This article diverges from my usual business focus, but the role and importance of the United Nations are something about which I feel passionately, so I’m publishing this piece herein. I welcome your thoughts and feedback, either via email or as a comment here.
For years I have been amazed as I’ve listened to people here in the United States demonstrate their complete ignorance of the purpose and tremendous value of the United Nations, even to the point of our country not paying dues to the organization. Ambassador to the United Nations has often been viewed as a second-class or B-level diplomatic job and with the current Presidential perspective, the UN has become a troublesome entity and the appointment of an Ambassador a hassle. John Bolton, denied the appointment, knows what I’m talking about here.
To understand what value the United Nations brings to the world, you have to start out by understanding where the UN came from…
The year is 1919 and the nations of the world have just suffered the ravages of the first truly worldwide war, World War I. In response, the war-ending Treaty of Versailles spawns the League of Nations “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” Brilliant idea, but the Treaty itself was so fundamentally flawed that World War II occurred anyway, even with the efforts of the League, and so the League was disbanded during WWII.
In 1942, during the worst hours of World War II, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech to the nation, a speech called the “Declaration by United Nations” during which representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. That speech is commonly considered the formative event of the United Nations, and in 1945, when World War II was ending, representatives from 50 nations met and drew up the United Nations Charter, formally creating the organization.
The UN was not meant to bring “permanent peace in our times” but from the beginning to offer a venue for argument, dispute settlement and discussions about how nations could both be responsible members of the global community and stand up for their own rights and needs as individual nations, as unique cultures and communities of their own too.
When I hear people say “but all people ever do in the UN is argue” I nod my head, but I think “of course! That’s the point, the very essence, the true value of the UN!” And it is: imagine a world without the United Nations. How do countries then argue about border disputes or settlers meandering onto unclaimed lands or trade disparities, or refugees from warring areas, or … all the many, many topics that are heard on the UN assembly floor? You and I both know how these would all be settled: through bloody and violent warfare, warfare where innocent third parties, where children, families and even passionate young men and women would be killed, all because their governments had no venue to yell and have a calmer third party offer a path towards peace, settlement and a solution.
That the United Nations has a peacekeeping force is brilliant, but even without it, even if the UN were simply a meeting place where nations could argue, complain and disagree, I would be adamant in my support. How can you not support something so critical to the cause of world peace?
But the United Nations does so much more, with its health and welfare efforts. One example: if you are a supporter of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, did you know that the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965? Or that UNICEF always rebuilds schools in countries affected by terrible natural disasters so that children can continue to learn and grow? No organization I know has been more active with AIDS education in the third world, with helping women — and girls — have a voice and see the same freedoms men see in different cultures, with ensuring widespread availability of important immunizations to help with the health of everyone in the community. Go on, take a moment and check out the UNICEF Annual Report for 2004 to see even more about what this organization does to help children throughout the world, regardless of race, color, creed, or religion.
Perhaps nowhere has the UN played a more important role than in the volatile Middle East and particularly with Israel and its unceasing dispute with the Palestinians. The UN has been helping that powder keg from exploding over all of us since June of 1948: UN observers and missions have been in the region for over fifty years and it was UN envoy Ralph Bunche who is widely credited with negotiating the cease fire between the Arab nations and the newly formed nation of Israel in 1949. I, for one, am darn appreciative.
I don’t dispute that the United Nations is an imperfect organization and that some of its efforts and leaders let their zeal and personal politics get in the way of their better judgment. “Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone,” however: I expect an organization that represents the vast majority of nations on our planet — the only organization that even tries to accomplish this important task — to be flawed. It’s about whether the value of the UN overcomes any shortcomings and, of course, it does.
You can see from my writing here, I’m passionate in my support of the United Nations, and I’m proud to be a long-time supporter of UNICEF and the other efforts of the United Nations.
That’s why it’s remarkable to me that our government would not only attempt to appoint a mediocre candidate to the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations (and really, what position can be more important in terms of the US view being represented in the always-changing loose consensus of world peace?) but then that it be rumored that President Bush would bypass Congress — the voice of our nation — and consider appointing Bolten as temporary ambassador to the UN directly?
The irony, of course, is that the very myopia that causes members of the US government to be blind to the tremendous value and import of an organization that truly represents the views of the downtrodden, the third world, the poorer nations and the disenfranchised is also the same government that would move to circumvent the representative voice of its own citizens and appoint someone who is not suitable for the job, has never been part of the diplomatic corps, is clearly not a brilliant statesman, and who just doesn’t really understand the role of the United Nations and how it, not the United States, steers the ship of world peace, how it frequently steers our volatile world away from the brink of World War III.
But then again, we can’t even pay our organizational dues and claim that unlike other nations our efforts under the aegis of the United Nations (our troops being part of peacekeeping efforts, for example) should nullify any debt. Yet the IRS, for example, has specific rulings saying that “payment in services” cannot be deducted. Some branches of government apparently think that debt can be paid through services rendered, while others don’t.
My view? Let’s figure out what we owe, probably something around $1 billion (which sounds like a lot until you look at how our national budget is allocated today and how much per day we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan), pay it, even over 2-3 years as necessary and get back in good standing with the United Nations. Then, for our own sakes and the sake of our children and the world at large, let’s identify and put forward a truly global ambassador, a man or woman who will represent our own interests at the United Nations and help create a world that is more peaceful, safer, and sane.
That’s the best thing we can do to promote a better world, after all, isn’t it?