James A. Everett lives in Independence. Reach him at email@example.com
Independence is the only city, other than U.N. Headquarters in New York City, that has a statue dedicated to the United Nations. The U.N. Plaza and fountain is also a memorial to those who gave their lives in peace-making operations. It is also unique in that all of its $1 million in cash and in-kind cost came from donors in the greater Kansas City area.
The U.N.’s roots go back to 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. While Republicans and Democrats had deep differences on domestic policies, they were essentially united regarding the need for an international structure that would better serve to create a more peaceful world than the failed League of Nations. Arthur H. Vandenberg, the Republican senator from Michigan and the ranking minority member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, took personal responsibility to urge the United States to ratify the U.N. Charter, saying, “I shall support ratification of this charter with all the resources at my command.”
Has the U.N. fulfilled Vandenberg’s highest hopes? I am afraid the answer is “no.” Its history includes decades of overstaffing and, for a time, it was plagued with numerous funding anomalies and inequities. For all too long the U.S. paid more than its fair share of costs. Several restructurings have corrected many organizational problems, but it still lacks the necessary financial, military and political clout to fulfill the visionary hopes of its creators.
A major problem is that its organization is largely frozen in the realities of the immediate aftermath of World War II. This fact helps explain the Security Council’s veto arrangement, one item that makes several areas of modernization extremely intractable.
On the other hand, no world leader suggests that the U.N. is without positive value or that it should be disbanded. To the contrary, some of the U.N.’s most critical detractors, including the recent Bush administration, readily acknowledge that it has great value. Most, if not all, world leaders agree that if the U.N. didn’t exist, it would be necessary to immediately create a replacement. At this juncture in history, it is certainly more productive to continue the ongoing task of correcting its flaws than to create it anew.
The U.N.’s humanitarian functions have operated quite well, and its overall accomplishments are impressive. Here are just a few examples:
- Even without the standing army that its charter anticipated, it has deployed 35 peace-keeping missions and currently has 16 such forces in operation.
- UNICEF very efficiently spends more than $800 million annually, primarily on immunization, health care, nutrition and basic education.
- It has helped minimize the threat of a nuclear war by inspecting nuclear reactors in 90 countries.
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- It was a major force in stopping apartheid.
- It is credited with negotiating 172 peaceful settlements that have ended regional conflicts.
- It has helped wipe out polio from the Western Hemisphere and most other areas in the world.
- It has helped reduce fertility rates in developing countries from six births per woman in the 1960s to 3.5 today.
- It has set air and sea travel safety standards, improved global communications and regulated international mail delivery.
Also on the positive side, only a few very ignorant persons still erroneously believe the U.N. is about establishing world government or in any way represents a threat to the sovereignty of the United States. It is also telling that one of the first acts of the new Obama administration was to pledge support to the U.N. and, hopefully, we will soon pay our fair share arrears amounting to over $1 billion. I think we can all agree that the U.N. Peace Plaza and Fountain is a wonderful addition to the cultural heritage of greater Kansas City.