Sermon for 21 October 2007, 1st Unitarian Church of Alton, Illinois
THE U.N. TODAY AND TOMORROW
Ronald J. Glossop
A. We often fail to appreciate the institutions that keep our society functioning smoothly.
B. For example, we do not often think about the many services provided by our city and state governments--the streets and roads and bridges that we use all the time, the fire and police protection that we take for granted, the schools and hospitals and parks, and so on. The only time when we give them much thought is when these services aren't there when we need them. Then there will be plenty of complaining and blaming.
C. We are even less likely to think much about the many services provided not just to us but to people throughout the world community by the United Nations and the many world-wide organizations and programs connected with it.
II. We can't appreciate and support the U.N. unless we know its history and structure.
A. The U.N. was developed before World War II ended; the Charter was worked out in May-June 1945 in San Francisco before the first atomic bomb was exploded and some months before the end of World War II. The U.N. Charter received enough ratifications to go into effect on Oct. 24, 1945 (U.N. Day).
B. We need to keep in mind the distinction between the U.N. organization proper located in New York on the one hand & the U.N. system made up of many international specialized organizations with headquarters all over the world on the other.
1. The U.N. proper consists of 6 organs or parts. All but the International Court of Justice are located in the UN Building in New York City. The U.N. is a voluntary association of national governments dedicated to dealing with global problems. It is not a government. It cannot make laws. It has no way of enforcing its resolutions, even the theoretically binding resolutions of the Security Council. U.N. Peacekeeping forces are actually only contingents of national military forces which are loaned by national governments to the U.N. for pay for a limited period of time. The U.N.'s only source of financial resources is the voluntary contributions of the member nations, and its tiny annual budget of under 2 billion dollars is less than the budget of any U.S. state.
a. The main organ is the General Assembly where each of the 192 member countries has one vote. It controls the U.N. itself (including the budget), but on inter-national issues it can only adopt non-binding resolutions suggesting action. One of the more important things done by the General Assembly has been the sponsoring of international conferences on matters such as control of population growth, the rights of women, the rights of children, and disarmament. These conferences have marked the start of new international treaties on the oceans, control of nuclear weapons, protection of the environment, and the creation of the International Criminal Court. Under the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the U.S. adopted a policy of refusing to help pay for such international conferences because they were advancing "liberal" causes opposed to views of the religious right. The current battle against U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty is led by these same ultraconservative groups even though ratification is supported by businesses, the military, and much of the Republican Party.
b. Theoretically the most powerful part of the U.N. is the Security Council, which has representatives from the 5 permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia, & the U.S.), each of which can veto any resolution, plus representatives from 10 other countries elected by the General Assembly for 2-yr. terms. Approval of a resolution requires 9 affirmative votes and no veto. In principle all member nations must obey resolutions adopted by the Security Council.
c. The U.N. Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) consisting of representatives of 54 countries oversees the work of the U.N. system to be discussed later.
d. The Trusteeship Council is no longer needed because all the colonial territories previously held in trust have now become independent countries, but it is possible that this council could be given new responsibilities related to protecting the environment.
e. The Secretariat consists of all the employees of the U.N. itself. They are the managers, secretaries, translators, janitors, etc. under control of the Secretary-General. The ambassadors and representatives of the national governments are not U.N. employees but are employed and paid by their own national governments.
f. The International Court of Justice (ICJ or "World Court") located in The Hague, The Netherlands consists of 15 justices, no two of whom can be from the same country. They are elected for 9-year terms by majority vote in both the General Assembly and the Security Council. The ICJ or World Court adjudicates legal disputes between national governments. It is to be distinguished from the recently established Inter-national Criminal Court (ICC) which has the authority to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity
2. The U.N. system consists of 19 specialized agencies (including the International Atomic Energy Agency which reports directly to the General Assembly rather then the Economic and Social Council) plus 13 Subsidiary U.N. Organizations (so 32 total). Several of these organizations such as the International Labor Union and the Universal Postal Union existed before the U.N. was created. If there were a world government, these agencies and organizations would be the departments of that government.
a. Rather than naming all of these specialized agencies, let me just mention a few of the better known ones along with their location.
(1) U.N. Educational, Scientific, & Cultural Organ ( UNESCO) in Paris, France
(2) The World Health Organization ( WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland
(3) The International Civil Aviation Organization ( ICAO) in Montreal, Canada
(4) The International Telecommunications Union ( ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland
(5) The Universal Postal Union ( UPU) in Berne, Switzerland
(6) The International Monetary Fund ( IMF) (located in Washington DC but not
(7-11) The World Bank Group made up of 5 organizations, all in Washington DC
(a) International Bank for Reconstruction & Development ( IBRD)
(b) International Development Association ( IDA),
(c) International Finance Corporation ( IFC),
(d) Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency ( MIGA),
(e) International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (( ICSID)
(12) World Intellectual Property Organization ( WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland
b. The 13 Subsidiary U.N. Programs include the following.
(1) The World Food Program ( WFP)
(2) The U.N. Children's Fund ( UNICEF)
(3) The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR)
(4) The U.N. Development Program ( UNDP)
(5) The U.N. Environmental Program ( UNEP)
(6) The U.N. Fund for Population Activities ( UNFPA)
c. Can you imagine how many people in our world community, especially those in poorer countries and those engaged in international business & travel depend greatly on these agencies and programs? They are critical even if not many U.S. citizens use them.
III. Why was the U.N. created and what has the U.N. done?
A. The U.N. was promoted by the U.S. to replace the League of Nations, which according to U.S. leaders had failed to prevent World War II in the 1930s because the U.S. had not joined. The original 51 countries were mainly western and Soviet countries who fought together in World War II to defeat Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan. The basic idea was that the countries which together had won the peace would continue to work together to preserve it. Both the League of Nations and the United Nations were efforts to make the international system more democratic rather than being controlled by a few powerful countries. The recent shift toward more influence for the G-8 reflects a move back to the old system.
B. During the first 10 years of its existence the U.N. did virtually whatever the U.S. wanted it to do despite a steady stream of vetoes in the Security Council by the Soviet Union.
C. For example, the resolution on the partition of Palestine to recognize the state of Israel was adopted by the General Assembly Nov. 29, 1947. The Convention against Genocide was adopted Dec. 9, 1948. The next day, Dec. 10, 1948 , the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved 48-0 with 3 abstentions, all from the Soviet bloc. Dec. 10 is still celebrated annually as Human Rights Day .
D. A prime example of the influence of the U.S. was the Security Council action against the Communists in Korea in 1950. This effort, led by the U.S., was an attempt to show that collective security could stop aggression. Action was possible because the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council at the time to protest the fact that the Chinese Communists, who had taken over the mainland, were not allowed to appoint China's U.N. representatives.
E. After 1955 many former colonies in Africa & Asia became independent countries & U.N. members. The U.N. went from 51 members in 1945 to 100 in 1960 to 192 now; many new members are former colonies or mini-states, some with populations of less than a million.
F. During the Cold War (which ended in 1989) the General Assembly, generally controlled by the poorer countries, became more influential in the U.N. because the Security Council was immobilized by the threat of opposing vetoes by the Soviet Union or the U.S. It was during this period that many international conferences on global problems were convened.
G. Early U.S. dominance of the U.N. ended temporarily in October, 1971 with the vote which permitted the Communist government of China (rather than Taiwan) to appoint China's delegates to the U.N., but U.S. dominance at the U.N. was regained after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
H. The low point of U.S. influence in U.N. was the "Zionism is racism" resolution of 1975. That resolution was officially repealed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1991, but what is perceived as excessive U.S. support for Israel is one basis of anti-U.S. sentiment in the U.N.
I. When the Cold War ended in 1989, many people, including the first President Bush, thought that we would see a " New World Order," namely, the U.N. working as originally intended under U.S. leadership with no more vetoes by the Russians.
J. In 1991 U.N. Security Council approved military action against Iraq for invading Kuwait. The U.S.-led coalition defeated Iraqi military forces, and the U.N. adopted sanctions against Iraq to be enforced by the U.N. The 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was regarded as a new model for collective action to deal with the problem of aggression through the U.N.
K. During the years 1988-95 U.N. Peacekeeping was greatly expanded with many new operations--in Namibia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq-Iran, Angola, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Mozambique, Western Sahara, Uganda-Rwanda, Liberia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Georgia, & Somalia. Altogether between 1948 and 2007 the U.N. has established 60 peacekeeping missions, 44 of which have been completed while 18 are still at work. There are also 10 political & peace-building missions in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
L. War Crimes Tribunals to prosecute individuals guilty of war crimes were established by U.N. Security Council for former Yugoslavia in May 1993 & for Rwanda in November 1994.
M. In Jan. 1997 Kofi Annan of Ghana became the 7th UN Secretary-General. In 2002 he was reelected for 5 years. In Jan. 2007 Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea was elected to the post.
N. In 1998 the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) which can prosecute individual tyrants & terrorists for genocide, war crimes, & crimes against humanity was adopted. Its jurisdiction began on 1 July 2002, & 105 countries have become supporters.
O. In 2001 after the terrorist attack on the Twin Trade Towers and the Pentagon, the U.N. Security Council authorized miltary action against Afghanistan for providing support to the terrorists, and that U.N.-authorized action against terrorism still continues.
P. In 2003 U.S. failed to get U.N. Security Council support for military action against Iraq. It then launched an attack on Iraq with help from Britain and some other allies. Now the U.S. needs assistance from the U.N. and other countries in pacifying & rebuilding Iraq, but it is still reluctant to turn over primary responsibility for nation-building there to the U.N.
Q. The U.N. is considering how to stop the genocide going on in the Darfur region of Sudan. The U.N. Security Council has approved a joint peacekeeping effort with African Union forces. The International Criminal Court has indicted a top Sudanese official for crimes against humanity but the government of Sudan is still resisting any outside intervention.
R. The U.N. is still working on how it can implement the newly adopted " Responsibility to Protect" principle which says that national governments have an obligation to protect the rights of their own citizens and that the international community can intervene if they don't.
S. Other issues confronting the U.N. are how to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, how to control terrorism, and how to get richer countries to follow through on their pledges of more financial assistance to the poorer countries. The gap between rich and poor is still growing.
T. Another big issue is getting sufficient funding. The U.N. is on the brink of bankrupcy. Its only source of funds is assessed contributions paid by the national governments. But non-payment by many countries, including the U.S., means the total debt owed to the U.N. by all countries is now about $400 million, that is,$.4 billion. The U.N. cannot borrow money, so it regularly faces financial crises. The U.S. keeps the U.N. rather powerless by keeping it poor.
IV. The Future of the United Nations
A. The U.N. needs to make some fundamental changes in the years ahead.
1. A better civil service needs to be created to get more professionalism in the staff.
2. Some governments argue that the Security Council should be enlarged to include Japan, India, Brazil, and Germany and that use of the veto by the Permanent Five has to be limited.
3. The U.N. will need to acquire its own < u>individually recruited police force, hired & paid by the U.N. itself instead of always relying on borrowed national military forces as is done now.
4. The U.N. will need to acquire its own independent sources of income so that it is not so dependent on national governments, many of which are not paying what they owe.
5. Before the U.N. will be allowed to acquire its own independent sources of income or much independent power, there will have to be changes in voting arrangements (1) so that the less-developed countries do not so completely control the General Assembly and also (2) so that the veto power in the Security Council still allowed to the five leading Allied countries during World War II in 1945 is totally eliminated or drastically limited.
B. Such changes are now resisted by the U.S., but eventually our leaders will see that changes are necessary to create a new international system where war & terrorism are replaced by institutions using democratic political and judicial procedures to resolve conflicts. Conflicts of interest which occur within nations and between nations will need to be settled by peaceful elections & the rule of law rather than by war, violence, & military action.
C. At present the biggest challenge to the U.N. & global democracy is the lack of support, financial & otherwise, by a unilateralist U.S. administration which may finally be modifying its views because of the problems it faces in Iraq.
D. If you want to keep informed about the U.N., join the UU-UN Office (UU-UNO).
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