America Cannot Afford To Let The United Nations Fail

FORWARD FORUM

By George Mitchell

Published November 11, 2005, issue of November 11, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Despite the negative spotlight that the oil-for-food scandal has cast on the United Nations, we must not forget that an effective U.N. is in America’s interest. We must not forget, for it is only with bold and persevering American leadership that the world body will be able to emerge from this latest turmoil and become as effective as possible.

The increase in both number and complexity of security, development and social challenges around the world demand a renewed commitment to international cooperation. Consequently, Americans cannot afford for the U.N. to fail, and the rest of the world cannot afford for Americans to stand by and watch it stumble. Despite some public suggestions to the contrary in recent years, Americans continue to appreciate and support the importance of their country’s participation in the 60-year-old world body.

Furthermore, contrary to what a number of prominent policymakers have been arguing, the U.N. Secretariat, its programs and its agencies are open to change. I saw as much with my own eyes at a conference I recently hosted at Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution. The keynote address was given by Secretary General Kofi Annan, who called for major shifts in U.N. policies on terrorism, peacebuilding, human rights and its own institutional management.

The challenge before us now, then, is to help the world body’s 191 member-states work together toward achieving real reform. At the annual opening of the General Assembly in September, the secretary general convened a summit to build consensus for a series of U.N. reforms. While it led to a doubling of aid to Africa and to commitments from some donor states to set schedules for increasing overall contributions to impoverished countries, the summit did not produce the hoped-for commitments to U.N. institutional change.

Lack of action, however, should not be interpreted as a final failure.

It is important to remember that the U.N., much like the United States, was established in such a way as to make reform difficult. Only when broad consensus exists can major changes occur, and the United States has a special role to play in building that consensus.

Reaching agreement on difficult issues concerning the U.N. is possible, even among people and organizations with divergent views. One need only look at the work of the congressionally mandated Task Force on the United Nations that I co-chaired up through this summer with former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Drawing on the collected views of experts and institutions representing the left, center and right of the American political spectrum, our task force submitted to Congress a 145-page report that included 16 pages of specific recommendations in five thematic areas: preventing and ending conflicts and building stable societies; preventing and responding to genocide and gross human rights violations; preventing catastrophic terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; ensuring the effectiveness, integrity, transparency and accountability of the U.N. system, and fostering economic development and reducing poverty.

The ability of a diverse group of Americans to reach agreements in so many significant areas regarding the U.N. should be noted and celebrated. To me, the task force’s success signaled that the U.N. need not be a divisive political issue in the United States, and that Americans do see value in international cooperation.

The task force also demonstrated that Americans can still provide leadership at the U.N. One of the strongest recommendations in the task force report stated that the “United States government should affirm that every sovereign government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and those within its jurisdiction from genocide, mass killing and massive and sustained human rights violations.” This responsibility was affirmed several months after our final report, by participants in the reform summit at this year’s General Assembly.

To be sure, this is cause for celebration, but we should not stop there. Next, the United States should provide leadership in the establishment of a Human Rights Council, in order to replace the deeply-flawed Human Rights Commission.

Reforming the United Nations will not come easily or quickly. But with strong American leadership and constructive engagement, it will come — and we all will be better for it.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.