Increased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union have brought the United Nations almost to a standstill. The 38th General Assembly, which has just concluded its session, was largely unproductive, despite intense diplomatic activity.
In a press conference marking the end of the assembly session, US Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick said US positions had come out "reasonably well" in the three-month session. She cited in particular the failure of an effort to expel Israel from the world body.
An old UN hand summed up the situation: "The play that is now being staged at the UN is an East-West drama and no longer, as in recent years, a North-South 'happening.' As the winds of the new cold war blow over the UN, the developing countries, which occupied center stage for years, have now become a supporting cast. They themselves either don't admit it, don't recognize it, or cannot adapt to their new, diminished role."
The problems dividing the East and West blocs are so serious that those splitting the industrial North from the developing South have become secondary. The nonaligned movement has managed to survive. But third-world countries are being told by representatives of one or the other superpower "not to meddle" on issues dealing with security.
From the start, the 38th General Assembly felt the chill of the US-Soviet propaganda war. The shooting down of the Korean airliner by the Soviets overshadowed the traditional concerns of the General Assembly.
Some Western diplomats are pleased with the downturn in the UN's influence. Referring to the developing nations, a Western diplomat says: "The dog still barks, but it has stopped biting. All is relatively quiet on the southern front.Not much fuss about Namibia, about global negotiations, about the deployment of the Pershing missiles in Western Europe, or even about expelling Israel from the United Nations."
An Asian ambassador admits: "There was little or no movement on the traditional issues: Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Middle East, Namibia, the Falklands."
"By the same token, the UN was repeatedly submitted to new shocks as the United States invaded Grenada, as some of the South Korean Cabinet was blown up in Burma, as the Turkish Cypriots set up an independent state on their territory. What we are watching is a return to the concept that might makes right in foreign affairs," says a high UN offical.
Many diplomats still believe in the UN. "One must wait for better times, for a new US-USSR thaw . . . for a more mature, less strident approach by many third-world radicals, for a time when it will become evident again that talking is better than shooting," says one diplomat.