The UN turns 76
The United Nations will celebrate its 76th year of existence on October 24. An anniversary, along with the celebration, brings thoughts about the past, present and future. Birthdays also raise questions about achievement, value, and relevance.
The United Nations was born from the League of Nations. Woodrow Wilson, in his fourteen point speech in December 1918, introduced the Treaty of Versailles and pleaded for an international organization to maintain world peace. Unfortunately, Wilson, after an exhaustive campaign, was unable to sell the League of Nations to the American public and Congress failed to ratify the treaty. It was feared that such a treaty would undermine the autonomy of the United States in international affairs. A belief that continues to be held today, by some, about the United States joining the United Nations.
The League of Nations began in 1919 with 48 countries. He had some success, but ultimately failed. As Europe drew closer to a second war, the League was increasingly portrayed as a one-sided and weak organization and, as a result, became ineffective. Some historians believe that without the United States’ membership in the League, it was doomed to failure.
World War II devastated the world. The war has left millions dead, cities destroyed, and art and culture stolen or lost. Atrocities that violate basic human rights have shocked the world. The United Nations was born out of this chaos and was developed as a place where the nations of the world could come together, discuss common problems and find common resolutions. Peacekeeping was the priority.
Today, the UN has 193 members, including the United States. The United Nations Charter has the following objectives: 1) to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, 2) to reaffirm faith in basic human rights, 3) to establish the conditions for international justice, and 4) to promote social progress and better standards of living. The organization has several agencies that focus on these goals, the ILO being one. Other well-known agencies include: World Health Organization (WHO), Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP), Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Human Rights Council (HRC) and Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The success of the United Nations cannot be denied. Since its inception, the organization, or one of its agencies, has received the Nobel Peace Prize 12 times. Today, the organization continues its work around the world, resolving conflicts, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and displaced, and defending human rights. However, it is struggling to find adequate funding to keep all of its branches operating at full capacity.
Today’s problems are complex, increasingly difficult and increasingly global. The COVID pandemic and climate change alone have halted global progress and will continue to affect the future. In some cases, we are losing ground. For example, climate change, an area in which the UN had taken a strong leadership position, starting with the Paris Climate Agreement, is getting worse. Climate change results in conditions unsuitable for agriculture. The inability to feed a family creates stress, which causes conflict, which ultimately leads to displaced populations and refugees. Millions of people, many of them women and children, are displaced, starving and sick. A country. or even a few together, cannot adequately respond to these crises. We need a United Nations.
There is no organization better positioned to effect change on a global scale. It is a place where the nations of the world still come together to discuss common problems and find solutions together. Pandemics, climate change, human rights violations, hunger, disease, refugees and conflicts must be discussed in a global framework to find viable solutions and make the world a better place.
The theme for United Nations Day 2021 is “Creating a plan for a better future”. How will the plan be drawn? Who will draw it? In his address to the 76th United Nations General Assembly on September 21, President Biden commended the UN for its work and reaffirmed US support for the organization. However, there is currently a cap on the amount of money the United States can contribute to UN peacekeeping. On October 25, the Iowa United Nations Association defense committee asked people to call or write their representatives in Congress to repeal this cap permanently.
Ultimately, “we want the world our children inherit to be defined by the values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Ann Woodward is UNA-USA Linn County President.