The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

“Here in this grove of enduring redwoods, preserved for posterity, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organizations met on April 29, 1945, to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Thirty- Second President of the United States, Chief Architect of the United Nations, and Apostle of Lasting Peace for All Mankind.” The work of that architect has stood the test of time. But the challenge that apostle chose to take on is at least as acute today as it was six decades ago. And a whole host of new challenges have emerged, ones simply not on the radar screen of the framers who met in San Francisco during that fertile spring. Today the world faces non-state terror networks, failed states, intractable poverty, AIDS and other pan- demics, the challenge of governing transnational corpo- rations, climate change and other forms of chronic envi- ronmental degradation. Despite promises of “never again,” we see genocides repeated in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur — places remote from great-power interests and therefore unlikely to motivate international interventions. We witness one state trying to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation while insisting on retaining and indeed improving its own vast nuclear arsenal — seemingly oblivious to both the contradiction in that position and the futility of such an enterprise. The structure of the U.N., too, has become embar- rassingly anachronistic: Britain and France are only medium-rank world powers by any reckoning, yet both hold Security Council vetoes. In contrast, Germany, Japan, India, Brazil, and many other nations possessing significant geopolitical weight have virtually no voice. Since the U.N.’s inception, those who feel like they weren’t invited to the party have pleaded to make the United Nations more legitimate, more accountable and more representative of the peoples of the world. Several initiatives marked the organization’s 50th anniversary in 1995, including the Commission on Global Governance, the Independent Working Group on the U.N. in Its Second Half-Century, the “Preferred Futures for the U.N.” symposium, and the South Center’s report, “For a Strong and Democratic United Nations.” Many of these plans were backed by Nobel laureates, former heads of state, and distinguished scholars and practitioners with vast experience in the global governance arena. Yet they all went nowhere. Nearly a decade later, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change issued a report in December 2004, offering sev- eral recommendations to revitalize the U.N. system. A follow-up document, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All , further explored those ideas in March 2005. At a summit just before the opening of the U.N.’s 60th General Assembly session in September 2005, world leaders intended to inaugurate a package of reforms that, it was hoped, might equip the world organization with at least some promising new tools to cope with challenges likely to arise over the next six decades or so. For six months before that meeting, Annan’s panel focused on identifying politically attainable results that governments might actually adopt. These were compiled in an imagi- native 38-page “Outcome Document” that contained many genuine advances. Enter, stage right, John Bolton, the new U.S. ambas- sador to the United Nations. Despite Republican con- trol of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton was so unpopular that President George W. Bush ended up sending him to New York in August 2005 under a recess appointment through the end of 2006. His first act was to reject 35 of the agreement’s 38 hard-won pages. A frantic three weeks of negotia- tions restored barely 10 watered-down pages, which was all that was left for signing at the summit. Some excellent proposals survived, including a Human Rights Council, a Peacebuilding Commission, and a Democracy Fund. But it was hardly the profound revitalization of the United Nations system it might have been. And thanks to perfunctory media coverage, most Americans barely knew the summit took place — F O C U S 34 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 Tad Daley, who led an initiative called the “Campaign for a New U.N. Charter” during the U.N.’s 50th-anniversary year in 1995, is now Peace and Disarmament Fellow in the Los Angeles office of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nobel laureate anti-nuclear organiza- tion. David Lionel, president of the Earth Television Public Education Foundation, is a veteran producer of video documentaries portraying the historic U.N. civil society forums of the past 15 years, including those in Rio in 1992, Istanbul in 1996, and the Millennium Forum in New York in 2000. He is developing a weekly digest of the vast quantity of U.N.-produced TV programming that is presently unseen in the United States.