The extraordinary summit meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York crystallized in one place and time the extraordinary changes in the world of the past two years.
It displayed the new importance the world places in that body, now that its five permanent, veto-wielding members agree on vexing problems to be solved. The heads of government symbolically gave new assignments to the new secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who in turn could remind the biggest deadbeat members, the United States and Russia, that the U.N. cannot take on expensive tasks if members' bills go unpaid.
It was Boris Yeltsin's first step out of Russia's crisis onto the
stage as world statesman. Giving him a bilateral meeting at Camp David this weekend with President Bush, which may outweigh the U.N. meeting in lasting import, was a byproduct.
It marked Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng's growing strength on the Chinese scene and highlighted a truth the West finds unpalatable: The Communist gerontocracy of Beijing is doing all right, thank you. Its leaders did what we once said couldn't work, which was to crush dissent in the political classes of the north of China while maintaining market-economy reforms in the productive south of China. Mr. Li is on a world tour aimed at ending the isolation that followed his crackdown, without concessions on human rights. This should strengthen his own standing in the succession in Beijing. 'Tis true 'tis pity; and pity 'tis 'tis true.
The summit provided a platform to British Prime Minister John Major, who presided because Britain is current president of the council. And that, in the opinion of many, is why the summit occurred. Mr. Major's government has a 50-50 chance of surviving an election to be held by midsummer, odds slightly better today than yesterday.
It gave Japan's new Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and India's new Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao a chance to spotlight the anachronism of an institution based on the world order of 1945, denying their nations permanent seats and veto-equality with China, France and Britain. Most prominent in this group -- by his very absence -- was German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Germany is not on the Security Council this year. Imagine a world summit on important matters without the dominant power of Europe!
The summit also gave President Bush an opportunity to do whahe does best, which is superpower politicking on the world stage, at a time of sagging prospects in domestic politicking.
Coincidentally, the meeting allowed anyone who objects to anything to do something at United Nations Plaza that is forbidden in Tiananmen Square: namely, to demonstrate peacefully against perceived outrage. To borrow a line from a classic New Yorker cartoon, it doesn't take much to collect a crowd in New York these days.