Speakers on U.N. Reform


World Federalist Association of New England: Managing Co-sponsor
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Executive Summary of Report

Re-forming the United Nations:
Toward a Humane Global Society

A Public Conference
John F. Kennedy Library
11 November 1995

Purpose of the Conference

The purpose of this public conference was to demonstrate to Congress, the President, his Administration, the American people, and the U.N. community that there exists a political constituency in the United States in favor of a return to vigorous and far-seeing American leadership at the United Nations.

The unabridged Report contains the full text of our invited speakers’ addresses.  There is also a Booklet of Resolutions, containing the full text of eight sets of resolutions, amended and approved by the public at the conference.  It is abridged in an Executive Summary of Resolutions.

Our keynote speaker, Elliot Richardson, was asked to speak at mid-day, between the morning and afternoon workshops on the resolutions.  He spoke generously on political leadership.  Politics, the “noblest profession,” is the art of reconciling clashing views rooted in competing or clashing values, he explained.  Problems that can be settled by rational analysis need not enter the political process.

Our very conference on U.N. reform, Richardson said, was an exercise in reconciling the values of state interest and popular concerns over the future of the globe. 

Leadership is the beginning of any such political process, he argued.  In civil societies, that is, free and democratic societies, which since the end of the Cold War have generally been recognized as the ideal, “we the peoples” are the right source of leaders.

The ingredients of leadership, according to Richardson, are identification of goals, tough choices of means, setting priorities, defining a strategy, involving the public, and building consensus.

The speaker illustrated such leadership with respect to the new public politics of sustainable growth, which will involve sacrifices not unlike those demanded for national defense during World War II and the Cold War.  If the cause is that vital, people will willingly pay the price, as the veterans did on D-Day.  (The conference took place on Veterans Day and honored veterans.)

Richardson also described the leadership needed for U.N. reform, especially to improve conflict prevention, peacekeeping,  peace enforcement, and protection of human rights.  The project is as revolutionary as the founding of popular government in the United States.  The goal is not a remote world state that the individual will serve, but a participatory “arrangement” within the United Nations to which we as individuals will delegate to others among us powers to solve common problems.

A fundamentally reformed U.N., Richardson implied, will be a government of people, not as association of states nor a bureaucratic organization of states.  The political will that is so necessary for more than bureaucratic reforms, he argued, is naturally rooted in the political will, values, aims, and shared vision of individual citizens.  What is needed is a moral appeal, addressed to citizens of all countries, which reflects a consciousness that we are now all neighbors.  “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is now rooted in the facts of global interdependence.

The United Nations, Richardson concluded, was the great accomplishment of the sacrifices in World War II and was largely based on American ideals like individuality and democracy.  Making them real is the task ahead.

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Earlier in the day, we were addressed by three “expert” speakers, who helped us focus on the eight specialized topics of the resolutions prior to amending and approving them in the afternoon, after Mr. Richardson’s address.

Erskine Childers, a 22-year veteran of the United Nations Development Programme, associate of the former Director-General for Development and International Economic Cooperation, and the co-author, with Brian Urquhart, of the book, Renewing the United Nations System, which many of us read and studied during the summer while we prepared our draft resolutions, spoke of the necessity of reform, particularly in economic areas, and he suggested possible approaches in the future.

Childers gave the United States great credit for establishing and hosting “our one universal public service institution for equity and peace.”  But because of the U.S. Congress’s refusal to appropriate the rather modest financial dues assessed by the United Nations (U.S. arrearages are now $1.3 billion), which threatens to “destroy” that universal institution, he was quite critical of recent American policy.

To explain the present predicament, Childers set out the spectrum of responsibilities originally assigned to the United Nations and now so neglected that a “global revolt” of the impoverished is threatened.  At the beginning of the spectrum, to end the scourge of war, the U.N. was vested with powers to address economic and social problems; in the middle, there was to be peaceful settlement of disputes; toward the end, as last resorts, were to be collective action in response to aggression and what is now called peace enforcement.

As one striking fact of the failure to pursue the U.N.’s mandates during the Cold War and after, Childers cited the twenty million people who die of starvation every year.  Yet the response so far in the West has been to place faith in the “magic of an unregulated global market.”  Yet the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.  In 1960, the richest fifth of humanity earned thirty times that of the poorest fifth; in 1995, the richest earned sixty times the poorest.  The international financial institutions designed to prevent this have made the gap wider — particularly the IMF and its structural adjustment programs.

Economic injustice, consequent to the Cold War policies of the developed worlds, Childers argued, is the root of the aggression, ethnic conflict, and civil war — the Iraqs, Rwandas, and Bosnias — now plaguing the world.

U.N. reform proposals are still fixated on the Security Council, while it is the Economic and Social Council that needs strengthening in order to address the root economic causes of conflict.  Childers is very suspicious of proposals for an Economic Security Council or a new Bretton Woods that would give the “largest economies,” which are responsible for the impoverishment of the world, even greater powers.

What is needed to avoid the coming “tide of convulsion,” he argued, is to return to the original Charter design for global economic leadership.  American policy makers should find this in the U.S. interest, for world economic redress is beyond the powers of any one national state, and only a democratically operating United Nations can generate the trust needed for fairer policies to work.  Childers touched on a few of the technical recommendations in Renewing the United Nations System.  He particularly proposed convening a World Conference on Money, Trade, Finance, and Sustainable Development to thoroughly rationalize and redirect the U.N. system.

*     *     *

Hazel Henderson,  a leading alternative economist and member of the independent Global Commission to Fund the United Nations, focused again on global economic problems and their implications for the U.N.  If the great goal of economics should be transformed from GNP growth to sustainable development, for instance, implies very much more participation of ordinary people in the work of the U.N., and it implies making a reality of its universal principles of human rights and international peace and security.

Henderson provided a kind of primer for a “global economy” — not of one quarter of humanity, but of all humanity.  She gave credit to those innovators in the World Bank who support writing off the “illegitimate” international debt, using the new Wealth Index in place of GNP, recognizing the diversity and magnitude of human capital, but on balance she still supports radical reforms, like making the World Bank and IMF “more democratic and transparent.”  Fifty years is enough for developed country privilege.  ECOSOC must be reshaped if the U.N. is to pursue universal goals like sustainable development.

She argued that changing course does not require infusions of capital on the order of the $165 billion calculated at Rio.  Rather, new national tax codes favoring the environment — “green taxes” — could pay for the changes.  This idea is advanced in Europe and was much discussed at the U.N.  Social Development conference in Copenhagen.  She even reported that many business leaders of transnational corporations are supportive of green taxes that would internalize social and environmental costs, if they would replace income taxes.  Some of them also see the necessity for regulating the “inefficient” global marketplace with global agencies analogous to the U.S. Federal SEC.  To control international currency speculation, her version of the Tobin tax would be as low as 0.003 percent, yet it would generate some $50 million per day.  The United Nations, as the new regulator in the common interest, should derive its revenue from such taxes.

*     *     *

Our third expert was a representative of youth and by implication the future.  The U.N. estimates that one-third of the human race is now 18 or younger; by 2000, one-half of world population may be that young.  What kind of a world will they inherit?

Margaret Lippencott, age 16, attended the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights and has represented American youth at several World Summits for Children.  She testified to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and to the High Commissioner on Human Rights as recently as October 1995.

Miss Lippencott set out, statistically, the problems of hunger, violence, drug abuse, war, pollution, neglect, lack of good education, and poor health care that beset children.  But she was most innovative in showing how children can contribute to solutions by participating in the U.N. no less than adult citizens.

Children can contribute to understanding of global social problems by testifying in U.N. fora  and by proposing solutions.  At the 1995 World Summit for Children, proposals were made to foster communication between children and world leaders, to achieve global standards for dealing with children’s issues, and to establish a Young General Assembly, analogous to the adults’ Civil Society Forum.

Miss Lippencott urged implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, who emphasized national enforcement.  She also reminded the audience of John Kennedy’s faith in youth, reflected in his proposal of a Peace Corps to give an opportunity to youth’s natural idealism and desire to be of service.

Youth, she concluded, if made aware of the United Nations by education, could be powerful allies for its strengthening.

*     *     *

The final plenary assembly, at which the resolutions were approved by vote, was chaired by David Wylie, a former Cambridge City Counsellor and active Boston attorney.

In his stirring final address, Wylie recalled American leadership in the early United Nations, and he urged us not to forfeit our historical opportunity.  He reminded all the audience of the necessity for just laws and the means to enforce them, at the world level no less than at the national.  A moral life is impossible without just laws, he argued.  No one is safe with nuclear and conventional weapons loose in the world without a strong and democratic world authority.  Common security offers more hope than “America First.”

Wylie showed that the United Nations and its reform is consistent with the U.S. constitutional system.  He closed with a ringing endorsement of the Coalition’s work:  “Adopt the future through these resolutions!”