What Is Happening at the United Nations?
SOMETHING is happening at the United Nations. Startling developments are taking place that are going to affect your future. World leaders are very optimistic about them. Consider their words:
“Forty five years after its birth, after being long paralyzed, the [United Nations] is unfolding itself before our eyes, and is now emerging as a true judge, setting forth the law and endeavouring to enforce it.”—President François Mitterrand of France to the 45th session of the UN General Assembly, September 24, 1990.
At this same meeting, former Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze observed that “one cannot help being satisfied at the unprecedented unity of the [UN] Security Council . . . The positions taken by members of [the United Nations] Organization give the Security Council the mandate to go as far as the interests of world peace will require.”
A few days later, President George Bush of the United States addressed the UN General Assembly. The changes he saw inspired him to say: “Not since 1945 have we seen the real possibility of using the United Nations as it was designed—as a center for international collective security.” He said this because “the United Nations reacted with such historic unity and resolve” to the Persian Gulf crisis. “For the first time, the U.N. Security Council is beginning to work as it was designed to work.” He also said: “The United Nations can help bring about a new day” if its members ‘leave terrible weapons behind.’ By doing this, they can complete the “historic movement towards a new world order and a long era of peace.”
Mr. Guido de Marco, president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, shared this optimism. He proclaimed glowingly: “The dawn of a new system based on friendship and cooperation between the major powers is on the horizon. . . . These developments have revitalized the United Nations Organisation.” He said that “the role of the General Assembly as the focal point of international discussion and deliberation, has been reaffirmed in an impressive manner.” Because of this, he further stated: “The world no longer lives in the shadow of a possible Armageddon sparked by ideological competition.”
What were “these developments” that catapulted the United Nations into this long-hoped-for position of prestige and influence? What sparked such optimism that prompted world leaders to speak hopefully of “a new world order and a long era of peace” free from the risk of a nuclear Armageddon?
What Brought the Change?
“The ending of the cold war [in Europe],” answered UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar in his 1990 report on the work of the United Nations. For decades that tense situation “bred chronic suspicion and fear and polarized the world.” He noted that the “concept of security [that] has begun to emerge is precisely the one the United Nations has been expounding all through the years.”
Yes, it seemed that the nations were finally learning, the secretary-general said, that “an obsession with military security results in a self-perpetuating arms race, . . . constrains political dialogue, . . . and aggravates the sense of insecurity in all nations.” And what did this new attitude produce?
A spirit of warm cooperation and mutual trust began pervading the summit meetings of the superpowers. As this spirit developed, they no longer felt the need for the same level of heavily armed military forces to serve as deterrents in strategic locations in Europe. The Berlin Wall came down. Germany was united. A number of Eastern European countries set up new governments, giving their citizens freedoms they had never enjoyed before. Closed borders were opened to tourism, cultural exchanges, commerce, and trade. And to top it all off, the Soviet Union and the United States began praising the United Nations and trumpeting the need to use it as a viable force in the world’s quest for peace and security.
Keeping a Realistic View
Were you surprised by these sudden changes? Did you begin to think that, at last, peace and security are on the horizon and that the United Nations is going to play a key role in achieving such aims? In view of what has happened, the optimism is understandable. However, wisdom and history dictate that we keep a realistic view of this possibility.
Note what Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar said in his report: “Twice in this century, after two devastating wars, the possibilities of building a peaceful global order were not fully realized.” President Bush used almost the same words in his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 6, 1991. “Twice before in this century, an entire world was convulsed by war. Twice this century, out of the horrors of war hope emerged for enduring peace. Twice before, those hopes proved to be a distant dream, beyond the grasp of man.”
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker was more specific when he was addressing the UN Security Council. In calling for a UN resolution on using force in the Persian Gulf, he reminded his colleagues that the 1936 Ethiopian “appeal to the League of Nations fell ultimately upon deaf ears. The League’s efforts to redress aggression failed and international disorder and war ensued.” Mr. Baker then pleaded: “We must not let the United Nations go the way of the League of Nations.”
What was the League of Nations? Why was it organized? Why did it fail? The answers to these questions will enable us to appreciate the changes happening at the United Nations.