The United Nations turns 40 in October and is planning a public relations-style birthday party that will attract dozens of world leaders in a summit session that officials hope will counter disillusionment with the world body.
For security reasons, U.N. officials will say little about the high-level visitors expected to wind up the 40th anniversary celebration.
But it seems likely that they will include President Reagan and French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, possibly, the Soviet leader, whether that is Konstantin U. Chernenko or a successor.
The last Soviet chief to visit here--in 1960 for the 15th General Assembly--was Nikita S. Khrushchev, whose shoe-pounding heckling of the Spanish foreign minister is well-remembered in U.N. annals, as was Khrushchev's bear hug for another visitor, Fidel Castro.
Events of Another Time
Castro had only recently stated his Marxist allegiance, the Soviet Union was angry at the United States over a spying incident, and all the powers were uneasy about Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's handling of the post-independence crisis in the Congo, now Zaire.
The session was marked by acrimony and uproar. At one point, General Assembly President Frederick Boland broke his gavel vainly trying to restore order.
Now, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar hopes for a peaceful, constructive commemorative session--to conclude with the adoption of a declaration of the members' rededication to the U.N. Charter. He is shooting for the target date of Oct. 24, the date in 1945 when it went into force.
Perez de Cuellar is conscious of disillusionment and disappointment with the United Nations in some countries, particularly the United States.
He and other senior officials hope the attendance of world leaders, in a symbolic show of their support, may help allay today's negative perceptions of the world body among many private citizens.
Assistant Secretary General Robert Muller, a veteran French official who is in charge of planning the commemoration, says the United Nations has had to contend with such perceptions from its earliest days, even when hopes for its peacekeeping potential were at their highest.
Some scholars contend that President Harry S. Truman signed the U.N. Charter only reluctantly in 1945, shortly after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
Muller declared: "From the moment you didn't have (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt with a policy to utilize the United Nations as an organization to bring the big powers to run this world--from that moment on, when there was a break between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War, the United Nations was bound no longer to be what it had been in the mind of Roosevelt."
Cases of Effectiveness
He cited a study by Harvard Professor Louis Sohn of postwar political incidents and crises, in which "the U.N. has been able to solve problems or prevent serious outbreaks" about half the time.
Responding to critics such as former U.S. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who has said the United Nations exacerbates conflicts, even to those who believe that the world would be better off without the organization, Muller drew a medical analogy.
"Not everyone who enters a hospital comes out cured," he said, "but no one has ever said we should do away with hospitals."
The 40th anniversary ceremonies will get under way in June with three days of meetings in San Francisco, where the Charter was completed on June 26, 1945. Vice President George Bush is expected to head the U.S. delegation.
Muller said several member states plan national celebrations but that the main focus will be on the event here in October.