Settled Out of Court ?
From OUR UN CORRESPONDENT
• NEW YORK
THE chances of a solution to the crucial problem of Russia's potential loss of vote in the General Assembly because of her non- payment of peace-keeping dues at present appear to hinge op the discovery of a situation-saving. device. A device, that is to say, which would both satisfy the insistence of the United States, Britain and their supporters that the Soviet debt
i be met and allow the Russians to meet it by some means other than direct payment of the Peace-keeping expenses to which they have always refused to contribute. An attempt to bring this about was initiated privately by America and Britain towards the middle of March, and the outcome is still uncertain despite intervening developments which temporarily transferred the move from the flexible recesses of the backstage shadows to the 'hard position' glare of the public limelight.
The impending crisis is known in UN short- hand as 'Article 19.' This Article of the Charter provides, in part, that a member State whose arrears equal the amount of its due contributions for the past two years 'shall have no vote in the General Assembly.' The Soviet Union's arrears reached this point on January 1 this year, and to avoid being penalised the Russians would have to pay $5,800,000 of their $52,600,000 indebted- ness for peace-keeping costs. This they have resolutely refused to do. The United States and Britain have, however, held exploratory conversa- tions with the Soviet Union in which they out- lined a general framework for possible future negotiations. The details were left fluid, and amany points have yet to be worked out. The cen- intention, however, was, and is, an offer to the Soviet Union, and other countries in danger of losing their vote, to place renewed emphasis On the role of the Security Council as the organ ,°asically responsible for authorising peace- Keeping operations, provided—and th s is a sine ,q,"9 non--that the delinquent countries pay up their arrears. Russia's refusal to contribute to ;Ile peace-keeping expenses has, of course, been paged upon the argument that they were 'illegal' been ordered operations they financed had neither th:nCon ordered by the Council nor (in the case of Congo) had the Council's directives been Properly discharged. Another feature of the American-British pro- P°salsenvisages the establishment of a financing .trimittee which, in recommending peace-keep- ing assessments to the Assembly, would PaY special attention to the interests of the major con- tributing nations. It is sometimes forgotten that the Soviet Union, with an assessment of 14.97 per cent of the total, is—or should be—the second largest contributor to the UN budget. The United States comes first, with 32.02 per cent, and Britain third, sv:th 7.58 per cent.
For the first two weeks or so, the joint approach remained a backstage operation. But the United States and Britain had also informed all other members of the UN that the demarche had been made. Few secrets stay so for long when they are shared by 113 delegations, and this was no exception. The story was 'leaked' to the press, and its publication produced a fierce statement by the Soviet mission to the UN, reiterating the Russian position in uncompromising terms, and warning of the possible 'break-up' of the UN.
It is common knowledge here that there have been many couloir approaches by Eastern Euro- pean delegates; and others, urging attempts to arrive at a settlement which would circumvent the problem of direct payment by the Russians. Adlai Stevenson has himself indicated the West is amenable to such suggestions, provided—and here is the essential point—that the debts are in fact paid.
The Western position is, in effect, that there is `no wish to light a fire underneath the Russians,' as one official put it recently in private conver- sation, and that if the Russians are prepared to try and find a way to pay, a way can unques- tionably be found. For example, If the Soviet Union were to send a cheque to the Secretary- General for some such vague purpose as 'UN expenses,' he would be unlikely to refuse it. One suggestion which has been mentioned in- formally is that the Russians, in response to the round-robin appeal issued by the Secretary- General, might be prepared to make an extra- large-scale contribution to the financing of the UN Force in Cyprus, since the dispatch of the
force, was authorised by the Security Council and the Soviet Union voted in favour.
Yet even if this immediate crisis were resolved, there would still remain the intractable long- range problem of putting the UN's peace- keeping finance system on to a stable foundation for the future; and here America and Britain hope their joint approach, with its stress on the poWers of the Security Council, may prove fruit- ful, at least as a jumping-off point.
Just what concrete inducements could be offered to the Russians regarding the role of the Council was not immediately apparent. The Western powers realise quite as well as the Soviet Union that under the Charter the Council is, indeed, the organ primarily resixinsible for the maintenance of peace and security; however, it would be .virtually unthinkable that they could consider placing future peace-keeping activities at the mercy of the Russian veto by reversing to any appreciable extent the central purpose of the controversial 'Uniting for Peace' resolution, adopted in 1950 over vehement Soviet oppo- sition. The resolution empowers the Assembly to take action in cases of aggression when the Council is deadlocked by the veto.
Despite these difficulties, it is hoped that pro- cedures may be worked out which will appeal to the Russians by reasserting and guaranteeing the authority and responsibility of the Council. The joint dOmarche provides an opportunity to get the dangerous stalemate off dead centre, if the Russians wish to take advantage of it; and regardless of the tough statement they issued to the press, it is felt that this in essence is where the situation still stands. An opportunity to feel the Russian pulse will soon present itself. Later this month, a new series of closed-door meetings is to be started by the twenty-one-nation working group set up by the Assembly in 1961 to attempt a solution to the whole complex problem of UN peace-keeping finances.