The "last hope" of mankind, it has been called. But after four decades the United Nations, like the world it represents, totters on the brink of oblivion.
IT WAS in San Francisco, June 26, 1945 — a truly historic place and time that the signing of the Charter of the United Nations occurred. Most of the victorious powers of World War II had gathered in the California city to draft a program for the postwar world. The Charter was the fruit of the labors of representatives of more than four dozen nations. Later that year, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations officially was born with 51 member states.
Aim: Prevent Major War
The first article of the Charter outlines the aim those representatives had in mind in establishing the United Nations — "to maintain international peace and security." This hope is more eloquently expressed in the foreword to the Charter. In it the signatory nations pledged "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought sorrow to mankind." The signers further pledged that "armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest." Article 2 contains other basic principles such as the sovereign equality of its members (assuring one vote for each member country now grown to 159), regardless of size; that disputes are to be settled by peaceful means; and that members undertake not to use force or the threat of force in contravention of the purposes of the United Nations. To prevent meddling within the affairs of each state, however, Article 2 stipulates that the United Nations shall not intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any member nation. Since those idealistic days 40 years ago more than 100 armed conflicts have plagued the world, though thankfully none of them have been nuclear — yet. Hardly a month has gone by without fighting on some battlefield. The world has witnessed the often pathetic plight of undermanned U.N. peace forces. In southern Lebanon, they are completely outmaneuvered by combatants who almost pretend that U.N. soldiers aren't even in the vicinity. Other wars, such as the bloody Iran-Iraq war, rage on with no influence exerted by the United Nations whatsoever. United Nations peacekeeping capacity, even if it were realistically effective, is further rendered impotent by the ever — present threat of big power veto in the U.N.'s Security Council, the organization's only decision — making body. Since many of the world's conflicts arise out of the global East-West struggle for power, threatened vetoes by either the Soviet Union or the United States assure non-action on the most serious challenges to world peace.
Making Matters Worse
Not only has the United Nations been locked into its own self-paralysis, many secondary conflicts, assert U.N. critics, are actually made worse. This is because the General Assembly, which deliberates world issues and recommends action by the Security Council, quickly evolved, after its founding, into a forum for nations to argue in much the same way as political parties assault each other within a national parliament. Said retired U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the General Assembly does indeed operate. much like a parliament or congress. There are parties, only here they are called the Western powers, the Afro-Asian-Third World bloc, and nonaligned states (many of whom are part of the second or Soviet "party" as well). Moscow, Mrs. Kirkpatrick further asserted, has learned how to play the U.N. political game well, far better than Washington. The Soviet Union works hard at swinging other nations over to its viewpoint. In turn, it supports the newer nations of Africa and Asia regarding their particular concerns, thus building a sizable Soviet — Third World coalition on many key issues. Because of the politics practiced in the United Nations, not only are major issues left virtually unattended, many regional disputes are often elevated to world crisis level. As a result, said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, "what goes on in the U.N. actually exacerbates conflicts.... All kinds of countries that don't have any direct interest in a conflict get involved in it. As a result, you might say all conflict is globalized." The U.N. General Assembly,. even some of its hard-pressed supporters in the Western World admit, has become skewed in its perceptions of what are and what are not true world problems. While wars rage in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, and famine threatens to take the lives of millions in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations continues to focus primarily on events in the Middle East and southern Africa. These two areas are interlinked. South Africa is repeatedly denounced for its racial policies, and the General Assembly, 10 years ago, declared that Zionism, the political movement that brought Jewish people back to their ancient homeland, is "a form of racism." This focus is further enhanced by the presence at nearly all meetings of the United Nations of two unofficial political groups that do not represent nations at all — the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the South-West Africa People's Organization. The latter, known as SWAPO, is a Marxist body fighting for control of South-West Africa/Namibia. SWAPO has been designated by the United Nations as the "sole legitimate representative of the Namibian people." Last summer, the author visited the new and huge U.N. complex in Vienna, Austria. After being shown one of the general plenary halls, I asked the guide who used the chairs at each side of the presiding officer's tables at the front of the hall. They were for the nonvoting representatives of the PLO and SWAPO, came the reply. The PLO once even took part in a U.N. conference on civil aviation and airplane hijacking! In 1980 a resolution was adopted by 118 votes to 10 in the General Assembly (with 15 abstentions). Before we proceed, remember that Article 2 of the U.N. Charter proclaims that "all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means" and that "all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly approved resolution reaffirmed "the legitimacy of the struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa and their liberation movement by all available means, including armed struggle for the seizure of power by the people...." Little wonder that a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations once called it "a very dangerous place."
Because of the deteriorating climate it should come as no surprise that a crisis is building inside the intricate web of international organizations constructed since the end of World War II. Not only is the United Nations affected directly, but so are the 15 other related agencies, the most recognizable being the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. On the last day of 1984, the United States formally relinquished its membership in UNESCO. With its departure, Washington also withdrew its 25 percent budget appropriation. Great Britain, a short while earlier, began its own termination process, giving the mandatory one-year notice of withdrawal, effective the end of 1985. And in a rather sudden announcement, issued December 28, 1984, the prosperous Southeast Asian island-nation of Singapore said it too would withdraw at the end of 1985, citing the escalating cost of membership. Several other Western nations have announced they are seriously reviewing their membership status. Twenty-four nations have demanded reforms inside UNESCO. Their leverage should be considerable since eight of these nations pay a large proportion — 72 percent — of the agency's annual $375 million budget. UNESCO is the largest of 15 U.N. — specialized agencies. It began in 1946 with 28 nations (and a US$7 million budget) to share the Western industrial states' ideas and know — how with the developing nations. Reducing world illiteracy was a major objective. Another task was the preservation of endangered cultural landmarks. Over the years, however, UNESCO, like the United Nations itself, has changed, especially as it has added new members. It numbers 161 (two more than the United Nations itself) and has become, say critics, more involved in the same political controversies as the United Nations itself, rather than in education and culture.
U.S. to Leave U.N.?
What is often overlooked in examining the United Nations today, especially by critical Americans, is that they unwittingly reject what were, at the inception of the U.N., the lofty ideals of its major founder, the United States. For instance, after World War II, the United States leaned heavily on its Western world friends such as the British, the Dutch, the French and the Portuguese to give up their empires. The hope — long since dashed — was that the liberated colonies would join their former overlords in the common bonds of world cooperation. It hasn't entirely worked out that way. "What has happened in the United Nations and UNESCO," wrote William Pfaff in the January 2, 1984, International Herald Tribune, "is thus the direct result of things long sought and finally obtained by the U.S. government.... "The United Nations and UNESCO, these world organizations of nations — one vote for each nation, universal self-determination, with every political entity, however minuscule, set up as a proper state having its place in these world councils — represent the success of American policy in the 1940s and 1950s. "But now America doesn't like it. Majority votes in the General Assembly and UNESCO are hostile. Washington now wants to be rid of these infuriating organs of world opinion. World opinion has been expressing not the lofty idealism of liberated mankind as imagined by Americans but the tawdry reality of international life." Perhaps the most significant outcome of the UNESCO affair is that by leaving the Paris — based agency, the United States could be laying a philosophical foundation for one day leaving the United Nations itself. Such a move, if it were to take place, would mean that the United Nations, headquartered in New York City, would have to leave the United States. American journalist George F. Will is in the forefront of U.S. journalists urging consideration of such a move. Shortly after the United States announced its intention, in late 1983, to leave UNESCO, he wrote: "Leaving UNESCO... would help Americans get used to the idea of leaving the United Nations.... In 1985,. the United Nations will be 40 years old, its nature fully formed and well-known." The United States did threaten to leave in 1982 after Israel was condemned in a U.N. resolution as a "non peace-loving state" after its military incursion into Lebanon. (Article 4 of the U.N. Charter states that the organization is only open to "peace-loving states.") In the article "The Broken Promise of the United Nations," published in the October 1983 Reader's Digest, author Ralph Kinney Bennett wrote, "Only a U.S. threat to take its moneybag and leave the U.N. prevented such 'peace-loving' states as the Soviet Union, Libya and Cuba from throwing Israel out." That was when Charles Lichenstein, then America's assistant U.N. ambassador, said that if the United Nations decided to leave New York City, he and many other Americans would be down at dockside waving good-bye. Should the United States pull out of the United Nations and the U.N. headquarters be forced to leave New York City, many observers believe its likely new home would be Vienna. A gigantic complex known officially as the Vienna International Center houses the United Nations' second European operation (after Geneva). The facilities used by the United Nations (known as U.N. City) were built jointly by the Austrian government and the city government of Vienna to attract U.N. business. A few, generally second-level, U.N. agencies and U.N. — specialized operations are there now. The United Nations pays a symbolic one-schilling-a-year rent. If the United Nations were forced to relocate to Europe, the Vienna facilities would probably be selected over the older Geneva operation (consisting of the pre-World War II League of Nations buildings). The Soviet Union would undoubtedly prefer Vienna, which is not only a neutral East-West "bridge," but is geographically close to the Soviet bloc. Should the move to Vienna take place, it would indicate a shift in power and influence away from the United States. The United States has housed the headquarters of the United Nations since its own ascendancy to first superpower status in 1945. Should the United States tell the United Nations to pack up, the majority of Americans might cheer — not realizing it would at the same time graphically reflect their own nation's relative decline. As Hans J. Morgenthau wrote in his classic text Politics Among Nations, "The shift from one favorite meeting place to another symbolizes a shift in the preponderance of power." This highly probable shift would also enhance the prestige of Europe and play no small role in any future realignment of the nations of Eastern and Western Europe.
U.N. Found Wanting
Regardless of where the United Nations maintains its headquarters, one thing is certain as it arrives at its 40th birthday. In the Bible, the number 40 connotes a time of observation, trial and testing. Forty years after its founding, the dis-United Nations, with its many conflicts, divisions and acrimony, has been tried and found wanting. The original framers of the U.N. Charter had a noble aspiration: to organize a mechanism for international discussion and cooperation on problems of global significance. The reality of world politics has made a mockery of this lofty idealism. In a world of sovereign, diverse nations, the United Nations as an organization is limited in what it can do. It can only do what its sovereign members, employing age-old techniques of power politics, will, at present, allow it to do. The United Nations is not a world government, as some supreme idealists had dared to hope — not even the embryo of one. Only when nations, in a spirit of mutual understanding, abandon selfish aims and petty quarrels and learn to cooperate for the good of all, will a truly effective world government be possible. And more than that is needed. The late Hans Morgenthau, quoted earlier, remarked that international peace will be achieved "only when nations have surrendered to a higher authority the means of destruction which modern technology has put in their hands when they have given up their sovereignty:" Inscribed on a marble wall at the U.N. headquarters in New York City is a portion of the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 2:4, symbolizing the ultimate goal of the United Nations. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." The first portion of this prophecy — not quoted on the marble wall — provides the answer to how worldwide peace and prosperity will ultimately be achieved: "And he [God] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people...." The world will soon see the realization of its centuries — old dream of permanent peace — not through puny efforts of man, but through divine intervention and the implementation on earth of the supreme government of God.