Ronald Reagan gave the United Nations a good stiff dose of Ronald Reagan yesterday. The place is not accustomed to hearing, from someone who truly believes it, that freedom is "the universal right of all God's children." But it is a noble, necessary and American message, and one doubly worth underlining on the 40th birthday of an organization that has often seemed to forget its own founding impulse. Why shouldn't all nations be judged by their respect for the goals the United Nations adopted at its birth?
The hard news of Mr. Reagan's speech was his proposal for a "regional peace process" centering on five countries -- Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola -- where American-supported resistance movements are battling Marxist regimes backed by Soviet power. The Reagan proposal would require these regimes to negotiate -- none now does -- with the guerrillas. Moscow and Washington would then sit down to "verify elimination of the foreign military presence"; in all five countries that would amount to eliminating a Soviet-bloc presence. Each country would then be "welcomed back into the world economy" -- into the Western fold. Short of progress, "America's support for struggling democratic resistance forces must not and shall not cease" -- perhaps an unprecedented announcement in a forum composed of sitting governments.
Why would Moscow want to consider negotiating on these self-evidently one-sided terms? Because implicitly the president allots a place in the permanent scheme of things, although not necessarily a governing place, to the Marxist "warring parties" under attack. And because, also implicitly, he offers Moscow a kind of long-sought global political parity, a legitimate role in addressing regional disputes, and not only in Afghanistan, where the Russian interest has traditionally been accepted, but also in Nicaragua, where under the Monroe Doctrine no foreign interference has been countenanced in 162 years.
It's not so much a policy that Mr. Reagan enunciated as an intriguing but somewhat vague set of maybes, not fully approved, even within the administration. In the real world, Afghanistan, of the five places cited, is the closest to a live negotiation, but it's not very live. The Soviets won't consider withdrawing their troops until they can be sure they leave a regime of their choice behind; the resistance resists. The American judgment is that the Russians aren't yet hurting enough to negotiate. Certainly it would be startling if the Russians accepted Mr. Reagan's suggestion of yesterday and sat down with the mujaheddin.