Happy UN Day everybody! On this day in 1945, the United Nations officially came into being. 63 years later, what do we have to show for it? Well, a lot.
There are millions of people alive today who did not die from a preventable disease because of the United Nations and its agencies. Some diseases have been basically eradicated from the face of the earth. Consider polio. In 1988, when the UN-sponsored Global Polio Eradication Initiative began, there were 350,000 cases of polio in the world. Today? Fewer than 1,500. This success comes on the heels of the global eradication of smallpox by the World Health Organization almost 20 years earlier. Today, UN agencies are on the front lines on the fight against HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB and other less well known but equally deadly conditions like obstetric fistula.
The UN is also the last refugee and hope for the world’s most vulnerable populations. The United Nations World Food Program fed over 85 million people in 80 countries last year. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees is the only advocate for all of the 67 million refugees and internally displaced. UN Sponsored war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia are the last only hope for justice for victims of the world’s most heinous crimes.
The list goes on.
In areas of peace and security, the UN can be proud of its recent accomplishments. Remember the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah? That tenuous ceasefire is holding largely because of the 15,000 peacekeepers along the border. And closer to home in Haiti, UN blue helmets are helping to fight crime and prevent a resurgence of conflict. Indeed, even Secretary Rice has remarked that if not for the 4,000 Brazilian and Jordanian troops in Haiti, we would have to send 4,000 marines.
The UN has over 100,000 troops deployed in over 19 missions around the world–in places that the United States is either unable or unwilling to deploy. But neither do we want these conflicts to fester. It is no wonder why both the Quadrennial Defense Review and National Security Strategy for 2006 would emphasize the importance of UN peacekeeping for American national security. These are the three biggest contributors to the coalition in Iraq.
I’d also venture that even after the difficulties in Iraq, we would still want to see the family of democracies grow around the world. It is the UN that has shepherded countries like East Timor, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and El Salvador from conflict to democracy.
The UN, though, does not have much power on its own. In many cases it is only as strong as member states are willing to make it. The fledgling peacekeeping mission in Darfur is a good example of this dynamic. It’s been two years since the Security Council authorized the mission to Darfur, but it is still only operating at half its capacity because UN member states are unwilling to contribute the troops and resources necessary to make it a success.
So, on this UN Day let’s reflect on some past UN successes. But let us also not overlook the work that still needs to be done, in the words of the UN Charter: “To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”