Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire: Part 1

It is not uncommon to hear Americans complain about the United Nations (UN) and the participation of the U.S within it. These critics, very often, simply don’t get it.  They don’t understand the reasons why the UN was created and what the goals of the institution are, and it is vital to understand those reasons in order to understand the United Nations.  

The short answer is that the UN was created to ensure that humankind would never again have to endure a global conflict on a scale equal to WWII.  Some may not care for that answer, but many of those are too young and far removed to understand why preventing that kind of conflict was such a priority after the war. What was so horrible about World War II?

The unjustly murdered lie in mass graves at a Nazi concentration camp.

And this.
The Rape of Nanking.
And this.
The firebombing of Dresden.

This is what total war looks like.

Woman and children sit amongst the rubble of a destroyed home during the Battle of Britain.
This is what the leaders who created the United Nations were afraid of, and it defies rational explanation in words.  In six years, the world lost about 60 million people to about 78 million people, equaling 3.17-4% of the total world population at that time. To give you an idea of what this would be like in today’s world, in numbers, it would be like eliminating all of Tokyo, all of Moscow, New York City, and Chicago. In percent of today’s population, wiping out 3.17-4% would mean 190,200,000-240,000,000 people or nearly ⅔ of the entire United States population. WWII destroyed entire cities, ripped families apart, and ravaged entire continents. It was out of this quite literal apocalyptic hell-scape that the need for a global forum to debate humanity’s problems arose. 

And so, the world’s leaders had to find a way forward, in cooperation if not necessarily in harmony.  They knew the stakes if they failed.  And what they came up with is not perfect.  And it is easy, given the institution’s various failures, to forget that the UN represents the ongoing fundamental human outreach towards international peace and cooperation.  It is the embodiment of the need for a joint cooperative approach to solving universal problems surrounding commerce, communication, transportation, security and much, much more.

The United Nations remains the single world body with mechanisms specifically designed to address the social, economic, and psychological health of ALL human beings as well as address the physical health of the planet. Within the spirit of its charter, the UN is unique in that its agencies are geared towards all of human society and human endeavors.  It is the primary, global vanguard of grappling with the complex geopolitical, social, economic, ecological, and security concerns surrounding the ever increasing number of global refugees.  It is the only institution that has developed universal laws aimed at protecting the rights of the stateless in the event of the succession or dissolution of a country.

The process of building the UN is wholly pragmatic in nature because it is designed to mitigate practical and procedural objective tensions that are bound to arise from state-state interaction. The UN is far from perfect, but it creates an environment where nations of the world can engage one another in a peaceful substantive matter.  It creates norms and customs for interaction between states.  It promotes cooperation on issues of global concern.  As Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General, said:
The UN is not in any respect a superstate, able to act outside of the framework of decisions by its member governments. It is an instrument for negotiation among, and to some extent for, governments.  It is also an instrument for concerting actions by governments in support of the Charter.  Thus the UN can serve, but not substitute itself for, the efforts of its member governments.

Over the next couple weeks, we here at The Liberal Mob will demonstrate exactly what the UN does on a number of issues.  We will explain not just what it does, but how and why it works.  Too much good comes out of the UN in order to let reactionary critics get away with outright untruth regarding what the UN is and does.  And frankly, considering what prompted it to be created in the first place, it’s not unreasonable to say that human civilization’s continued existence throughout the Cold War and into the 21st Century is the greatest success of and testament to the monumental institution we call the United Nations.

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