United Nations needs preeminent position on world stage

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy said, “”To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last, best hope in an age when the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support, to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.””

Pat Leung

When Kennedy said these words, he was not merely invoking a far-off dream that had no chance of becoming reality. Rather, he was attempting to instill in the American people a notion that peace could be successfully pursued only on the world stage, in communication with all the nations of the world: the strong and the weak.

However, widespread distrust of global alliances has always been a natural tendency of Americans, and many Americans were fair in their criticism of the United Nations for being merely a forum for invective.

In this age of international terrorism and uncertain wars against uncertain enemies, it is time that the efforts Kennedy once undertook be redoubled by the current administration. Not only should America increase its use of the United Nations as means of communication and diplomacy, but it should encourage other nations to do the same to strengthen the U.N. General Assembly’s power to intervene and to influence.

Of course, as mentioned above, the United Nations of the early 21st century is far from perfect. The General Assembly accomplishes little in the way of actual progress on the issues that plague society. In fact, about the only things the Assembly or the Office of the Secretary General accomplish are official condemnations of various situations and events.

The recent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil serve as a perfect example of an event that the United Nations condemns, while doing little subsequently to make sure something similar will never happen again.

The Security Council and the other departments of the United Nations are highly bureaucratic and inefficient. They largely serve as smoke-filled rooms for the major players in world politics. Such organizations have the potential to become effective means of progress in international matters if they can streamline communication and increase their authority over international activity.

Reforms are needed if the United Nations is to accomplish and succeed in its true mission: to facilitate a world without war. However, before we can possibly dream such things for the future, we need to understand the history of this imperfect but grand organization.

The idea of an international organization of states came about during the course of World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson, in an effort to justify the slaughter of American troops in Europe, claimed that the war was being fought to make the world safe for democracy. He suggested that the outcome of the war should bring about a League of Nations, which would monitor international affairs and operate under a collective defense clause. However, the treaty of the League of Nations was not approved by the U.S. Senate, and American membership in this early organization was blocked.

Things remained as such until the end of World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that one of his primary goals was the establishment of an international general assembly. This became the United Nations during the Truman administration.

Without a doubt, the most explosive issue the United Nations had to deal with at its outset was the invention of the atomic bomb and the growing conflict between the Western allies, who separated to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Soviet Union. The U.N. General Assembly served as a political arena in which the battles of the Cold War were fought.

Each side tried to convince the rest of the world’s delegates that it was right, that the other side was composed of either capitalist pigs or communist tyrants. Despite the fact that the United Nations sent troops into Korea to fight the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, in general it remained neutral in the Cold War.

It was this neutrality, this inability of the United Nations to side with the United States, that led many Americans to distrust international organizations. We understandably have a natural instinct not to trust foreign countries with the lives of our troops, since any U.N. or NATO forces are made up of mostly Americans.

As the Cold War dragged on, Americans gradually began to lose faith in the United Nations and instead turned inward for solutions to international problems.

The Korean War, for example, was fought by a U.N. military force that included many Americans. The war in Vietnam was based completely on American unilateral foreign policy, conducted with absolute disregard for the court of world or national public opinion.

It was this sort of action that Kennedy sought to prevent when he called for renewed support of the United Nations and its efforts to keep the peace. Unfortunately, when Kennedy was killed, so was legitimate hope for the United Nations to carry on an active role in world affairs in his time.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the United Nations has slowly sunk into obscurity. Today, the opinion of the General Assembly of the United Nations counts for little in any major foreign policy decision. Would President George W. Bush stop the sanctions on Cuba or make some other change in policy if the United Nations recommended it and if the recommendation was sound? Chances are, he or any other American official would hardly consider such a recommendation worth his time.

Such a unilateral mindset prevents the United Nations from achieving its full potential, and that is why today the United Nations’ mission remains a dream and not a reality.

However, in the spirit of the founding of the United Nations, there is always hope. The great assembly of states now faces a crossroads: on one path, it can become an effective congress of the world, which works for the rights of the Third World and for peace among all nations; or it can continue on its present course and become a place where powerful nations seek to gain trade and military advantages over one another, and poor nations sink further into poverty as a result.

For the former to occur, major reforms must take place within and outside the halls of the General Assembly. The different divisions of the United Nations must come under one general authority, so that one department does not create a document to condemn the effects of corporate globalization while another seeks to secure trading rights for American and Chinese companies in Zaire.

Each section of the United Nations needs to be streamlined so that communication between nations, departments and other interest groups becomes quicker and more efficient.

Finally, the leadership of the United Nations must shed its timid role in international conflicts and forget about playing politics with the major powers. When something seems unjust, that situation should be addressed by the entire body of the United Nations and voiced to the rest of the world, no matter who is angered by such honest policy.

As with any great change in society, true change must come in the minds of the people, not the policies of leaders. Racism did not stop with the Civil Rights Act, and isolationism will not stop with the strengthening of the United Nations. Americans must come to perceive themselves as citizens of the world, just as they are citizens of this country.

People must come to view the United Nations as a place where the truth is spoken no matter whom it angers and where justice for all is sought all the time.

Furthermore, when the truth is spoken, it must be acted upon. Declarations of human rights don’t do much to improve human rights. The United Nations needs to be given the power to take real action against injustice, be that action political or military.

In the end, the American goal, with regard to the United Nations, is the same one that Kennedy declared 41 years ago: to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to increase the area in which its writ may run.

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