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N. Brown: How Do We Add New Structures to the UN?

Paper presented at a Summit of World Leaders, “The World at a Turning Point: A Global Vision of Peace and Good Governance,” Seoul, Korea, August 11-16, 2003

As the world turns, so do world organizations and more so the United Nations. At this point there are ominous signs that the very future of the United Nations is at stake. There is no guarantee that it will survive or make it safely through this transition, since nowhere is it written that the United Nations, as we know it, is destined to succeed. It was, after all, only the second such experiment in recent history and need not be the last. That is why the challenge facing us today is so urgent and why we the people must summon every resolve and mobilize the will necessary to make this turn a turn for the better.

To do so, however, we need the kind of vision and leadership that was demonstrated by the founders of the organization and more especially US President Franklin Roosevelt. That kind of leadership is called for today if the future of the United Nations is to be secure. It has been said especially during those difficult days of the Cold War, when polarization and paralysis dominated the work of the organization, that the United Nations became indispensable before it became possible. Our task at this turning point is to make it both indispensable and possible.

That is why it is especially gratifying to see that efforts are being made to add important new dimensions to the organization, the “missing pieces” as it were, to make the United Nations more ethically and morally relevant to our society at this time, especially when we notice that authority, veracity and credibility of both governments and institutions are very much in doubt. Such additions would not only enable the United Nations to more effectively fulfill its mission to promote a secure, equitable, and sustainable human future, but also, in effect, to make this turning point a transforming, if not a transcendental moment for the organization.

That is why the calls for the creation of mechanisms for interfaith cooperation and spiritual renewal seem so essential and timely. The challenge now, however, is how to make it happen. How do we add new elements to the existing structures and operations of the United Nations without creating further strains and new polarizations and without being caught in an interminable constitutional debate? How do we make it happen?

I believe it is generally accepted that a council of the kind proposed, as a major organ of the United Nations, will require a charter amendment. This will entail a period of intense negotiations. After all, we’re amending a treaty, and that is the treaty amendment process. This would involve both legislative and executive branches of government. Whatever the odds of success, however, it is clear that groups are determined to initiate that process. We may look back upon this as the launching of a renewed UN.

In this connection we have also learned that the first formal step is about to be taken with a call by the government of the Philippines for the inscription of a new item on the agenda of the fifty-eighth General Assembly. Once this has been done, we will have reached the point of no return. The issue of interfaith cooperation will assume a new global focus and be subject to a serious public global discussion, often involving representatives who may or may not be fully acquainted with the full meaning and implications of the item on interreligious cooperation. Such a debate is likely to need a resolution calling for action and a series of specific steps. If the process is to succeed, however, it will require a broadly based supportive constituency.

From the outset, there needs to be a coherent strategy to mobilize governments as well as grassroots support of the vision. Here it is important to recognize that the United Nations is essentially an intergovernmental organization. What government wants, government gets. In other words, if governments, or at least most governments, want such a council there will be such a council. And the more urgently government wants such a council the sooner it will be created.

With these considerations in mind, I will to offer a few thoughts for concrete action. First, use Ambassadors for Peace. I understand that there are thousands such Ambassadors for Peace, men and women of distinction, achievement, and influence. If this is true, then this would represent perhaps one of the largest diplomatic communities in the world, a global ambassadorial community. Their deployment could create a new and vigorous interfaith diplomacy, and a new kind of moral statesmanship. We need a new moral statesmanship, and it is my submission that Ambassadors for Peace could become leaders in this area. Each should be given a brief and a commission to build, through his or her network, a support system at the national and regional levels.

There are other things that will need to be done. First of all, there is a need to lobby the item in order to create, as it were, a buzz within the halls of the United Nations, to alert members that something new and refreshing is about to be added to the work of the United Nations. This will require highly informed and strategically placed individuals who would be available to delegations to offer information, clarification, and support. This could be supplemented by periodic briefings, possibly by the ambassador of the Philippines, to select delegates who could form a leadership group.

There also needs to be a clear idea of the content of the draft resolution, moving from well meaning descriptions to clearheaded substantive reports and a willingness to see it through. Naturally this will be the prerogative of the Philippines, and we know that this government has a very sophisticated delegation at the United Nations. Nonetheless, others can help the process by rallying support for them.

Supporters of the resolution will need to consider the co-sponsorship. This co-sponsorship should overwhelming, if not historic. What, for example if there were a hundred cosponsors of the resolution? That is not far fetched. The Group of 77 now has 133 members. What if the Group of 77 was on board? It is my submission that, as we think through the process of action at the United Nations, there will be the  need to mobilize as many governments as possible.

Secondly there is a need to solicit the support of other voices and build new coalitions and alliances with others who share the vision. Once the item is before the United Nations, it will attract a lot of attention from many groups. There is a need to become partners with at least some of these groups. One such group is the United Religious Initiatives. This group is headed by a Bishop Swing. The mission of the URI, with its vision of peace among religions, is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the earth and all living things. The URI could become a powerful ally.

Thirdly, on September 19, in its observance of International Day for Peace 2003, my organization, the Friends of the United Nations, and the World Council of Churches will be convening at the United Nations a small interfaith gathering to discuss the most effective ways that religious and faith communities might more effectively support the work of the United Nations. This will be the beginning of a three-year conversation that is expected to culminate in an interfaith summit in 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations. That’s an important date. At sixty, the United Nations will be two generations old, and perhaps the Interfaith Council may be that addition that will move the UN forward to the third generation.

Finally, it is necessary to create a very clear idea of what the council is expected to do. We are talking about a major organ of the United Nations. What is it expected to do? In this connection, we need a position paper that will outline the procedures and operations of such a council. It is my hope that this council will reinforce a number of the overriding programs of the UN, such as a dialogue among civilizations, the millennium agenda, the millennium plan of action, and the Johannesburg Plan of Action.

My hope is that a major process has started that may add a unique dimension to the UN. Whereas it may not be possible to get everything asked for at the fiftieth session, it might be desirable to accept a series of intermediary measures. One, which I would propose is the immediate creation of a president’s commission on interfaith cooperation. This would authorize the president of the General Assembly to invite interfaith leaders to work with him on outlining the steps that might be taken to create an inclusivist program that would morally advance the hopes of humanity.

For more background materials on a proposal for an interreligious council at the UN, click here.