Foreign ministers from the nonaligned nations gather here Monday with the fragile cloak of unity in which the movement likes to wrap itself threatened by a war between two of its members and widely differing views on how to react to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.
A week of lower level meetings appeared today to have failed to gloss over obvious differences among the more than 90 nations and organizations represented at the meeting as Islamic states insisted that the movement call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and Asian nations pressed for a condemnation of Vietnam.
Moreover, Iran has demanded the ouster of Iraq from the movement because of the two nations' five-month-old Persian Gulf war and hard-line Arab nations want Egypt -- one of the founders of nonalignment -- expelled because it signed the Camp David accords and made a separate peace with Israel.
Since all positions are arrived at by consensus, the movement appears to face the dilemma here next week of remaining as a force to be reckoned with in the world while sliding over the divisive issues facing it in the interest of preserving the facade of nonaligned unity.
"The question of winning and losing does not arise in a family," conference spokesman J.N. Dixit, an Indian diplomat, said today in dodging a question on which view prevailed in a debate in the political committee.
Yet there are major differences between members; some involve superpower disputes while others are of mainly regional interest.
There is, for example, no consensus on either Cambodia or Afghanistan -- both of vital interest to members of the movement -- and the only big shooting war between nations going on at the moment is between two non-aligned states, Iran and Iraq.
Strong pressure has developed here this week in preliminary discussions among diplomats to amend the Indian-prepared draft declaration -- which merely called for a settlement in Afghanistan -- to push for the withdrawal of foreign troops. An amendment offered Friday by Pakistan closely followed the lines of a November U.N. resolution, but it did not mention the Soviet Union by name.
The main activity on the Afghan front, however, may take place in private session when U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim arrives here Tuesday. There have been indications that Pakistan is willing to sit down to talks with the Soviet-installed Afghan government of Babrak Karmal, but it remains unclear under what conditions. Moreover, Iran, which was to be a third party to those talks, has refused to deal with the Babrak forces under any conditions.
While it is clear there has been some movement in the part months toward nudging Pakistan and Afghanistan closer to talks, it appears unlikely that the meetings will take place here next week and even more uncertain what they will accomplish, since the rebel bands that actually fight Soviet and Afghan troops will not be included.
The talks could, however, accomplish a prime Moscow aim of gaining recognition for the Babrak government from Pakistan and perhaps other Islamic nations. Some non-aligned diplomats here also believe that any new flexibility exhibited by the Soviets in pushing the talks is aimed mainly at influencing delegats to this nonaligned conference.
On Cambodia -- another major devisive issue -- Vietnam has accused Singapore of being an agent of imperialism, fascism and part of the Sino-American axis for trying, with Indonesia and Malaysia, to have the Hanoi government condemned for its 1979 invasion that installed the Heng Samrin government in power.
The three Association of Southeast Asian Nations nations want the overthrown Pol Pot forces, which still hold Cambodia's U.N. seat, to be listed as the official delegate to this conference and complained about the "high-handed way" Cuba, as nonaligned chairman, took the seat from them at the Havana summit.
It appears that neither side will be seated here as, once again, no consensus has developed.
The debate, however, has created a bloc consisting of the ASEAN and other noncommunist nations, including Pakistan and some Islamic states to confront Cuba, Vietnam and other Soviet allies on Afghanistan and Cambodia.
Dixit, for instance, revealed tonight that there is a move to omit any references to the U.S. naval base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia from the section of the declaration dealing with keeping the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.
Sources within the conference said this is being done to eliminate any pro-Moscow bias since the Soviet bases in the region are not being specifically mentioned.
It appears unlikely that the conference will act on the call for Egypt's expulsion, especially since the large group of African nations oppose it, or on Iran's demand for the ouster of Iraq. Nor is it expected to tackle other battles between member states, such as the Algerian-Moroccan dispute over the Sahara desert or Libya's intervention in Chad.
The movement is far more fragmented today than it was 20 years ago, when it held its first summit conference in Belgrade. At that event, which will be commemorated Wednesday as the birth of the nonaligned movement, it offered itself as an alternative between the big power blocs of East and West.
Now, however, many of those same nations owe primary allegiance to such regional blocs as the Organization of African Unity, all of whose members belong to the nonaligned movement, or ASEAN or to groupings such as the Islamic Conference. Except at the United Nations, where the nonaligned nations form a substantial bloc, the nonaligned movement has lost influence in the world during the last 20 years.
Even Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whose father Jawaharlal Hehru was one of the movement's founders, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post in December that nonaligment had lost power, probably because it had grown so large that many members fail to follow its principles. There were 24 members at the Belgrade summit 20 years ago.
The current member states account for almost three-fifths of the nations of the world.