A Challenging Role For The United Nations In A Rapidly Changing World

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Brian Santhumayor of Nanthoor, Mangalore, has a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and MBA in Marketing and works as an Account Manager for an enterprise software company.  He volunteers by fundraising for numerous non-profit associations in the US and has won numerous awards and commendation for his charitable efforts. He can be reached at .

World-Boston, a member of the World Affairs Councils of America, the largest non -profit in international affairs organized a day trip recently to the UN Headquarters in New York. Over 20 members including Indo-Americans from Boston undertook the trip as part of World-Boston’s initiative of facilitating international exchange and educating the public about foreign policy and international affairs through its two primary programs, Emerging Leaders and World Affairs.

Being an Indo-American, this trip had a significant meaning for me as India is a founding member of the United Nations and has been a firm supporter of the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. India has made significant contributions to the furtherance and implementation of these noble aims and to the evolution and functioning of its various specialized programs. We were taken around on a tour of the UN Headquarters, which included the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.  It was an eye opener for us as we learnt of the enormous strides the UN has made since its formation in 1945.
Some of the statistics today are a harsh reality.  More than one billion people in the world earn about $1 a day. Since World War II, governments spent close to $10 trillion dollars on defense, an amount enough to feed the entire world.  An additional $6 billion a year would be needed to achieve universal education. More than 110 million landmines are buried in 64 countries and an average cost of a landmine is less than two dollars!  Although most people associate the United Nations with the issues of peace and security, the vast majority of its resources are devoted to economic development, social development and sustainable development. United Nations development efforts have profoundly affected the lives and well being of millions of people throughout the world.

We attended a briefing by Mr. Ramu Damodaran a native of India and also Chief Civil Society Service, Department of Public Information, Outreach division.  Damodaran initiated an active discussion on UN Millennium Goals, which include its goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and achieve universal primary education. 113 million children do not attend school, but this goal is within reach.  India, for example, should have 95 per cent of its children in school by 2005. By 2015, all 191 UN member states have pledged to meet these goals. Damodaran also talked about how public opinion and democracy shaped policy and the changing definition of peace and security. The World Boston members were quick to jump to the war in Iraq and ask the foremost question on everyone’s mind  “Has the UN become an irrelevant organization?” The UN official retorted that it was not the case of being irrelevant but the UN continues to be a driving force to achieve world peace. Another question posed was whether the UN was chasing a difficult goal of getting countries including Israel, India and Pakistan to sign the NPT. India decided not to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty because India wants worldwide disarmament. Damodaran highlighted the UN’s role in peace and security through disarmament and also talked about the active role UN played in Iraq weapons inspections prior to the war.

This was a perfect segue to our next briefing by Mr. Douglas Keh, Special Assistant to the Director, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, UNDP. Keh talked about the three key activities the UN was currently focused on Iraq i.e. United Nations Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi ‘s mission, electoral activities targeted for Jan 2005 and the oil for food program. With the US and the UK looking to the UN to take on a more active role in the electoral process in Iraq, Brahimi has a challenging task ahead of him. Mr. Keh also fielded questions about the allegations of widespread corruption reported recently in the press that involved Saddam Hussein and U.N. Senior Official with regards to the oil-for-food program.

Ms. Catherine Bertini, Under-Secretary-General for Management and Security Coordinator delivered the keynote address. Bertini who in 1996, was named by Times Magazine (of London) as one of the “World’s Most Powerful Women” awed us with her insight into the workings of the different bodies of the United Nations. To a question if the United States (who is obligated under the United Nations Charter to pay for 25 percent of the U.N budget) was paying back the huge debt it owed the UN, Ms. Catherine responded that the US had recently made a partial payment towards the debt.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Stadler Trengove, Legal officer, Office of Legal Affairs talked about the UN’s role in peacekeeping including a new mission in Burundi in May. However, recently UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he saw no role for UN peacekeepers in Iraq, meaning the Security Council would have to approve an international force after Iraqis begin self-rule.

As we trooped out of the UN headquarters, it was not difficult to envision why the United Nations plays such a key role in preserving world peace. Despite the criticism leveled at the UN, once should realize the chilling fact that the world would have been a much more dangerous place if the UN had not existed. The question that still lingers in my mind is why India being the largest democracy in the world, a rapidly growing economic power and a major contributor to the peacekeeping operations, yet has no permanent seat in the UN Security Council?

Author: Brian Santhumayor

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