing nations - the South-South dialogue - blunted much of the economic rhetoric normally directed against the West, as delegates worked around the clock in marathon sessions to devise a common nonaligned stand to present at the United Nations conference on trade and development, to be held in Belgrade in June.
Food, science, technology, trade, and finance were among those areas in which the South was deemed able to help itself and, at the same time, to increase its leverage in any future North-South dialogue.
Yet there were also inherent contradictions in the areas of South-South exchange, such as the rise of third-world multinational companies or the hesitation by the more advanced of the nonaligned members to accept sometimes second-rate technology. Radical nations argued that ''modernization does not mean Westernization;'' while, among moderate states, there was the muted but tacit admission that they would prefer to deal with their Western benefactors on a bilateral basis, rather than collectively.
''We ask not for charity or philanthropy, but sound economic sense,'' chairman Indira Gandhi said in appealing to the powers of the industrialized West. ''Humankind is balancing on the brink of the collapse of the world economic system and annihilation through nuclear war. . . .''
In the group's appeal for disarmament, there were contradictions again. Thirty-eight percent of all conventional arms purchases are made by nonaligned states; in 1981 poor nations, according to Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, spent $80 billion ''in proxy wars fought in third-world nations with Western and Russian arms.'' His controversial suggestion: that smaller nations seek a ''defense umbrella'' from one or more of the major powers without involvement in their conflicts, thus diverting money spent on arms purchases into development.