The Once and Future UN
The United Nations is not going to be transformed by the election of a new secretary general, as Barbara Crossette writes, no matter the transparency of the process [“In 2016, the UN Will Be Transformed,” Jan. 11/18]. It is the other election in the autumn of this new year—the election of the president of the United States—that has that possibility. Ban Ki-moon is a noble leader, a man of decency, ideals, and judgment, but he cannot force the Security Council after four years of slaughter and anguish to place the Syrian war on its priority agenda. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, was and is a man of “dignity, confidence, courage, and compassion.” He could not stop the American invasion of Iraq despite mighty efforts.
Terrorism is an international enemy against which the strongest military force in history has only limited effect. It is an enemy that can only be defeated by the universal coalition that the UN represents.
The structure is in place to allow and cause the needed transformation of the UN, whose basic mission is defined in its charter as saving “succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. The General Assembly should act now to designate 2020 as UN/75, a year to confront “the scourge of war.” The intervening years could then demonstrate the possibilities of bringing peace on earth by mobilizing the public and private sectors, by organizing the new energy of social media, by recognizing the extraordinary groups that have carried the struggle for peace against the seeming inevitability of violence, and by inviting “the peoples of the United Nations,” in whose name the charter was adopted, to find their voice in supporting what has to be done. If the new president of the United States and the new secretary general of the United Nations welcome and encourage such a movement, the needed transformation of the UN will be well under way.
William vanden Heuvel
Former US representative to the United Nations
new york city
Barbara Crossette was the best UN reporter, but it is not helpful to leave Nation readers without a strong reminder of the accomplishments of the world’s premier multilateral institution. Yes, the UN has many deficits. But a list of what it could accomplish in this new year would have been very much appreciated.