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Today we recognize the 65th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The world has changed dramatically since October 24th, 1945 when 51 nations banded together “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Those intervening 65 years were perhaps the most consequential in the entire history of humanity and the UN has played a vital role.
In 1945, the world’s population was about 2.5 billion. Europe was in disarray. Ethiopia, Egypt, and Liberia were the only independent nations in Africa. Today, there are close to 7 billion people in the world and 192 UN member nations. Revolutions in communications, agriculture, health-care, transportation and governance have fueled an increasingly interdependent world.
When the UN was established, the word “genocide” had not even been invented. There were very few international laws and organizations. Today the UN has negotiated over 510 multilateral treaties on human rights, terrorism, global crime, refugees, disarmament, trade, commodities, the oceans and many other matters. UN member states have built a global web of institutions, laws, and norms to manage everything from international flights to world economics and genocide prevention.
Built on the ashes of World War II, the UN’s primary goal was to prevent a similar atrocity from happening ever again. Today the UN is recognized as the world’s best peacekeeper with close to 100,000 blue helmets deployed to 16 global hotspots, like Darfur, DR Congo, and South Lebanon; places where the U.S. cannot or should not send its forces, and where international peacekeepers perform a vital stabilizing role.
The United States has been a generous host to the organization, providing crucial financial and political support. The benefits have exceeded the costs. According to Peter Yeo of the Better World Campaign, “for every $1 the US invests in the UN, our nation receives $1.50 in return.” Providing services from peacekeeping to smallpox vaccinations, the UN is of unquestionable value, functioning on a core budget smaller than New York City’s Police Department.
But as we recognize the UN’s accomplishments on this important anniversary, it is important to acknowledge the work that has yet to be done. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon believes that “UN Day is a day on which we resolve to do more. More to protect those caught up in armed conflict, to fight climate change and avert nuclear catastrophe; more to expand opportunities for women and girls, and to combat injustice and impunity; more to meet the Millennium Development Goals”.
The organization’s ability to achieve Ban Ki-Moon’s resolution depends in large part upon the United States’ leadership role in shaping the UN’s future. The Security Council still reflects a post WWII power structure. Its membership and the all-powerful nature of the veto must be addressed. The UN’s ability to protect civilians needs improvement. Our nation can and should play a key role in determining how these needs are addressed.
There is strong support within the U.S. to play this role. Despite recent cries of some Tea Party candidates for the U.S. to pull out of the UN, a new UN Foundation/Better World Campaign poll has found that 59 percent of Americans rate the UN favorably. A majority of Republicans and Democrats recognize that the UN is a good investment and support paying our dues to the UN on time and in full.
Most Americans understand the UN’s important role in creating a better and safer world. When you cast your vote, expand your thinking beyond domestic jobs. Determine if your Senator or Representative shares your values and beliefs when it comes to tackling problems that no nation can resolve alone. Nations can work together at the UN to find solutions. Good global policy and an effective UN begins at home in your congressional district.