This century has witnessed two great transitions in the global situation. The first, which followed the Second World War, brought about the establishment of the United Nations. The second, which is now in progress and has yet to be completed, has already accentuated the central role the U.N. is meant to play in world affairs.
The question today is whether a credible and coherent strategy of peace will be worked out and implemented as a result of the phenomenal changes that have occurred in 1989-1990.I firmly believe that, to be workable, a post-Cold War strategy must be based on principles that are clearly understood, objectively commendable and universally applied. A principle that is invoked in one situation, but easily disregarded in another is as good as no principle at all.
We do not have to embark on a search for these principles. They are lucidly formulated in the Charter of the United Nations, and they have been vindicated recently. The transformation of the European scene has given powerful expression to two of the cardinal principles of the Charter: self-determination of peoples and respect for human rights.
The end of the Cold War has also made obsolete the concepts of security that were at variance with what the Charter implied. At the same time, the eruption of the Persian Gulf crisis has underscored the necessity of meeting a breach of the peace not by a unilateral use of force, but by the application of economic sanctions or other measures as indicated in the Charter.
Thus, both progress and setback have brought us to the only basis on which a just and peaceful world order can endure. The United Nations, therefore, enters the post-Cold War era as a central stabilizing element for a world in flux.
It would not, however, be accurate to call it a revival of the United Nations. The world organization was never moribund. It was certainly rebuffed at times, bypassed quite often, but despite all that it steadily maintained focus on the prime requirements of lasting peace and patiently built its institutions and executive ability to fulfill the mandates that would be assigned to it.
Only years of effort and a clarity of objectives could have enabled the U.N. to mount the type of complex operations it has conducted recently. These are aimed at managing peaceful transitions in societies that were the scenes of conflict or had suffered upheavals. I refer to the operations carried out in Namibia and Central America.
The capabilities of the U.N. are now being tested by the unprecedented collective action decided by the Security Council in the case of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. I remain firm in my belief that, if these measures are based on a sense of equity and are perceived to be so, if they are seen to issue from a disciplined, collective engagement, and if they do not mean the abandonment of the diplomatic effort to negotiate a solution in conformity with the principles of the Charter, the United Nations will fully pass the test.
These observations pertain to present preoccupations. What is needed, however, is long-term thinking that is not overwhelmed by the perceptions and concerns of the moment. We cannot forecast the future with any precision, yet the imperatives of establishing a new, genuinely peaceful world order are quite apparent.
The seeds of war have to be eliminated in all areas of the globe. Levels of weaponry and armed forces have to be reduced at both global and regional levels. The spirit of cooperation has to be extended to economic relations between nations. Collective resources and action have to be mobilized in fighting social scourges like drug trafficking and internationalized crime. The degradation of the environment has to be reversed. The challenge of the population explosion has to be met. A human rights regime has to be made universal.
None of these aims can be fulfilled by a nation or even by a group of nations, no matter how powerful, acting in isolation from others. All require concerted thought and endeavor. The United Nations is the only instrument through which that solidarity of spirit and effort can be realized.
A new era will not open for the world unless the weaknesses and defects of the old are overcome. Apart from political conflicts that were allowed to fester, one of the major failures in the old era was that the forces and pressures of economic life widened the gulf between the rich nations and the poor. In the new era, a framework will have to be evolved for equitable economic relations.
A world no longer separated by the Iron Curtain but still divided by the poverty curtain cannot be the safe world to which all aspire. Indeed, an economic situation that delivers nothing but hunger and disease to a large segment of humanity is bound to be a hotbed of tension and conflict.
Likewise, the social crisis manifested in crime and drug abuse has crossed all frontiers, regional and cultural. These problems cannot be diagnosed nor remedied in terms of one nation or group of nations alone. Both approach and action need to be global.
In all these respects, the United Nations will need the utmost support and cooperation of its Member States, especially from those that command greater resources and influence. Such cooperation will be forthcoming if the U.N. Charter is perceived not as something externally imposed on a State, but as the fundamental law of all humanity, a body of principles which must govern the life of every nation.
The dynamics of human affairs will always cause new points of strain and friction. But there will be a civilized way of resolving them to the best of human ability. This is the promise of the United Nations.
1990, New Perspectives Quarterly.
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