In October the UN will celebrate its 40th birthday. Many diplomats here say, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, that ``this need not be for the UN the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning.''
The overwhelming majority of nations, large and small, from the West, from the East, from the South, are in favor of revitalizing the United Nations. They see next fall's anniversary as an opportunity for the world community to recommit itself to the UN Charter.
A special preparatory committee, charged with organizing the celebrations, is divided on matters of format and substance. Some Commonwealth nations and nonaligned countries favor a gathering in New York from Oct. 21 to 24 of some 100 chiefs of state, each of whom would be allowed to address the General Assembly for no more than 15 minutes. Their simultaneous presence at UN headquarters would give the UN high visibility and a political boost, they say.
Others think such a gathering would be tantamount to a circus. ``It would look like a universal summit, a summit of summits. It would raise enormous expectations. . . . People everywhere would be disappointed and in the end the UN would be hurt, since it would appear more than ever like a Tower of Babel. What matters is the positions the chiefs of state will take, not the pictures of their shaking hands with one another,'' says Porfirio Munoz-Ledo, the permanent representative of Mexico.
Financially and logistically, such a project would pose immense problems to the UN Secretariat and to the New York police.
Western representatives suggest that chiefs of state come to New York in small groups over the month between the opening of the General Assembly on Sept. 22 and the actual anniversary, Oct. 24.
The committee is equally divided with regard to the drafting of a common declaration by UN member states to mark the occasion. Some would like it to refer to specific and controversial problems such as Palestine, Namibia (South-West Africa), Afghanistan, Kampuchea (Cambodia), and Nicaragua. Others say this would further split and weaken the UN rather than revitalize it. They favor a more philosophical statement that would have a maximum impact and put all nations on record as supporting the United Nations and its purposes.
More than 80, perhaps 100, chiefs of state and of government are reported to be willing to come to New York for the occasion. President Reagan is expected to address the UN for the third time. Margaret Thatcher, Franois Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, Olaf Palme, and Tancredo Neves are among those who have indicated they are interested in attending. -- 30 --