The Parade Magazine issue of June 24 that is an insert in Sunday Newspapers across the country carried a front page article questioning whether the United Nations still matters. To even consider if the UN matters reflects an appalling lack of knowledge about this world institution, and a limited perspective of the world in which we live. A major problem is that people often condemn the UN for actions it takes as if the UN were a separate organization divorced from national governments. This is not the case. The UN is composed of national governments and they make the decisions for the UN to carry out. When people are displeased with UN voting, they should vent their anger at the governments that cast the vote and not the staff of the UN.
There is a simple answer to achieve a better and more competent United Nations, and this is to elect better and more competent people with a clear vision of the future to lead the national governments, and this includes parliaments and the U.S. Congress. This is sadly missing in today’s world. Active support must also come from peace organizations instead of just lip service that is devoid of active programs.
People should be aware the United Nations has produced international law that greatly benefits humanity every day. This includes such mundane matters as mailing international letters. It’s the UN agency named the Universal Postal Union (UPU) that regulates and ensures mail delivery. Another UN Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has greatly helped to make flight the safest mode of travel. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made great contributions on safety for ships at sea. And thanks to this UN agency, pollution from tankers has been reduced as much as 60 percent.
Other UN agencies such as UNICEF conduct programs that save the lives of millions of children every year. UNESCO provides training for teachers and builds schools, protects our human heritage, and conducts important scientific conferences. The World Health Organization (WHO) works to combat disease and improve health for all people. The UN Development Program (UNDP) works in over 160 countries helping people to meet their development goals and lead a better life. The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) has helped some 50 million refugees restart their lives. There are over 30 of these UN agencies that perform a vital role every day for the world community. And don’t forget the UN Peacekeeping forces that have maintained peace in many regions for decades that otherwise would have erupted into war.
While news and information about the myriad of activities of this world organization are regularly reported in the media of most countries, it’s quite the opposite in the United States, where very little positive news concerning the United Nations is reported in the mainstream press. In many states, the United Nations is omitted from the school history books. In the developing world, which includes the vast majority of humanity, the blue flag of the UN is welcomed and recognized as people helping people to resolve crucial issues. “In the developing countries, the UN doesn’t mean frustration, confrontation, or condemnation,” said Ecuador’s delegate Miguel A. Albornoz, “it means environmental sanitation, agricultural production, telecommunications, the fight against illiteracy, the great struggle against poverty, ignorance, and disease.”
Many people who work for the UN in its humanitarian efforts often endure difficult and dangerous conditions. These heroic people should be honored and recognized for their work. Focusing on individuals that make a real contribution to humankind might help to overcome the superficial, celebrity-worshipping culture that is sadly dominant in our country today.
As with any organization, there is need for change and reform. The UN’s chief architect, President Franklin Roosevelt, said as much in his last speech before Congress: “No plan is perfect. Whatever is adopted at San Francisco will doubtless have to be amended time and again over the years, just as our own Constitution has been. No one can say exactly how long any plan will last. Peace can endure only so long as humanity really insists upon it, and is willing to work for it, and sacrifice for it.”
One thing is clear: The United Nations has a vital role to perform in the crucial years ahead. It is the only international institution that, with full support, can realistically lead to the global governance that is imperative to meet the great challenge ahead. This includes the establishment of enforceable international law to end the war business, achieve disarmament, eradicate poverty, establish a sustainable environment, protect human rights, and create the foundation for the new civilization that is mandatory for the twenty-first century.
With war and the spread of nuclear weapons posing a new threat to civilization, we should recall and act upon the wisdom of President Kennedy as stated in his inaugural address: “To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support…”
Douglas Mattern is president of the Association of World Citizens, and author of LOOKING FOR SQUARE TWO - Moving from War and Violence to Global Community ISBN 1589823575 - Available on Amazon.com