LAST January, the United Nations Security Council, for the first time ever, met at the summit. Heads of government of the 15 members took their nations' seats at the table solemnly to define the Council's responsibility in the maintenance of international peace and security. Challenges in the preceding, tumultuous three years - in the Persian Gulf, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Africa, and Central America - had already broadened the Council's scope in previously unimagined ways.
A new blueprint was needed to meet the demands of a new time, and the Council laid out a truly revolutionary proposition. "The absence of war and military conflicts among states," it said, "does not in itself ensure international peace and security.
The nonmilitary sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian, and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security." This means that the enforcement power given the Security Council by the UN Charter, to meet threats or breaches of the peace with economic sanctions or military action, could be extended to a wide range of national policies.
Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was asked to suggest ways to strengthen this new dimension of preventive diplomacy, as well as peacemaking and peacekeeping. He is to reply by July 1.
There are already differences over how the Council should get information that sounds an alarm. The secretary-general thinks the UN should have its own intelligence to keep it from being manipulated. However, the idea of a UN intelligence service inside their borders does not appeal to most countries. The United States and others say that cross-checked information from a multiplicity of national agencies is likely to be reliable and cheaper.
In Iraq, a number of nations have pitched in to point to violations of the Council's strict disarmament orders. Three times a week, a US Air Force U-2 sets out from a base in Saudi Arabia on a high altitude photoreconnaissance mission that may last as long as seven hours. Iraq has no say in the route it flies and its pictures provide a record of visible changes on the ground.
Secret intelligence has provided other leads, but the UN's most effective instrument has been the Special Commission. This small international group of highly trained technicians, working hand in hand with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was created by the Council. Its mission is to find and and eliminate all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons together with their production facilities and the medium-range missiles that would carry them. The commission can remain active for years unt il the reliable, long-term monitoring program that Iraq's Saddam Hussein refuses to accept is at last in place.
The Special Commission is the executive arm of the Security Council in Iraq. It could be the model for giving the early warning that preventive diplomacy needs to forestall international dangers. UN officials point to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially chemicals that can be made for pennies. The poor man's atomic bomb, they are called, and, it is argued, there is no need to wait for war to break out before neutralizing them.
Treaties take long to negotiate and are not adequate protection. Saddam signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and nominally placed his nuclear facilities under IAEA inspection. Nevertheless, under cover, he devoted $10 billion and 10,000 men to developing a nuclear weapons capability, elements of which still exist. Knowledge of the arms trade might have made it possible to cope with the menace before it became a tragedy.
A good case could be made for the Security Council having an intrusive inspection agency working on the basis of information that justifies such drastic intervention. The veto power in the hands of the five permanent members would be reasonable insurance against misuse.
In fact, how does the world prevent another Chernobyl? Other ecological dangers also endanger the overcrowded globe. And there are countries whose corrupt or incompetent leaders, hiding behind sovereignty and noninterference in domestic affairs, destroy their economies and drive their people to seek refuge abroad. What of those who harbor international terrorists? And those unable or unwilling to cope with drug traffic?
The Security Council summit invited the secretary-general to cover, as well, the need for adequate material and financial resources to support its expanded agenda. In the light of the poor payment record of the US, above all others, that might really be the mission impossible.