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UN @ 75 — IMAGINING A WORLD WITHOUT THE UNITED NATIONS- – Will the world sustain the gestures of the founding fathers?

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I personally, in the past few decades, have never seen a more united world than we currently have with COVID-19 forcing the whole world to collaborate to tackle the pandemic that has claimed millions of lives of innocent people.  Religions say only God does not sleep. Occasionally, I wonder how the world would have looked like today without the United Nations. But for nature, I would have argued vociferously that it is impossible for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres –  the world’s No 1 public servant and his top aides to sleep in this new world enveloped by all sorts of conflicts, human and nature-induced problems confronting humanity.

No thanks to intolerance and the plethora of problems – human and nature-induced that are tearing the world apart, and which the UN must, in line with its mandates tackle. There is most probably not a soul in the world who is not worried about the unfolding scenario of unpredictability foisted on humanity by a COVID-19 and all forms of conflicts that have thrown the global community into commotion.  COVID-19 appears to have succeeded in uniting the world through the United Nations for the common agenda of confronting universal enemies.  Imagine the world is not as advanced as it is at this age! Thanks too, immeasurably to the founders of the United Nations, and those who have sustained and continued to hold the international organization together —  Even if it is an ordinary talk shop, as some say in derision, the UN is achieving results.

FIGHTING INEQUALITIES, POVERTY, CONFLICTS, IGNORANCE & DISEASE: The whole world is in a crucial period, engaged in the search for viable solutions to an issue has pushed troublesome matters like terrorism, armaments, disarmament, and related issues to the back row.  COVID-19 is more recognized as terror than conventional terrorists who themselves, must now be afraid of the unseen killer.  The World Health Organization has revealed that ‘’Coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic, with alarming acceleration in other countries. And that is just one intervention in a world riddled by conflicts and natural disasters. The whole world might not appreciate the United Nations and its efforts. But people who think deeply would know the very salient contributions of this global body to the continued existence of mankind. The United Nations, whose membership comprises almost all the States in the world, is founded on the principle of the equal worth of every human being. It serves as an international organization that addresses the interests of all states, and all peoples of the world, through this global organization that has continued to serve as an indispensable instrument of human progress.

DEMOCRATISATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended the World War 1 preceded what the world adopted at the end of the World war 11 that gave birth to the League of Nations that transformed into the United Nations that formally came into existence on October 24, 1945, The UN is marking its 75th anniversary with the theme: ‘The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism, the global body encourages us to contribute to the evolution of a better organization through a roadmap that would evolve through a consensus of opinions. Mandeep Tiwana, writing in a UN publication recalls that ‘’the UN was conceived as a ground-breaking experiment in global cooperation and people-centred multilateralism and was born out of the ashes of the Second World War. Looking back, one could safely posit that the First and Second World Wars were catastrophic occurrences that most probably have been averted if there was in existence a forum like the United Nations that provides a forum for the promotion dialogue, peace, and international understanding. The Hiroshima bomb that was used during the Second World War had the ‘’explosive power equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT (i.e. 20 kilotons)  Since then, the world has spent good money that could have been used for profitable purposes on armaments.  As recorded in a publication: Nuclear Weapons archives, at 1991, typical superpower weapons were much more devastating and were measured in megatons! With the invention of nuclear weapons, and their first use in August 1945, the world has never been the same again. The trend of violent crimes and armed conflicts on the continent are being aggravated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the world’s continent.

IMPLEMENTING THE SDGs:  According to Guterres, a New Social Contract will enable young people to live in dignity; will ensure women have the same prospects and opportunities as men; and will protect the sick, the vulnerable, and minorities of all kinds. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement show the way forward. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals address precisely the failures that are being exposed and exploited by the pandemic. Education and digital technology must be two great enablers and equalisers. As Nelson Mandela said, and I quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” As always, he said it first. Governments must prioritize equal access, from early learning to lifelong education.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE UNITED NATIONS  A UN publication: ‘’UN & Human Rights (1984) states that: As early as 1947, the General Assembly linked the enjoyment of human rights with the maintenance of international peace and security.  A UN Resolution  contained in the book cited above states that: ‘’all Member States had pledged themselves to take joint and separate action to promote universal respect for, and observance of all forms of propaganda… designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” Two years later, in 1949, the Resolution titled “Essentials of Peace”, quotes the UN General Assembly as calling upon every nation “to refrain from any threats or acts, direct or indirect, aimed at impairing the freedom, independence or integrity of any State, or at fomenting civil strife and subverting the will of the people in any State”.

Obviously, the position taken by the United Nations was influenced by the Second World War that was fought between 1939 and 1945 and dislocated several parts of the world and sadly, claimed many lives. The whole world, through the United Nations, is conscious of the importance of peace as an essential ingredient of development. Paragraph 1 of article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ proclaims: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family; including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”  (The UN & Human Rights’ published by the UN Department of Public Information, 1984)

RECALLING THE GLORIOUS DECISION: UN records show that ‘’The name “United Nations”, coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt was first used in the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 countries pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.’’ It continues:  In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to draw the UN Charter.  Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks   United States in August-October 1944. The Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.   ’’The facts of the history of the United States’ contributions to multilateralism are irrefutable. The world needs the United States and the United States needs the world. The UN and levers of those organization must devise the ways and means of bringing the United States back into UN agencies like UNESCO and the WHO from which it has withdrawn support. This is why the current dialogue must include the Cold Wat between the United States and the Peoples Republic of China. It portends an ominous cloud for the future of the world.

THE LEGACY OF PRESIDENT HARRY S. TRUMA The importance of the United Nations was recognized through the award of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, jointly shared with its then Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who  in one of his great speeches honoured the legacy of former United States President  Harry S.  Truman. Annan commented:  ‘’If President  Roosevelt was the architect of the United Nations, his successor – President Truman was the master-builder, and the faithful champion of the Organization in its first years when it had to face quite different problems from the ones FDR had expected. ‘’Truman’s name will forever be associated with the memory of far-sighted American leadership in a great global endeavor’’. Kofi Annan noted that: ‘’Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the earth. This principle is known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Today, we realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity also has its own “Butterfly Effect” — for better or for worse. We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further –- we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all –- in pain as in prosperity –- has gripped young and old. In the early beginnings of the twenty-first century –- a century already violently disabused of any hopes that progress towards global peace and prosperity is inevitable — this new reality can no longer be ignored. It must be confronted.

THE ESSENCE OF PEACE Kofi Annan once submitted that ”The twentieth century was perhaps the deadliest in human history, devastated by innumerable conflicts, and untold suffering. The United Nations’ Charter begins with the words: “We the peoples.” What is not always recognized is that “We the peoples” are made up of individuals whose claims to the most fundamental rights have too often been sacrificed in the supposed interests of the State or the nation. A genocide begins with the killing of one man — not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations. In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to States or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security. The rights of the individual are of no less importance to immigrants and minorities in Europe and the Americas than to women in Afghanistan or children in Africa. They are as fundamental to the poor as to the rich; they are as necessary to the security of the developed world as to that of the developing world.

TACKLING THE INEQUALITY PANDEMIC: A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT FOR A NEW ERA In one of his most powerful and penetrating pronouncements as Secretary-General at the Annual Nelson Mandela Day Lecture 2020: Secretary-General Guterres said ‘’ The vision and promise of the United Nations is that food, healthcare, water and sanitation, education, decent work, and social security are not commodities for sale to those who can afford them, but basic human rights to which we are all entitled. ‘’We work to reduce inequality, every day, everywhere. In developing and developed countries alike, we systematically pursue and support policies to change the power dynamics that underpin inequality at the individual, social, and global level.’’ He pinpointed the following as global problems:

  • Inequality defines our time.
  • More than 70 percent of the world’s people are living with rising income and wealth inequality. The 26 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as half the global population.
  • But income, pay and wealth are not the only measures of inequality. People’s chances in life depend on their gender, family and ethnic background, race, whether or not they have a disability, and other factors.
  • Multiple inequalities intersect and reinforce each other across the generations. The lives and expectations of millions of people are largely determined by their circumstances at birth.
  • In this way, inequality works against human development – for everyone. We all suffer its consequences.

And we see inequality this in global power relations – Makes a case for Africa; Women: Africa, says Guterres has been a double victim. First,  as a target of the colonial project.  Second, African countries are under-represented in the international institutions that were created after the Second World War, before most of them had won independence.   The nations that came out on top more than seven decades ago have refused to contemplate the reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions. The composition and voting rights in the United Nations Security Council and the boards of the Bretton Woods system are a case in point.  Inequality starts at the top: in global institutions. Addressing inequality must start by reforming them.   And let’s not forget another great source of inequality in our world: millennia of patriarchy.

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN Guterres asserted that: ‘’We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Everywhere, women are worse off than men, simply because they are women. Inequality and discrimination are the norms. Violence against women, including femicide, is at epidemic levels. Gender inequality harms everyone because it prevents us from benefiting from the intelligence and experience of all of humanity. This is why, as a proud feminist, I have made gender equality a top priority, and gender parity now a reality in top UN jobs. I urge leaders of all kinds to do the same. And I’m pleased to announce that South Africa’s Siya Kolisi is our new global ambassador in the United Nations and European Union Spotlight initiative, engaging other men in fighting the global scourge of violence against women and girls.’’ And globally, women are still excluded from senior positions in governments and on corporate boards. Fewer than one in ten world leaders, is a woman.

Governments should also shift the tax burden from payrolls to carbon. Taxing carbon rather than people will increase output and employment while reducing emissions.   We must break the vicious cycle of corruption, which is both a cause and effect of inequality. Corruption reduces and wastes funds available for social protection; it weakens social norms and the rule of law. And fighting corruption depends on accountability. The greatest guarantee of accountability is a vibrant civil society, including a free, independent media and responsible social media platforms that encourage healthy debate.

UNITED NATIONS CONCERN ON MOUNTING EXPENDITURES ON SECURITY  Global miitary continues to soar, rising to US$1,917 billion in a world enveloped by poverty, disease and hunger. Additionally, the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to widen, as there are nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Addressing a session of the ‘Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (2008) disclosed that ‘’The illicit trade was estimated at US$1billion. And such conventional weapons as landmines take a toll on life and limb that continues for years after the conflicts that spawned them are finished. And yet, beyond  obvious effects of these weapons,  is their deeper cost — a cost that stems from misplaced and absence of vision’’ Banki-Moon lamented that world military expenditures exceeded US$1.5 trillion, at a period that there were global concerns about food security and peace. He also noted with regrets that of at least 640 million licensed firearms worldwide, roughly two thirds are in the hands of civil society. ‘’The legal trade in small arms and weapons exceeded US$4 billion a year’’

PEACE & SOCIAL JUSTICE:  Some pertinent questions now arise: what should be done to halt the disturbing trend of conflicts  and povertyall over the world?  What are the roles of the UN in engendering sustainable growth at this critical period? And what does the future portray? The answer lies in our accepting that it is better to prevent security breaches than to combat such dislocations to peace and security. In other words, the UN must increase its efforts in advocacy and take pro-active steps than reactive options.  In the developing world, the recipe is to pay particular attention to surveillance, good governance, combating illegal militia, conflict resolution, political stability and economic empowerment to be able to have a secured and progressive environment since democracy itself is built on non-negotiable values of peaceful approach to the resolution of crises. The global community, not the UN alone must step up our efforts in the areas of peace building and social justice, This is a strong reason why all hands must be joined this DECADE OF ACTION to ensure Sustainable Development Goals. A lot still has to be done to ensure that all the targets/Goals are met by year 2030 as promised.

NIGERIA & EXPANDED PERMANENT MEMBERSHIP OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL  The UN could also look in the direction of regional powers like Nigeria for huge support for its activities not necessarily in terms of funding,  Nigeria’s  leadership in Africa is obviously providing ideas for the transformation and renewal of the continent, including Africa’s engagement with the rest of the world”. (Ashiru, Olugbenga; 2012) All these are in addition to Nigeria’s pivotal role in the maintenance and sustenance of global peace as particularly evident in her commendable performances as one of the largest contributors to the African Union and the United Nations Peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world. It is our hope that the United Kingdom, other super powers and indeed the global community would support Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But for Nigeria’s efforts and intervention in military issues and other activities, there might be no sub-region identified as West Africa. More importantly, Nigeria’s efforts at decolonization of Africa, her huge potentials, and  troops contributions to the UN make it imperative for the UN to give Nigeria a permanent slot in the security council. There is a lot that the UN could do in African in partnership with Nigeria.

In the words of Secretary-General Guterres, ‘’For this New Social Contract to be possible, it must go hand in hand with a Global New Deal. Let’s face facts. The global political and economic systems are not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the tragic disconnect between self-interest and the common interest; and the huge gaps in governance structures and ethical frameworks. To close these gaps, and to make the New Social Contract possible, we need a Global New Deal: a redistribution of power, wealth and opportunities. A new model for global governance must be based on full, inclusive and equal participation in global institutions. ‘’Without that, we face even wider inequalities and gaps in solidarity – like those we see today in the fragmented global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Developed countries are strongly invested in their own survival in the face of the pandemic. But they have failed to deliver the support needed to help the developing world through these dangerous times. A New Global Deal, based on a fair globalisation, on the rights and dignity of every human being, on living in balance with nature, on taking account of the rights of future generations, and on success measured in human rather than economic terms, is the best way to change this.’’

THE WORLD IS AT A BREAKING POINT Guterres has stated that: ‘’’The worldwide consultation process around the 75th anniversary of the United Nations has made clear that people want a global governance system that delivers for them.  The developing world must have a far stronger voice in global decision-making. We also need a more inclusive and balanced multilateral trading system that enables developing countries to move up global value chains.  Illicit financial flows, money-laundering, and tax evasion must be prevented. A global consensus to end tax havens is essential. We must work together to integrate the principles of sustainable development into financial decision-making. Financial markets must be full partners in shifting the flow of resources away from the brown and the grey to the green, sustainable, and equitable. Reform of the debt architecture and access to affordable credit must create fiscal space to move investment in the same direction.

Nelson Mandela said: “One of the challenges of our time … is to reinstall in the consciousness of our people that sense of human solidarity, of being in the world for one another and because of and through others.” The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced this message more strongly than ever.

  • We belong to each other.
  • We stand together, or we fall apart.

Today, in demonstrations for racial equality … in campaigns against hate speech … in the struggles of people claiming their rights and standing up for future generations … we see the beginnings of a new movement. This movement rejects inequality and division and unites young people, civil society, the private sector, cities, regions, and others behind policies for peace, our planet, justice, and human rights for all. It is already making a difference.

  • Now is the time for global leaders to decide:
  • Will we succumb to chaos, division and inequality?
  • Or will we right the wrongs of the past and move forward together, for the good of all?
  • We are at breaking point. But we know which side of history we are on.

PEACE, UNITY & COMPASSION: Again, Kofi Anna’s year 2001 speech is apposite here. The Christian Gospel teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that “truth is one, the sages give it various names.” And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life. Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power. ‘’It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities that unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what –- and who — we are not.’’

We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings. This will not be possible, however, without freedom of religion, of expression, of assembly, and basic equality under the law. Indeed, the lesson of the past century has been that where the dignity of the individual has been trampled or threatened –- where citizens have not enjoyed the basic right to choose their government, or the right to change it regularly –- conflict has too often followed, with innocent civilians paying the price, in lives cut short and communities destroyed.”

KEEPING THE FLAG FLYING The BBC had in a year 2017 news analysis stated that the job of the UN Secretary-General is perhaps the hardest of tasks. It commented that: ‘’ Mr Guterres will have a massive task ahead of him when he takes up the role in the New Year. He will have to get the UN back into shape to face a deeply unstable world. As a former head of the UN refugee agency for the last decade, he will have the experience to tackle the migration crisis; the 65 million people who have been displaced across the world. He will have to work out the UN’s role in trying to bring stability to Syria when the Security Council is utterly divided on the conflict, with two permanent members – Russia and the United States – no longer even talking about a ceasefire. The obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or religion, and much more to do with the desire of those in power to maintain their position at any cost. This is neither a new phenomenon nor one confined to any particular part of the world. People of all cultures value their freedom of choice and feel the need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives. No doubt, that is why the Nobel Committee says that it “wishes, in its centenary year, to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations”.

UN, ITS AGENCIES & THE UNITED STATES   President Harry S. Truman, in his speech at the foundation laying ceremony of the UN headquarters stated the UN position ”The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations. The charter dearly shows our determination that international problems must be settled on a basis acceptable to the conscience of mankind.  Because the United Nations is the dynamic expression of what all the peoples of the world desire, because it sets up a standard of right and justice for all nations, it is greater than any of its members. The compact that underlies the United Nations cannot be ignored — and it cannot be infringed or dissolved.”

UNITED STATES AS A STRATEGIC GLOBAL POWER: AN APPEAL  This is a good opportunity for the UN to attempt to leaders of the United States to ensure this brilliant dream of UN’s founding fathers are not  killed. Truman in his 1949 speech cited above stated further that: ”No single nation can always have its own way, for these are human problems, and the solution of human problems is to be found in negotiation and mutual adjustment. ”The challenge of the 20th century is the challenge of human relations, and not of impersonal natural forces. The real dangers confronting us today have their origins in outmoded habits of thought, in the inertia of human nature, and in preoccupation with supposed national interests to the detriment of the common good.”

Norwegian Nobel Committee had in 2001 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the UN and Kofi Annan. In the citation, the body stated the obvious: ”The U.N. has in its history achieved many successes, and suffered many setbacks. ”Through this first Peace Prize to the U.N. as such, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes in its centenary year to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations.

Let us plead with leaders of the United States to consider the likely negative impact of its withdrawal from multilateral organizations in particular, and the world in general.  The doors of UNESCO and the World Health Organization are still very widen open for re-entry.