THE upheaval in the Soviet Union and lessons learned during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis are expected to dominate much of the 46th session of the United Nations General Assembly.The recent Soviet action provides a dramatic curtain raiser for the new session beginning today. The superpower's internal shifts directly affect its UN membership and could spur a major Security Council change. The former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, are expected to win early admission to the UN, but are in line behind four applicants already endorsed by the Council and awaiting Assembly approval: North Korea, South Korea, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia. Soviet authorities are encouraging Soviet republics to apply for membership. These would join the Ukraine and Byelorussia, longtime UN members now flexing new muscle. (See story below.) The open question - one unlikely to be settled soon - is how the changes will affect the Soviet Union's permanent Security Council seat. Much may depend on whether the Russian Republic casts itself as the successor state, taking on the Soviet Union's treaty rights and obligations. Beijing's replacement of Taipei in China's seat two decades ago was, by contrast, a question of credentials since both claimed to govern the same country. "Russia is not the same country as the Soviet Union," says Richard Gardner, a professor of international law at Columbia University. The Council seat, he says, cannot be inherited by a confederation when its component states intend to apply for separate membership. "The real question is whether anybody will object," Mr. Gardner says. "I think this is one of the big sleeper issues before the UN." Even raising the question could open a Pandora's Box of issues members have avoided, such as whether to expand Council membership and reconsider rules governing the veto. After tabling Council reform for the last 10 years, the Assembly has put the item on this year's agenda.
Tying up loose ends Though about to end his second five-year term, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is still energetically juggling several last-minute peace efforts. He is an active intermediary in new efforts to seek the release of Western hostages in Lebanon. Last week he was in Iran tying up loose ends from the Iran-Iraq war and working on the hostage issue. He was to mediate yesterday and today in New York between the government of El Salvador and leftist rebels. And the search for his replacement continues, though action on this is expected by October. Other peace efforts under UN auspices are also under way. The UN role in the Arab-Israeli peace talks, if they occur, is expected to be marginal. But the UN will host the Cyprus peace talks expected to take place in Washington later this fall. The Security Council's five permanent members have also been trying to nudge the four warring groups in Cambodia toward a comprehensive peace plan by year's end. The strength of the UN's largely united stand against Iraq's aggression in Kuwait - the subject of 15 tough Security Council resolutions in the past year - has brought it new respect and is the most visible aspect of US-Soviet cooperation after the cold war. Edward Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the USA, an organization that annually compiles a book on issues before the Assembly, says he expects continued good relations among Council members.
'Hard to get a good fight' "If anything, there's going to be pressure to move more quickly to solve international problems so they [the Soviets] can get on with their domestic agenda," Mr. Luck says. Much the same kind of consensus that prevailed last year in the Security Council held in the Assembly as well. "It's hard to get a good fight going in the General Assembly these days," jokes Fred Eckhard, a UN spokesman for the Assembly. Yet some issues on the Assembly agenda, such as the environment, may cause controversy. Recent Geneva meetings of the preparatory committee for the UN environment conference in Rio de Janeiro next June made little progress. Developing countries want to be sure they are compensated for the expense of trying to avoid harm to the environment. The Assembly may pick up on those complaints. Unresolved issues from the Iraq-Kuwait war such as the Western effort to keep economic sanctions firmly in place until Iraq complies fully with Council resolution may get an Assembly hearing. Some UN members regard the sanctions as harsh, and the Assembly might pass a nonbinding resolution to that effect.
Arms-control enthusiasm Concern over Iraq's ample supply of biological and chemical weapons, and its recently discovered nuclear capabilities, has prompted new enthusiasm for arms control as well as tougher policing by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. During the summer China and France said they intended to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In July, the Security Council's five permanent members held talks in Paris aimed at putting limits on conventional arms sales, particularly in the Middle East. The Counc il meets again in October. Enthusiasm for a UN registry of arms sales is also growing. "I think the whole issue of the proliferation of weapons around the world is going to be one of the growing preoccupations of the UN," Gardner says. One area where the UN is winning increasing plaudits for its usefulness is in monitoring elections, as it did in Nicaragua, Namibia and Haiti. UN officials will help supervise a January referendum in Western Sahara, where voters will choose independence or integration with Morocco. Also, if a Cambodian peace plan is ready, UN officials may monitor elections there too. Last year, in formally accepting the UN's role in elections, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to report on ways to standardize and promote free elections.