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A Role for the United Nations in the Next 50 Years

By Jimmy Carter

Birthday greetings to the The United Nations are at least equaled by severe criticisms. This is too bad. Despite its many faults, mostly correctable, this much-maligned organization is as vital now as it was in its infancy.

I just returned from my third trip since March to East Africa, where I have witnessed again both the potential and frustrated hopes of the U.N.

Leaders there are convinced that a small U.N. peacekeeping force, urgently requested in Rwanda after the assassination of two leaders in April 1994, could have prevented the genocide of 500,000 Tutsis and the exodus of 2 million Hutu refugees.

Tragically, the United States and other major nations, having been embarrassed in Somalia, refused to support the proposal.

When the U.N. was founded, it was expected to insure peace forever. Its forums did constrain tension during the long and delicate Cold War era, possibly preventing World War III and other major conflicts.

However, the U.N. has been less effective in resolving civil wars, which in the last six years have increased from 1/5 to 9/10 of the total. As in Bosnia, established U.N. procedures seldom apply; authority and clear guidelines are nonexistent. Most ruling parties will not let U.N. officials communicate with revolutionaries. Without mediation, the wars continue.

The U.N. has terrible public relations. In fairness, we should consider the less well-publicized achievements.

Every day at The Carter Center, we work intimately with U.N. agencies. We join UNICEF and the World Health Organization to immunize children and to eradicate Guinea worm across sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank is our partner in preventing river blindness in 33 nations. Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency helped prevent North Korea's building a nuclear arsenal. When we multiply food grain production on almost 200,000 African farms, the Food and Agriculture Organization helps provide better storage.

At its founding, the U.N. enjoyed almost unanimous bipartisan support in the United States. But unwarranted attacks have become more intense and vituperative in the last few years from conservative and isolationist voices.

Here are some samples of criticisms and the facts:
"The goals of the U.N. and the U.S. are not compatible."

Actually the purposes of the U.N. and the U.S. are aligned. The U.N. was chartered "to protect this generation and those that follow from the scourge of war . . . to promote and protect fundamental human rights . . . to enhance respect for international law . . . to advance social progress and increase the quality of life of the world's people."

"The U.N. bureaucracy cannot accommodate changing times."

It is surprisingly flexible but overburdened. In the first 42 years there were 13 peacekeeping operations, and an equal number in the past five years. Between 1988 and 1994, the number of U.N. Security Council resolutions increased from 15 to 70; deployed military personnel, from 9,600 to 73,000; the peacekeeping budget, from $230 million to $3.6 billion, and monitored elections, from none to 21.

"An uncontrollable U.N. endangers U.S. sovereignty."

The U.S. government accepted every change mentioned above by withholding our Security Council veto. In fact most U.N. actions serve the purposes of our nation.

"Small and insignificant countries make the decisions."

The United States is quite dominant. In 1950 the Security Council authorized the Korean War, giving international character to an action intensely desired by President Harry Truman. More recently we orchestrated multinational support for the Gulf War. In Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Haiti, the U.S. has urged the U.N. to act, sometimes with our participation but often almost on its own.

"The U.S. bears too much of the financial burden."

Tragically the United States has defaulted on its pledges. We are now at least $1.2 billion in arrears, about half the cost of one of the B-2 pork-barrel bombers that Congress insists on building over the objections of our own military leaders.

"Too many U.S. troops are dragged into U.N. peacekeeping operations."

Of about 68,900 U.N. peacekeepers deployed, including temporary assignments in Haiti, U.S. troops compose less than 5 per cent of the total.

Nonetheless, many concerns about the U.N. are justified and reforms are being implemented. Given changes in the character of conflicts and in the comparative wealth and influence of nations since 1945, here are a few other ideas:

If the U.S. will pay its dues, some reduction in its fair portion may be justified.

The Security Council should be expanded, with Japan and Germany given permanent but non-veto status.

A small military force should be established to act quickly to prevent wars and not just react to ongoing conflicts.

The Carter Center and other non-governmental organizations should be used more often when official agencies cannot deal with crises. Negotiation of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the Norwegian Institute of Applied Social Science is a vivid example.

Humanitarian needs should not be sacrificed to the imposition of economic sanctions, which are designed to punish a targeted leader but actually deprive already-suffering citizens of food, medicines and other necessities.

With such changes, we can improve and not subvert the effectiveness of this absolutely necessary institution, created 50 years ago by leaders of great wisdom and judgment.

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