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Peace Education

UPF Inaugural Conference Calls for UN Renewal

New York, USA - Just three days before the opening of the historic 60th Assembly of the UN in 2005, a new international body, the Universal Peace Federation, gathered in New York to take a hard look at the world body and offer solutions to help. “The essence of what we are doing is to look at leadership, but not any kind of leadership,” says Karen Smith, one of the conference organizers. “We are proposing a new global ethic of living for the sake of others. This is a new moral compass, an extremely practical and very simple tool to guide our leadership.”

After opening ceremonies on September 11, noting the 4th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Federation got down to work with the first of five working sessions to discuss some of the different challenges facing the UN. Charles Zorgibe, professor emeritus of Sorbonne University, Paris, began by reminding the conference of 374 leaders from 127 countries of the essentially unequal way in which the UN had begun.

Although the principle of international democracy was given lip service in the General Assembly, where all nations were supposedly welcomed as equals, real power was reserved to the Security Council, composed of the victorious powers of World War II. Ironically, the very first victim of this concentration of power was the UN itself. Cold war divisions and constant use of the veto by one side or another led to a state of paralysis. Despite such notable exceptions as the Korean War – and even there UN action would have been vetoed, had the Russian delegation not been absent – the situation became so acute overt the years that by 1982 then Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said the world had reached a “state of international anarchy.”

But then in 1989, the situation suddenly changed. With the end of the cold war, the UN found itself in an unexpected state of grace. The nations of the security council found themselves suddenly able to act with consensus. In short order, the UN was able to act decisively after the invasion of Kuwait, and then to send peacekeepers to various conflicts worldwide.

But it was not to last. In recent years, the UN found itself increasingly isolated and bypassed, first by the NATO alliance in the Kosovo conflict, and more recently the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It seemed that the idea of a UN mandate was no longer considered necessary for military initiatives, even by the security council members, despite the fact that the nations signing the charter had supposedly rejected all but defensive military action.

As the UN reaches 60, it has to acknowledge that it hardly ever been able to act in accordance with its own charter, said Zorgibe. “But there are certain steps that bring change.” These proposals, to be debated in further sessions, include: broadening of the security council to include more permanent members, including continental organizations such as the European Union and the African Union; creation of a new “Economic Security Council” based on the G7/G8 nations, and creation of a second chamber of the General Assembly that would include non-governmental representatives, cultural, educational, political and most importantly, spiritual and religious organizations.

A view from the poorer nations

Roko Seka Sagel, Professor of International Relations from the University of Panama, felt a close empathy with the UN. “I was born just 5 days after the charter was signed,” he said “so I know what it is like to be 60 years old, and to look back over those years and reflect on what has and has not been done. One of the key accomplishments is the expansion of member states from the original 45 to 191, many of them emerging from colonialism without war or revolution.

Dr. Roko Seka Sagel, Professor of International Relations from the University of Panama

But simple expansion of the number of member states is not enough, said Sagel, if the capacity of the organization itself does not also grow. The 140 plus new members still contribute only 15% of the UN budget. Despite frequent stories of bloated budgets, Sagel notes, the UN itself has a general operating budget that is actually smaller than the New York City Police Department, and most of that is consumed by bureaucratic functions. The UN doesn’t even have an emergency fund, and there are plenty of emergencies it is called to deal with. No wonder the UN has been unable to solve so many problems. It just doesn’t have the preventative capacity.

The fight against terrorism, and the situation where states feel they have to launch a war of intervention, were not considered in the founding charter. But since Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq, the genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back. There are those who feel the charter should be changed to include such actions under the doctrine of ‘legitimate defense,’ thus reflecting the political and military realities of the day.

Meanwhile, while the powerful nations continue to use military means to reach their goals, development goals are not being met. Industrialized countries have not fulfilled their promise to invest even 1% of their GDP in the poorest states. The richest 28 countries produce more than 75% of the GDP of the world. They invest almost nothing in the poorest nations. The charter should be certainly changed to require a greater commitment to the fight against poverty and economic inequality.

“We should give more power to regional organizations and specialized institutions,” says Sagel, “and give each continent a chance to solve its own problems. Before the money, the power or anything else, there has to be the will to make changes.”

The next speaker, Gen. Mansour Mustafa Abu Rashid from Jordan, looked back to the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1948, and the role of the UN in keeping the peace in Palestine.

Finally, Rev. Clinton Bennett from England came to share an internal perspective. “I strongly agree that simple tactics like expanding the Security Council to include a few more powerful nations will do nothing to bring justice and equality,” Bennett says, “The weak and the needy of the world might be better peacekeepers than the rich and powerful.”


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