LAST week's United Nations Security Council agreement on Cambodia was an important step forward. For the first time, the five permanent members of the council - Britain, France, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States - arrived at a consensus on that strife-torn land. Their plan calls for a cease-fire, formation of an interim Supreme National Council, and a substantial UN presence to monitor the military situation and prepare the way for elections. The next step is considerably more difficult. Cambodia's warring parties have to arrive at a consensus themselves, in order to implement the Security Council's proposals. The biggest obstacle, as always, is the role to be played by the Khmer Rouge, whose reign of terror from 1975 to 1978 set a standard for horror in the name of ideology.
The Khmer Rouge will press for strong representation on the Supreme National Council. UN guidelines don't specify how this body will be formed, only that it mirror various shades of opinion within Cambodia and that members be mutually acceptable. The latter requirement, of course, portends tough bargaining when the Cambodian parties meet in Jakarta this Wednesday.
China's participation in the Security Council decision means the Khmer Rouge's chief arms supplier is pushing for resolution of the 11-year conflict, rather than feeding it. The US and Soviet Union have also channeled weapons supplies into Cambodia's war. With big-power competition ebbing, the arms flow should be squeezed off.
Another knotty problem is the size and shape of a UN monitoring force. Estimates of 10,000 peacekeeping soldiers and 10,000 UN civil servants to administer the country have been aired. But a commitment of that size seems unlikely, given the practical difficulties posed by Cambodia's rugged physical and economic conditions. UN monitors are much more likely to check the actions of government officials already in place than to take over administration of the country themselves.
However it evolves, the plan for Cambodia is further evidence - along with the unified stance against Iraq - that the UN is gaining new vigor in a world shucking off cold-war dogmas.