Ensuring that the UN Remains Vital
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Day in and day out attacks on the United Nations are published in newspapers and magazines across America. Ire toward the international organization became particularly stark when the question of war in Iraq was put to the United Nations Security Council more than two years ago. As Kofi Annan stated himself in a 22 February 2005 Wall Street Journal article stressing the vital importance of the UN, "indisputably, the war in Iraq two years ago caused many people on all sides to lose faith in the UN." His subsequent remarks characterizing the invasion of Iraq as "illegal" enraged many on Capital Hill in Washington. Many suspect that the nomination of John Bolton as the US's representative to the UN is in part a reaction to this statement. By placing a strong figure such as Bolton in the UN (he has been characterized by some of his colleagues as a bully), Bush may be hoping to get his way next time.
Regardless of the motivation behind Bolton's nomination, President Bush himself made it clear on numerous occasions that he regards the UN with low esteem and questions its utility in the 21st century. And yet, the US and its allies continue to depend on the UN for tasks that no country could realistically provide. A brilliant example was the job undertaken by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which played a critical role in getting aid to Tsunami victims this past winter. Despite the murder of 21 UN employees who were killed in a terrorist attack in Iraq two years ago, the UN is back in Iraq. It also helped to broker the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
The UN also provides a certain focus to developmental goals and priorities. Last year it established "cultural liberty" as an essential aspect of human development. All people have the right to maintain their ethnic, linguistic and religious identities and the UN insists that policies which recognize and protect these identities lead to sustainable development. This statement is not only pertinent to underdeveloped nations but also applies to countries such as Japan, the US and to those in Europe. According to the 2004 UNDP Human Development report, the number of immigrants in Europe from Asia, Africa and the Americas jumped by about 75 percent between 1980 and 2000. In many ways these immigrants have contributed to the economic prosperity of Europe. Simultaneously, many are being subjected to xenophobic racism as they are blamed for crime, terrorism and ethnic tension. Today, the UN is pressing countries hosting immigrant populations to accommodate diversity and "introduce new policies of cultural recognition rather than rely on assimilation."
In Japan's case, immigrations numbers remain comparatively low due to excessively stringent laws preventing immigration and the lack of policies and structures, which welcome cultural diversity. The US on the other hand has benefited greatly from migrant workers. Apparently the total number of foreign-born residents in the United States between 1980 and 2000 rose by 145 percent, from 14 million to 35 million. At a time when the US government fears a collapse of its social security system, migrants are a welcome workforce sustaining the American population.
Research, coordination and action on the ground by the UN makes a difference in how we act, live and think. Certainly, the UN needs to be reformed in order to become more useful in the modern world. As part of that the United Nations Security Council either needs to be abolished or considerably revamped. There also needs to be more transparency and accountability. Ultimately, however, member states need to abide by their obligations in the United Nations and make sure that UN resolutions are implemented and respected. In essence, Japan, the United States and all other members are responsible for ensuring that the United Nations remains a vital organ through the 21st century.