The commemoration of the 40th anniversary summit session of the United Nations General Assembly was to boost the world body's morale at a time when the organization is under fire from many of its own members. Asked why the UN was celebrating its 40th anniversary rather than waiting until the 50th in 1995, a UN secretariat member replied that without the boost now, ``the organization might not have lasted until then.''
Its critics have assailed the UN and its agencies for ``overpoliticization,'' fiscal irresponsibility, and failure to work out solutions to some of the world's enduring conflicts, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan, Cambodia (Kampuchea), Namibia, the global debt crisis, and the nuclear and conventional arms races.
Yet in spite of these criticisms, and the few politically motivated absences and boycotts, this special session is turning out to be a success ``far beyond our expections,'' according to UN Assistant Secretary-General Robert Muller.
The congregation of leaders and high-level representatives of many governments has provided the opportunity for some adversaries to meet in a neutral atmosphere.
The anniversary session, which began last week and runs through Friday, during the regular mid-September to mid-December session of the General Assembly, has been billed as a commemoration rather than as a celebration.
UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar said the commemoration was intended ``to encourage a rededication by member states to the principles and purposes of the [UN] Charter, to promote interest in the work of the organization and support for its efforts, and to reinvigorate international cooperation in all fields of human endeavor.''
Yet during speeches, few speakers could resist interjecting at least some of their complaints against their adversaries.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra accused the United States of directing and financing ``state terrorism'' against his country. Senegal's President Abdou Diouf, acting president of the Organization of African Unity, blamed multinational corporations and ``certain Western countries'' for helping perpetuate apartheid, South Africa's system of strict racial separation.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, singled out ``terrorism'' by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a primary cause of the Middle East conflict, while Libya's Foreign Minister Ali Treiki branded Israel's government a ``racist Zionist regime'' that constitutes a world peril.
Nevertheless, most delegates stayed closer to the secretary-general's guidelines. Austrian Chancellor Fred Sinowatz offered several proposals for strengthing the UN. He recommended that:
The UN Security Council be more conscious of its responsibility to maintain international peace, and take concrete steps to improve its capacities for dealing with conflict.
The UN membership support a more active role for the secretary-general in dealing with international crises.
UN peacekeeping operations be recognized as an important means of strengthening interntional security.
UN members realize that the resolution of pressing economic and social problems is key to stable world order.
Mr. Sinowatz also proposed that the assembly establish a task force to study reform proposals made by anniversary-session speakers and report the findings to next year's General Assembly.
There have been a few discordant notes at the special session. At least two bomb scares closed off the entrance to the Secretariat building during commemorative speeches. The Arab delegation walked out of the assembly hall when Israel's Premier Peres rose to speak. For a number of political reasons, some leaders who had been expected to attend the commemorative General Assembly session canceled.
Nevertheless, this assembly session is attracting a record number of world leaders. Outside the General Assembly hall, anniversary events ranged from the solemnly ceremonial to the near-frivolous.
The secretary-general and assembly President, Jaime de Pinies, gave a series of glittering receptions, luncheons, and dinners for the visiting officials. Similar functions -- sometimes half a dozen or more within a 24-hour period -- were hosted by delegations in UN dining rooms, at Manhattan hotels, at embassies, and at ambassadorial residences.
The events were an opportunity for adversary delegates who would not otherwise meet to find themselves side by side under the aegis of a neutral host. Thus, both South Korean Prime Minister Lho Shin Yong and North Korean Third Vice-President Pak Sung Chul were on the guest list for a dinner sponsored by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Other adversaries conferred directly -- through Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's intermediation, or at social functions. Pakistan's President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq and Mr. Gandhi scheduled a bilateral meeting. Prime Minister Turgut Ozal of Turkey and President Spyros Kyprianou of Cyprus are on Gandhi's dinner list, as are the East German and West German delegation leaders.