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The United Nations Remains ''The Last Best Hope''

The United Nations Remains ''The Last Best Hope''

By Douglas Mattern

In their long-standing denigration of the United Nations, right wing politicians and the conservative media have launched a personal attack on Secretary General Koffi Annan. The charge is complicity in the UN oil-for-food scandal. However, the other member states of the UN, including U.S. allies, know this charge is ridiculous and regard Mr. Annan with high esteem.

They demonstrated this on December 8 in the General Assembly when Kofi Annan came to deliver a report on United Nations reform. In a spontaneous reaction, the ambassadors from all 191-member countries gave the secretary general a long-standing ovation. A diplomat who was present said, “Everybody stood up, it lasted a good few minutes”

The real reason for the invectives hurled at Kofi Annan is not about oil-for-food, but rather for Mr. Annan labeling the U.S. war in Iraq as illegal. Moreover, right wing resentment has been festering ever since the secretary general refused to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an invasion that proves more tragic and disastrous each passing day.

Sensible people can support Kofi Annan--and the UN--by actively supporting for two critical UN programs. First is the UN summit meeting of Heads of State scheduled for September 2005 in New York. The purpose is to review progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted by the consensus by all nations at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000. This meeting is so crucial that Kofi Annan states, “The decisions to be taken there may determine the whole future of the United Nations.”

The Millennium goals are far reaching and, if fully implemented, would make a dramatic improvement in the lives of half of humanity. They include an ambitious program to reduce by 50 percent the number of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger....” The completion date is 2015, but like other MDGs, behind schedule and the level of funding required.

Another MDG is making a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, and to free humanity from the threat of living on a planet spoiled by human activities. A major theme is to “make the United Nations more effective in maintaining peace and security by giving it the resources and tools it needs for conflict prevention, peaceful resolution of disputes, peacekeeping…”

Perhaps most urgent is the commitment to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, “particularly nuclear weapons.” All this and more was approved by every nation. Now it’s the task of citizens to be involved by initiating action that will ensure the governments fulfill their commitment to the millennium goals without delay, and to declare this as a binding commitment before the world community at the 2005 Summit.

The second program is to support the recommendations of a panel of experts appointed by Kofi Annan on reforming the UN. The panel’s 95-page report entitled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” has 101 recommendations for action.

The report, which focuses on collective security for the 21st century, offers two proposals for expanding the Security Council with more permanent members to be more representative. Another recommendation is to create a Peace Building Commission under the Security Council. Others are to combat poverty, hunger, disease, environmental issues and to resolve the multitude of serious problems confronting humanity today. They can be read on the UN website:

Recommendation 72 is interesting as it calls for the General Assembly to “establish a better mechanism to enable systematic engagement with civil society organizations.” This refers to people and their activist organizations known as NGOs (Non-Government Organizations, including peace, environmental, socials justice, economic, etc.)

One proposal related to recommendation 72 that comes from outside the panel is to move the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) into the General Assembly. ECOSOC is where non-government organizations (NGOs) are most active and contribute to various UN programs. Placing ECOSOC under the auspices of the General Assembly would engage NGOs more directly with governments on a continuing basis and contribute to the task of establishing a more democratic and representative UN.

It’s important to expose and counter the flagitious conservative crowd that continues its vitriolic attack on the United Nations because they have nothing to offer for the future and should to relegated to the sideline of history. In our divided and violent world it is the United Nations that offers the hope and trust to liberate humanity from the misery of poverty and hunger, and from perpetual war and threat of nuclear incineration.

We must defend and support this vital world organization, for as President Kennedy stated before the General Assembly in 1961: “The United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace...”


Douglas Mattern is president of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with branches in over 30 countries and with United Nations NGO status.

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