Photo: UN Day Concert of 2018 entitled “Traditions of Peace and Non-violence” featuring Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan with The Refugee Orchestra Project. UN Photo/Loey Felipe - Photo: 2019

Renewal and Reform Are Challenges of the UN Day

Viewpoint by Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

GENEVA (IDN) – The dreams of vast horizons of the Soul
                            Through dreams made whole,
                            Unfettered free … help me!
                            Help me make our world anew –
Langston Hughes

The United Nations remains the only universally representative and comprehensively empowered body the world has to deal with threats to international peace and security, to promote human rights, and to foster ecologically-sound development worldwide.

However, the nature of the threats to international security have changed since the UN Charter came into force on October 24, 1945.  The United Nations, just as the national governments which are its members have difficulties meeting these new challenges, such as climate change.

The United Nations was born with the start of the Cold War (1945-1990). In the early months of 1945, it was evident that Nazi Germany would be defeated and that the Soviet Union would be facing the three Western allies: the USA, the UK, and France in that order. The war with Japan, while important militarily, never had the same intellectual impact on the drafters of the UN Charter that had the war on Germany.

At the creation of the United Nations, there was a two-pronged view of security. One prong looked to disputes which could lead to aggression and which should be met by cooperative military action through agreement within the Security Council. The second prong focused upon the need for social and economic advancement of all peoples.

This two-pronged approach arose from an analysis of the events leading to the Second World War: territorial disputes which led to armed aggression and a world-wide economic crisis which led to political dictatorship and nationalistic economic policies blocking cooperative economic action.

Although the Soviet Union was widely considered as a “revolutionary” government, its main aim, as that of the Western States, was to maintain the status quo and the then current division of power. The Cold War structured international relations. Although there were dangerous moments and an expensive arms build-up, the period 1945-1990 was one of little change.

The end of formal colonialism in the early 1960s brought a multitude of new States into the UN but their impact on the Cold War structures was little. The aim stressed by the States of the “Third World” was “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” – aims which were part of the UN goals from the start. While much of the UN system is devoted to helping the developing world, there were few changes in the dominant socio-economic system during the Cold War period.

As Gwynne Dyer had written in early 1946 “The United Nations was not founded by popular demand. It was created by governments who were terrified by where the existing system was leading them and could not afford to ignore the grim realities of the situation by taking refuge in the comforting myths about independence and national security that pass for truth in domestic political discourse. The people who actually have the responsibility for running foreign policy in most countries, and especially in the great powers, know that the present international system is in potentially terminal trouble and many of them have drawn the necessary conclusion.”

It was the breakup of the Soviet Union along with the disintegration of Yugoslavia that put an end to Cold War structures and their ideological justifications. Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, the UN has had difficulty in finding its role in armed conflicts both within States and among States.  The UN’s current difficulties are a reflection of the tests and trials of humanity moving into a world society where the forces of world unity play a more dominant role than the forces of separation and limited solidarities as we have seen with the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Mali and a number of other African countries.

Thus, there is a need for renewal within the UN system. There are few creative proposals coming from the representatives of national governments. Some reforms can be taken under the responsibility of the Secretary-General but only within the limits set by the most powerful of the member governments.

Some proposals have been made by non-governmental groups, but the only major non-governmental movement at present is that on the consequences of climate change. On climate change, there are relatively few specific proposals – just a very generalized call that governments “should do something”.

Thus, this October 24 can be a day of celebration for all the useful actions undertaken by the UN and its many Specialized Agencies, but it is also a day to discuss strengthening and reform. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 October 2019]

Photo: UN Day Concert of 2018 entitled “Traditions of Peace and Non-violence” featuring Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan with The Refugee Orchestra Project. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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