The United Nations—A Better Way?
THE preamble to the United Nations Charter expresses these noble aims: “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, . . . and [desiring] to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, . . . have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”
Did the UN “accomplish these aims”? Did it get the nations to unite their strength and maintain peace and security? No, not so far, although the UN has sincerely tried to be a significantly better way than the League of Nations. However, the generation that saw its establishment in 1945 has since been scourged by wars, revolutions, invasions, coups, and aggression in many parts of the earth. And this violence involved many of the nations that had resolved to “maintain international peace and security.”
Not the Better Way Yet
Critics who decry the failure of the United Nations to prevent these woes, though, may be forgetting an important fact—the strength of an organization depends on the power its charter gives it and on the commitment of its constituents to carry out their obligations under said charter. First of all, the United Nations Charter does not set up the UN as a world government with supreme power over all its member nations.
Article 2(7) decrees: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” UNCIO (United Nations Conference on International Organization), which met in San Francisco from April 25 to June 26, 1945, to finalize the charter, deemed it necessary “to make sure that the United Nations under prevalent world conditions should not go beyond acceptable limits or exceed due limitations.”
Did you notice that qualifying phrase, “under prevalent world conditions”? If these were to change, UNCIO claimed that this ruling could be developed “as the state of the world, the public opinion of the world, and the factual interdependence of the world makes it necessary and appropriate.”
The chartered purpose of the United Nations to maintain “international peace and security” expresses a desirable goal for mankind. The world would indeed be far more secure if the nations obeyed Article 2(4) of the UN Charter: “All Members shall refrain . . . from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” But self-interest of member nations has repeatedly hamstrung the efforts of the UN toward achieving its purpose. Rather than living up to their UN commitment to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means,” nations or whole blocs of nations have often resorted to war, claiming that the ‘matter was essentially within their domestic jurisdiction.’—Article 2(3,7).
Not only have nations ignored UN peace procedures but they have flouted and openly defied its rulings for settling conflicts. And their statesmen have frequently mounted the UN rostrum and delivered long speeches trying to justify their acts of aggression. This skirting of rules that were enacted to maintain peace has all too often paralyzed the UN at critical times and has severely damaged its credibility. UN officials who sit through such sessions are often frustrated. In the end, such talk usually proves to be mere sophistry that attempts to minimize or justify the violence and bloodshed taking place. No wonder UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said that the UN “was regarded in some circles as a tower of Babel and at best a venue for often fruitless diplomatic parleys.”
There is another reason why the UN has had difficulty proving itself to be that better way. When it began functioning on October 24, 1945, “no coherent strategy of peace was put in place,” observed Pérez de Cuéllar. Without this, how could the United Nations become the viable force for securing world peace that it was intended to be?
What Kind of Peace Could It Achieve?
Pérez de Cuéllar answers: “Peace will not bring the cessation of all conflict. It will only make conflicts manageable through means other than force or intimidation. . . . The United Nations seeks to train our vision towards that end.” So the only peace that the UN can achieve is control of violence.
Is this really peace with security? True, “membership in the United Nations is open to all . . . peace-loving states.” (Article 4(1)) But will a nation that is peace-loving when it joins the UN stay that way? Governments change, and new rulers bring in new policies. What if a member turns radical, with extreme nationalistic aims and covetous territorial ambitions? And what if it begins arming itself with nuclear and chemical weapons? The United Nations would now have a ticking time bomb on its hands. Yet, as recent events in the Middle East show, such a turn of events may be the very thing to move the nations to empower the UN to remove this threat to their security.
Can the Nations Make It a Better Way?
As never before, the nations are becoming increasingly aware of what UNCIO called “the factual interdependence of the world.” No state can live unto itself anymore. The nations are all members of one international community. All are contending with a series of common problems: the devastating effects of ecological pollution, poverty, debilitating diseases, illicit drug trade on every continent, terrorism, sophisticated nuclear weapons in the arsenals of a growing list of nations. These factors are forcing the nations either to seek peace and security through the auspices of the United Nations or to commit global suicide.
Former Soviet foreign minister Shevardnadze observed: “The United Nations can function effectively if it has a mandate from its members, if states agree on a voluntary and temporary basis to delegate to it a portion of their sovereign rights and to entrust it with performing certain tasks in the interests of the majority.” He added: “Only in this way can we make the period of peace lasting and irreversible.”
If this could be done, then the UN’s voice of jurisdiction could authoritatively denounce any nation threatening the peace of the world. With real power at its disposal, it could suppress such aggressors forcefully and swiftly. But will UN member nations ever give it this mandate, ‘making available their armed forces, assistance and facilities’ to secure peace? (Article 43(1)) They might—if a crisis threatened to undermine the very foundation upon which their respective national sovereignties rest. If the nations see that ‘uniting their strength to maintain international peace and security’ under UN auspices could remove such threats, this might increase their respect for it.
Perhaps you are wondering, ‘Was the UN’s role in the Persian Gulf crisis a start in this direction?’ It could be. Many nations were confronted with the possible calamitous collapse of their economies. And if their interwoven economies crashed, so would the entire world’s. So the nations rallied together under the United Nations. The Security Council passed a series of UN resolutions to end the crisis peacefully, and when this failed, it backed a UN resolution on the use of force in the Gulf.
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, in calling for this resolution, said: “History has now given us another chance. With the cold war behind us, we now have the chance to build a world which was envisioned by the founders of . . . the United Nations. We have the chance to make this Security Council and this United Nations true instruments for peace and for justice across the globe. . . . We must fulfill our common vision of a peaceful and just post-cold-war world.” And he observed concerning their debate about the use of force in the Gulf: “[It] will, I think, rank as one of the most important in the history of the United Nations. It will surely do much to determine the future of this body.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that the United Nations is going to play a major role in world events in the very near future. No doubt these developments will be very exciting. And the results will have a far-reaching impact on your life. We urge you to ask Jehovah’s Witnesses in your neighborhood for more details on this matter. The Bible clearly paints a picture showing that the United Nations will very shortly be given power and authority. The UN will then do some very astonishing things that may well amaze you. And you will be thrilled to learn that there is yet a better way near at hand that will surely bring eternal peace and security!
[Picture on page 9]
Guido de Marco, president of the UN General Assembly (right), and Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar at the 45th session of the Assembly
UN photo 176104/Milton Grant