TAKEN aback by unexpectedly strong international indignation, Moscow is pausing in its crackdown on the democratic movements in the Baltic republics. The world's democracies can make the Kremlin's resumption of repression even more costly politically if they respond with action in multilateral forums as well as with bilateral measures. Given Moscow's recent warm embrace of international institutions and the reluctance of the Bush administration to risk gains in Soviet-American relations by sanctions, mu ltilateral options may be the best available. Some corrective pressures can be exerted in regional forums, such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Other pressures to nudge Moscow back on the path toward democratization should be pursued in a variety of United Nations bodies.
No one expects the Security Council to take up the question of Soviet actions in the Baltic republics. The USSR would veto any council action, insisting that the crackdowns in the republics are an internal affair. More fruitful places for bringing international pressure to bear are the UN's human rights bodies, UNESCO, the World Bank, and the World Court.
Members of the UN Human Rights Commission should announce their intention to subject Moscow's assaults in Vilnius and Riga to close commission scrutiny. Having ratified the international covenant on civil and political rights, the Soviet government is accountable to the UN for any breach of treaty obligations. A UN fact-finder shouldn't have a hard time finding violations of such covenant mandates as ``freedom of expression,'' the ``right of peaceful assembly,'' and the ``right of self-determination'' b y which peoples ``freely determine their political status.''
The hard-liners in the Kremlin face the awkward prospect not only of censure by former Warsaw Pact allies that belong to these bodies, but also of embarrassment by others even closer to home. By a historical anomaly, Byelorussia and Ukraine enjoy UN membership, and their long-docile ``foreign'' ministries, now friskily independent, have a major stake in shoring up Moscow's respect for the political rights of the republics. The Ukrainians have become particularly feisty, proclaiming to the UN General Ass embly last fall their intention of becoming ``a neutral state that will not participate in military blocs.''
Even the relatively conservative Byelorussian government has declared its intention to ban nuclear weapons from its territory. Their advocacy in UN forums of the republics' sovereignty in foreign affairs might serve to counter hard-liners' demands for further crackdowns by Moscow and reinforce the strong commitment to Baltic self-determination voiced by the foreign ministry of the Russian Republic.
An alarming shift in Moscow's mood in January was signaled by Gorbachev's call for repeal of new legislation guaranteeing press freedom. Communication policy is a major concern of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which in 1989, after long controversy, rededicated itself with Soviet endorsement to the free flow of information. Since UNESCO's rules allow any affected party to file a complaint of rights violations, the Lithuanian government should activate the agency's con fidential hearing machinery with a complaint about the brutal takeover of its broadcasting facilities.
UNESCO member states (the United States is not one) should insist on a statement from top UNESCO officials calling for the restoration of free broadcasting in the Soviet Union. Just last year UNESCO put at the helm of its communication program an ethnic Lithuanian, Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, who had been deputy director of Soviet television. He could speak to the Soviets with authority about media freedom. Through such measures the world community can apply preemptive political pressure on Soviet authorit ies before the die of repression is cast. The leverage of international bodies is not great, but they lend legitimacy to the struggle against repression, reinforcing any unilateral actions of Western governments.
Of course, economic realities will carry more weight with Soviet hardliners than will public embarrassment. The Soviet Union, anxious to gain access to new capital, is now eager to join the World Bank. Brussels, Tokyo, and Washington, with the largest blocks of Bank votes, should announce their opposition to Moscow's membership so long as repression in the republics continues.
The legal status of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia is the kind of issue that can usefully be referred to the World Court. If the three Baltic republics were to apply for UN membership, the Security Council could ask the court for its advisory opinion on their claims to statehood.)
In recent years Gorbachev himself has invited the UN to take the lead in preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. The world community should do just that in all the relevant UN bodies to protect the people of the Soviet Union's republics during this time of troubles - even if those in the Kremlin may now have second thoughts.