The UN at 60

Print More

(HOST) The United Nations marks a birthday this month, and commentator Olin Robison says the celebration will reflect many challenges ahead that won’t be easy to resolve.

(ROBISON) The United Nations is almost exactly 60 years old, and over the next several weeks there will be a number of special occasions in New York and elsewhere to mark this special mile- stone.

As important an organization as it is, the UN remains exception- ally controversial, especially here in the United States. It has for some years now been a favorite target of the political right in America, who see it as something of the Darth Vader of interna- tional organizations. They overdo it, of course, because it is so easy to pillory the UN.

And now comes John Bolton, the President’s choice for the position of American Ambassador to the UN. Mr. Bolton is now there, very much in place, and already throwing his weight around.

Everyone knows that the UN needs organizational reform – this is not news – and there has been for the last year a concentrated effort to come up with a consensus plan to place before the General Assembly in September – all as a part of the 60th birthday observations.

It is by its very nature a consensus document – the sort of thing where every country gets part of what it wants and no one gets all of what they want. Negotiations have been protracted and difficult.

Now, only three weeks into the job, Mr. Bolton has asked for more than 700 – that’s right: over 700 – amendments.

There is no way this can be construed as positive or helpful.

The Independent of London, one of Britain’s major newspapers, has led with the headline: “With Bush’s Man Installed, Is This The End of Diplomacy?”

It isn’t the ‘end of diplomacy’ any more than the end of the cold war was the ‘end of history,’ as one prominent American scholar called it. But it is yet another serious blow to a major international organization whose 191 members – minus the United States – hoped to mark the UN’s 60th birthday by agreeing to a blueprint for UN reform.

And do not, for a moment, think that John Bolton doesn’t know what he is doing. He most certainly does.

There are so many ironies here. The United Nations is an American creation. Plans were made as early as 1942 for a post-world war II international organization. It was Roosevelt himself who coined the label ‘United Nations,’ and the late President took some pride in personally convincing Winston Churchill to go along with the name.

Roosevelt also persuaded the then Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, to leave his post and become an Assistant Secretary of State for the purpose of gaining public support for the idea. One of MacLeish’s assistants in that job was a talented young man named Adlai Stevenson, who, many years later, became a most distinguished US Ambassador to the UN.

I have always felt that if the UN didn’t exist we would have to invent it. But the truth is that it probably wouldn’t be possible today. Back then two presidents, Roosevelt and then Truman, both went
to great lengths to cultivate broad bipartisan support for the idea. That prospect no longer exists.

And so, dear friends, it seems to me that our best bet is to work with what we’ve got; to try to make it better; to celebrate, where possible, what it can do; and to resist the constant urge to complain about what it is not capable of.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison (RAW-biss-un) is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

Comments are closed.