Why the U.N. Matters

The United Nations was founded in San Francisco 60 years ago last month. An important anniversary like this should be a cause for celebration, but this world body has little to celebrate these days. Relations with the U.S. are at an all-time low, and Secretary General Kofi Annan skipped the San Francisco event marking the occasion. The Bush administration sent a mid-level diplomat who did not even speak at the function.

Why do we even bother anymore? The United Nations was useful in the multi-polar world of 1945. Today, as the world’s sole superpower, the United States can do anything it wants anywhere in the world with impunity, as we’ve seen with the Kyoto treaty, Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. The world hates us, but do we care?

At a time like this, it is more important than ever to reflect that the United Nations is an idea whose significance matches, even exceeds, the American concept of democracy over 200 years ago. That nations can come together to resolve problems peacefully, that people the world over have basic human rights, that we all bear collective responsibility, was a radical idea 60 years ago, and still is because so few of us accept it.

We still live in nation states defined by our flag, race, culture, religion, and language. Allegiance to the State is inculcated from childhood, in classrooms and in stadiums. We aspire to become good Americans; we’ve forgotten what it means to be a good human. Indeed, we attack the “secular humanists” among us as godless perverts. To too many of us, “God bless America” means that we are somehow chosen, special, separate, and that God must not love India or Brazil as much. Love for country is everything; love for the earth is for kooks and communists.

There are those among us who see the United Nations only as a tool for world dominance. They want the United Nations to toe the U.S. line, or else. They want a pliable United Nations, in the same tradition as the Shah, the Saudis, Marcos, and Pinochet. They currently control the White House, the legislature, and the judiciary.

Indeed, there are some in the country who want to do away with the United Nations entirely. Republican Congressman Ron Paul submitted a measure recently to force the United States to withdraw from the United Nations.

Although the motion was killed by a 39-3 committee vote, there is every likelihood that it will be reintroduced, in one form or another, and no guarantee it won’t pass. And when that happens, that will be the end of one more experiment in bringing peace to the world.

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