United Nations Remains as Relevant as It Ever Was
by Manuel L. Quezon III
On June 26, 1945, the United Nations was created when representatives from fifty countries signed charter documents in San Francisco, California. It was formally inaugurated four months later. The United Nations had its origins in the “United Nations,” basically the Allied powers and their Allies, who officially subscribed to the Atlantic Charter, eight points of principle and mutual interest signed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in July, 1941.
The principles of the Atlantic Charter were the fighting principles, so to speak, in the fight against fascism. They remain relevant today, not least because they served as the founding principles, too, of the present United Nations. What were those principles?
First, that the Allies sought “no aggrandizement, territorial or other”; that second, they desired “to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned”; third, that they respected “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them”; that fourth, to endeavor “with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all states, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity”; that fifth, they desired “to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security.”
The sixth was the “hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want” after the Nazis were defeated; that, seventh, such a peace “should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance”; and finally, that “all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers… pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential.” The two nations pledged to “aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments”.
These principles contributed to the success of the United Nations, even when the world was divided between the satellites of two superpowers, precisely because however difficult the hopes enshrined in the principles might be, they make sense. Time and again nations have tried to ignore the United Nations, but they always end up trying to make amends.
There remains no better way to ensure the collective security, humanness, and justice of humanity. Certainly the United Nations can be improved, but its basic reason for being remains as relevant as it ever was.
Much has been made of the absence of such key personalities as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President George W. Bush at the celebrations this weekend in San Francisco. In fact it seems the celebrations are more a reunion of retired politicians and civil servants with nothing better to do than reminisce, than what it should be: A global gathering of leaders to rededicate themselves, and the nations they lead, to the principles of the UN.
Annan, it seems, wants to keep things focused on the world summit on international development, security, human rights and UN reform to be held in New York in September. He may have a point.
With security so tight in the United States, to have two major gatherings of world leaders on American soil mere months apart, may be too much to ask.
Still, it’s a pity such a splendid anniversary has been missed. There’s been a lack of publicity on the anniversary and what it means, as well. Such an effort didn’t require world leaders; or more precisely, such an effort was quite within the means of the leaders of the world to undertake in their respective nations.
And so the anniversary will come and go, with an essential fact, perhaps, being the thing that deserves our attention: The UN is still here, it is still doing good work, and questions of reform aside, there are few human institutions of such scale and ambition, that even reach the point of requiring a concerted effort to continue keeping it relevant.