15 MARCH 1957, Page 14

Likee Utopia?

By STRIX New York

HESE'LL do,' said the nice man who was I. showing me round. We took our places in two chairs marked respectively NORWAY and CUBA.

The eleven members of the Security Council sit in a horseshoe. Each delegate has a little squad of three or four advisers grouped tightly behind him, like seconds huddling round a boxer's corner after the bell has ordered them out of the ring. On the wall behind the President a vast mural painting by a Scandinavian artist sytn-• bolises 'the promise of future peace and individual freedom.' Opposite this—opposite the open end of the horseshoe—rise the public benches. These were packed. High up under the ceiling on either side are two rows of small windows. Behind one row the interpreters discharge with an un- canny precision their never-ending task; the other windows are the eyes and ears of the press and radio, and in one of them a red light now came on as a television camera focused on Sir Firoz Khan Noon, who began to read, not par- ticularly well, a statement about Kashmir.

Fastened to our chairs, were tiny 'microphones attached to concave plastic containers rather like small soap-dishes. You fit the container over one ear and regulate by means of a switch the lan- guage in which you receive the speech. You have a choice of five—English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese—and if you were dexterous enough and had a good ear you could I suppose in time acquire quite a large vocabulary in any of these languages; for the interpreters are always a shade behind the speakers, and by switching quickly from Channel 1 to Channel 5 you would soon become master of the Chinese for 'totally inadmissible,' ulterior motives,' colonialism run riot' and others of the phrases with which the path towards world government is paved.

Neither Pakistan nor India is at present a mem- ber of the Security Council, but both had been invited to present their views on this old Kashmir quarrel; on the previous day a Russian veto had blocked one line of approach to its settlement, and now, at the instance of America and Britain, a slightly different formula was being considered. So when Sir Firoz Khan Noon had finished his (as I thought) moderate and even conciliatory discourse, it was Mr. Khrishna. Menon's turn.

Mr. Menon is an actor. His performances do not always endear him to the other members of the cast, or even to the audience; but it is im- possible to deny him star quality. A day or two earlier he had collapsed in mid-harangue, and a grey-haired doctaT now sat solicitously at his elbow. With just the hint of a stagger Mr. Menon rose to ask, on a note of righteous indignation, for a recess. The last thing he wanted to do was to waste the Security Council's time, but the ob- servations of the delegate for Pakistan had been so tendentious and misleading that he felt obliged to prepare a refutation instead of (as he had in- tended) merely restating India's position in formal terms. He wanted a quarter of an hour in whjch to limber up.

The Security Council clearly quailed at this prospect. While they canvassed the matter, a feel- ing of being personally anomalous left me. At first this feeling had been strong. Here I was, smoking a pipe on a chair marked NORWAY, quite possibly nestling abaft Sir Firoz Khan Noon's left ear on millions of television screens. A few moments earlier Sir Pierson Dixon had left his corner of the ring to exchange words with me. As far as I could see, there was nothing to stop me from writing on the back of an envelope, 'Formosa is being invaded. Mr. Tsiang is wanted urgently on the telephone,' passing it to the cheer- ful Chinese understrapper in front of me, and then, with a few deprecating nods and bows, moving forward to occupy China's seat on the Security Council.

It would have needed a more brazen, an otherwise-adjusted character to put my sens dim practicable to the test. But meanwhile I had found my own level as a non-combatant in the curious arena in which the world's conscience plays under a fierce limelight the same central and absolutely indispensable part as the rope does in a tug-of-war. I was not in a council chamber; I was on a stage, trespassing among the players like the snuff-taking gallants who insisted on carrying their stools into the wings of the Restora- tion theatres.

But this was no ordinary stage, and these were no ordinary actors. For one thing, they were all playing to different audiences. When the Russia ' delegate rose to announce that he would abstain from voting on the amendment (thus making it reasonably certain that it would be carried), he was not seeking to impress the serried tiers of tourists and schoolgirls who looked down on him, or even his distinguished colleagues round the horseshoe table. He was merely doing what his government, for inscrutable reasons, had told him to do. He was striking an attitude on its behalf. Perhaps he and the others were puppets first, actors only incidentally.

It is widely assumed that the UN is ineffective because it is bisected by an ideological gulf; if it went into liquidation tomorrow, nyet would be its epitaph in the minds of disappointed idealists. But if the Iron Curtain and all it stands for did not exist, if there were only the normal interplay of self-interest and mutual distrust, the normal incompatibilities of race and religion and national outlook, surely the United Nations would still be crippled by the fallacy on which its charter is based—the fallacy that human affairs are best regulated, not by negotiation, but by passing public resolutions and striking moral attitudes? Especially if the resolutions cannot be enforced, especially if the attitudes are often patently insincere.

There are doubtless several reasons why the Americans are on the whole more disposed than we are to take the United Nations seriously. One of them—perhaps not the least cogent—is that a great many Americans, besides knowing the dele- gate as television personalities, have seen and explored the 39-storey steel and glass building on' the bank of the East River which houses the UN. headquarters. All day long conducted tours troop round its spacious corridors, throng the Girt Shop, and scrutinise the exhibits in a sort of embryo museum; these include blow-pipes and fishhooks from trusteeship territories, photo- graphs of the earliest committees, instruments of ratification, and the first United Nations flag to be Misted in Korea. In the crowded book-store the eyes of (one presumes) connoisseurs scan a wide range of titles: The Place of Sport in Educa- tion : a Comparative Study, Protocole stir les Sttrpefiants, Protein Malnutrition in Brazil, Sup- plementary Interpretations and Instructions for Coding Causes of Death, Education Politique des Femmes, Trade Union Rights in Czechoslovakia —there is something for every taste.

Outside in the frosty sunlight a sixteen-foot-tall bronze Amazon holds aloft, despite the frenzied caracoling of her horse, an olive branch in one hand and a globe in the other; she symbolises peace, and was the gift of Yugoslavia. On the terraces cameras click and whir as the pilgrims immor- talise their visit to the shrine. To them the United Nations Organisation will always be something more than the nebulotq abstraction, the cue for platitudes on the one hand or music-hall jokes on the other, which it is to most Of us. For them it represents a reality, like Niagara Falls.

Politeness demands that I should say that it now. represents a reality for me, too; but I don't think that reality was the impression uppermost in my mind as I left the United Nations and, after Crossing First Avenue in the van of a small, rather cmy anti-British demonstration carrying placards it Cyprus, made for the interior of the island.