UN75: No time for imperialism
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf
This year, 2020, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations. In it we see many opportunities to work for a better world, but we also miss a more real impact on the lives of countries and people. Is it possible to do something to improve the UN, or, at 75, would it be better to ask for a changeover as is demanded of the bishops?
The Pact of the League of Nations (Paris Conference on 24 April 1919) was signed by 45 countries. It was initiated by President Wilson of the United States, although the United States never joined the Pact because of the Senate’s refusal to become involved in European issues. Neither the USSR, in a revolutionary situation, nor Germany, a defeated country, were part of the Pact; they would both join in 1926 and 1934, respectively. Turkey did not join either, as it was also a defeated country. The fundamental aim, after the First World War (1917), was to avoid a new conflict and to reorganize the possessions of the defeated empires. Some agreements were reached before the start of World War II, but it is clear that it did not achieve its objectives, not even remotely.
The world was trying to abandon a past structure: empires. Since 3150 BC, the approximate date of the creation of the Egyptian Empire, the form of imperial domination had been the usual way to organize the nations of the world. Empires have followed one another since the invention by Egypt: Persian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Holy Roman Empire, Turkish, Inca, Aztec, Maya, Yoruba, Hausa, Benin, Gao, Spanish, English, Mongolian, German, Austrian, Dutch, French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc.; many thousands of years. The two world wars and the internal revolutions made us understand, very painfully, that this was not the right path; the imperial way of governing the world led, inevitably, to confrontation and war. It was necessary to create a global international framework for dialogue and governance, for relations between countries. To begin with, after the collapse of the European empires: granting independence to the countries dominated by the various “fallen empires”; delimiting the inviolable borders of all countries, and providing the “rules of the game” for a new international order. Under the auspices and interests of the United States, institutions were created for two areas: political relations (UN, 1945) and economic relations (Bretton Woods, 1944). The economic institutions are today: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization.
The UN starts its journey at the San Francisco Conference (USA) held in 1945, between June 28th and October 15th. It was convened by the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union. It was attended by 850 delegates from 46 nations; a total of 3,500 attendees plus 2,500 journalists. The United Nations Charter sets out the principles and structure of this organization, created after the Second World War, with a fundamental objective: to be a place for dialogue and to resolve differences between countries so that the horror of the two world wars is never again experienced. The following bodies were created: General Assembly, Security Council, General Secretariat, Economic and Social Council, International Court, Trusteeship Council (decolonization process).
The time of European empires was over. The creation of the UN foresaw a new path of initial multilateralism, but, almost from the beginning, the claim of being the Empire of the world, tarnished the desires of a world with different “rules of the game”. The United States and the USSR began a struggle for imperial hegemony and the world was divided into three blocks: one the US, around the USSR, and the third around the “non-aligned” countries, which largely coincided with the so-called Third World. After the Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the disintegration of the USSR, we find ourselves with only one referee: the USA. The reality is stubborn and, since a few years ago, a competitor to the hegemony of the U.S. has emerged; that competitor is China. Are we, again, faced with the possibility of an “imperial” type confrontation, between China and the U.S.? I think so, this may be the problem.
There is a current debate among experts in international relations: should we move towards multilateralism, or is desirable the existence of a single hegemonic power, or perhaps, two that compensate for each other? Certainly, the existence of global governance, of which all the countries of the world form part, would be something totally new in the history of humanity; but is that not the desire behind the creation of the United Nations? Moreover, is that not the key to the evolution that this institution has had throughout the 75 years of its existence? As Durao Barroso, President of the European Commission (2004-2014), said: If UN did not exist, we would have invented it. It is clear that we will have to go through different phases if we want to transform the UN of today into the UN that the world needs; this will not happen overnight. We must also take into account that disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change urge us to provide global solutions, with global governance, to problems that we cannot solve individually. Multilateralism is imposed to replace the imperial solution. The celebration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the UN had already generated the need to propose changes that would give it greater weight in Global Governance. The tragedy of the COVID-19, although it has made face-to-face meetings difficult and suspended many events, is an unmistakable sign of urgency, which will accelerate decision-making.
If one of the great tendencies that we have seen in the UN during these 75 years is a strengthening of MULTILATERALISM to the detriment of IMPERIALISM, the other great tendency can be called the integration of CIVIL SOCIETY, in decision making. The UN is, since its foundation, an organization of sovereign states, but in the last decades, the importance of CIVIL SOCIETY has increased very significantly. Universities, scientific experts, NGOs, companies, individual donors, religions, are already part of the study of the issues and the implementation of the decisions of the UN in an unavoidable way.
On the occasion of this 75th anniversary, civil society has presented a proposal for action entitled: “People’s Declaration UN75 and Plan for Global Action” and a subtitle: “Humanity at a crossroads: global solutions for global challenges”. Based on the “Charter of the United Nations”, “Human Rights” and the “Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals“, the members of the “Civil Society for the UN we need” make proposals for the short, medium, and long term. They are clearly in line with Global Multilateralism. I invite you to read the proposal. The operationalization of all UN institutions requires a review of the representativeness of the countries throughout the historical and geographical areas of the world; it is especially necessary to seek ways to eliminate the veto in the Security Council and to make it possible for the agreements of the General Assembly to be taken not unanimously but by majority vote. I invite you to read the proposal. I believe that, in this transformation of the UN, given the position of the USA and China, the European Union should assume a particularly relevant role, as a catalyst for change; perhaps coordinated within the G-20 group (Germany, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, South Korea, USA, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, European Union, and Spain as a guest).
In the midst of a turbulent world, full of joy and hope, sadness and anguish, the signs of the times are present. God, the Spirit of God, does not abandon his beloved humanity; he wants to be joy and hope for the world. Let us seek, as Catholic Christians, the most suitable way for this world, little by little, it will become what God wanted it to be from the start.
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf
Doctor in Teaching
Degree in Systematic Theology
(Gideon Kometa cmf. Translator)