The United Nations: Man's Last, Best Hope? | Tomorrow's World

The United Nations: Man's Last, Best Hope?

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Sixty years ago this October, the United Nations was established. Inaugurated officially on October 24, 1945, the UN was the brainchild of a world still freshly mindful of the horrors of World War II—the most terrible and destructive conflict yet to have engulfed mankind. War had become so unbelievably destructive that world leaders knew there had to be some other mechanism for resolving conflict among nations and finding peace.

Sixty years ago this October, the United Nations was established. Inaugurated officially on October 24, 1945, the UN was the brainchild of a world still freshly mindful of the horrors of World War II—the most terrible and destructive conflict yet to have engulfed mankind. War had become so unbelievably destructive that world leaders knew there had to be some other mechanism for resolving conflict among nations and finding peace.

A similar organization, the League of Nations, had been established in 1919, in the wake of World War I—which had optimistically (if naïvely) been called "the war to end all wars." The League was envisioned as a body that would bring about permanent world peace and outlaw aggression, but it proved utterly ineffective. Though it was U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who first proposed the League of Nations, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty that would have made the U.S. a member. Unable to influence the nations of the world, the League faltered. Within 20 years of its founding, the world plunged into another World War—a war that would dwarf its predecessor.

As World War II came to a close, world leaders did not want to repeat their previous mistake. A new organization, replacing the League of Nations, would get it right this time. The UN was going to be different. This time, the United States—emerging from World War II as the preeminent world power—was going to take a leading role. The Allies had cooperated to crush Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperialism, and now they would cooperate to end war. By establishing an international forum where questions of global import could be debated and resolved, the world would be spared a third devastating World War. Nations would put aside their petty differences and warlike ambitions, and form a united world body that would guide mankind into a new and peaceful era. The rhetoric sounded beautiful, and the plan sounded grand—but the reality proved to be far, far different from what most expected.

What Went Wrong?

Few foresaw that wartime alliances would so quickly shatter and give rise to new rivalries and conflicts. The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin had its own agenda for the spread of international communism, and planned to use any means available to achieve its goals. The U.S. would later discover that communist influence had infiltrated even the highest echelons of American government. Men such as Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White, later identified as members of the Communist Party USA, were key advisors to an ailing President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yalta, where Stalin was given the go-ahead to occupy Eastern Europe and make it part of the post-war Soviet sphere of influence. Hiss later chaired the committee that drafted the UN charter.

In the years following World War II, the world moved very quickly from one form of warfare to another. By the end of the 1940s, the world had entered the "Cold War," which continued with great intensity through the 1950s and 1960s and beyond. This "Cold War" produced a "bipolar" world that was generally divided between the U.S. and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies.

As European colonial empires began to be dismantled, an apparent third group arose—a movement of "non-aligned nations, mostly from the less-developed "third world." These nations, however—though officially allied with neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union—were generally far more attracted to Soviet communism than western capitalism as the model for their future development. From India's Nehru to Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, most of the leaders who rose to power after colonial independence embraced socialism at home and could be counted upon to denounce the U.S. and Britain during debates in the UN General Assembly. When votes were taken, they could generally be counted upon to side with the Soviet bloc.

As a result, the UN became very unpopular with much of the American electorate by the early 1960s. The UN was caught in the middle of a Cold War rivalry that it could not transcend. Each side tried to manipulate that rivalry to its own advantage. Whichever side had the votes on a particular issue championed the UN, while the other side disregarded it.

It quickly became evident that the UN was as powerless as the League of Nations had been to stop the regional conflicts that were fueled by superpower rivalry. Whether it was the long-standing Vietnam conflict or Israel's Six Day War against the Arab League, the UN was neither able to prevent conflict nor to resolve it effectively once it had begun.

United Nations Peacekeepers

From the Congo to Bosnia to Somalia, UN peacekeeping operations have earned a reputation of being far worse than ineffective. Notorious for their lack of discipline, UN troops have regularly been accused of rape and brutality. Generally drawn from third-world countries, these "peacekeepers" have never been much of a force for peace.

In 1960 the Congo gained independence from Belgium under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, a self-proclaimed communist. Within weeks, the nation descended into anarchy as rape and looting became widespread. Belgium responded by sending in troops to protect its nationals, and a firestorm was set off at the UN. Russia and its allies demanded that UN troops be sent to protect Congo's independence from the "imperialists." At this point, Katanga province leader Moise Tshombe declared independence, announcing that he was "seceding from chaos." In the ensuing months, there were coups and counter coups in the Congo. Lumumba was finally assassinated. However, it was against Katanga province that the ire of the UN forces was directed. From the pitched battles launched by UN forces in the fall, to the infamous UN bombing of the Elizabethtown Hospital in Katanga shortly before Christmas 1961, the situation went from bad to worse. Over the next year, there were a succession of battles and ceasefires. By January 1963, Katanga was finally subjugated by UN peacekeepers. By that time, the UN's record of atrocities was well documented by both civilian physicians and western journalists present in Katanga during the fighting. Sadly, what happened there was not an isolated case of UN misconduct, though it was one of the most egregious examples.

How about a much more recent example? The UN mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia was launched in 2000. Barely three months into its mission, reports surfaced of Danish peacekeepers sexually abusing a 13-year-old Eritrean girl. No corrective actions were ever taken. Three-and-a-half years after the launch of the UN mission, the Eritrean government declared that all the UN had accomplished was to efficiently squander about a billion dollars! Accused of sexual exploitation of women and children, torture and murder of civilians, and using diplomatic immunity for trafficking in everything from narcotics to people, the reputation of the UN's peacekeeping forces had reached a nadir.

Such accusations against the UN do not come merely from obscure sources or right-wing critics. Notice excerpts from an article, "The U.N., Preying on the Weak," found in the April 12, 2005 issue of the Washington Post: "Anyone who was shocked by the most recent revelation of sexual misconduct by United Nations staff has never set foot in a U.N.-sponsored refugee camp. Sex crimes are only one especially disturbing symptom of a culture of abuse that exists in the United Nations precisely because the United Nations and its staff lack accountability."

Corrupt and Ineffective

Conduct of "Peacekeeper" troops in country after country is only one small part of the problem. A culture of arrogance and corruption has permeated the institution and brought the UN into widespread disrepute. The scandal involving the oil-for-food program in pre-war Iraq is one of the more recent cases in point. Investigations have shown involvement reaching to the highest levels of the UN, yet no real disciplinary actions took place. U.S. Senator Norm Coleman led a seven-month investigation into the UN-sponsored oil-for-food program and ended up calling for the resignation of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan because of the corruption associated with this program. Senator Coleman claimed that Saddam Hussein had defrauded the program of $21 billion and that this was made possible by a combination of both passive and active help from UN officials. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Coleman declared, "We have obtained evidence that Saddam doled out lucrative oil allotments to foreign officials, sympathetic journalists and even one senior U. N. official. We are gathering evidence that Saddam gave hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of Oil-for-Food dollars to terrorists and terror organizations… under the supposedly vigilant eye of the U.N."

Where it is not found corrupt, the U.N. is consistently found ineffective. The crisis in Bosnia, back in the mid-1990s, illustrated the UN's utter inability to deal with the very problems it was set up to prevent. Newsweek magazine, in its July 14, 1995 issue, detailed some of the atrocities that illustrated the genocide taking place in Bosnia. One graphic example was of a Bosnian mother sitting at the table eating a meal with her family when Serbian troops forced their way into the house. A soldier pulled a large knife and killed her oldest son before her eyes, then arrested her 15-year-old son and took him away. "Later that afternoon, the Serbs rounded up all males in their teens and older and took them off for 'interrogation'—leaving 10,000 or more people unaccounted for and raising fears of a mass atrocity."

Where was the UN when all of this was going on? Most often, it was denying the seriousness of what was happening! Note these comments by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, U.S. Ambassador to the UN during the Bosnian genocide: "Almost everyone understands that this war is not a conflict of limited importance, as the U.N. Secretary-General and selected European leaders have tried to pretend it is. It is a particularly heinous example of aggression that seeks not merely to conquer a country but to destroy, expel and dispossess peoples in a process of 'ethnic cleansing'" ("The U.N. Emasculation of NATO," San Diego Union-Tribune, July 14, 1995).

For decades, critics of every kind have decried the corruption and ineffectiveness that seems to permeate the UN. However, they all seem to come to the conclusion that since there is no viable alternative to the UN, the best hope seems to be some sort of institutional reform. Even a bad UN is better than no UN, appears to be the thinking. Most recently a reform program has been floated that would enlarge the UN Security Council and give permanent seats to Germany and Japan as well as perhaps India and Brazil. Would this really solve anything?

The Real Hope for Peace

The UN has not produced—and cannot produce—world peace. It was fatally flawed from the very beginning. As the Creator God inspired the prophet Isaiah to record, 27 centuries ago, "the way of peace they have not known" (Isaiah 59:8). Outside the UN headquarters building in New York, there is a sculpture of a workman beating a sword into a plowshare. Inspired by Isaiah 2:4, this theme embodies the highest hopes and dreams of some of the UN's founders. Sixty years after its foundation, however, what has come of the UN's lofty ambitions? Even its ambitious and idealistic founders would have to call it a failure by any objective measure.

What is the real way to peace? The prophet Isaiah explained: "The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17). Simply put, peace is a byproduct of righteousness. It is impossible to separate the two. What is righteousness? "For all Your commandments are righteousness" declares the psalmist (Psalm 119:172). The commandments of the Creator God outline the way to love God and the way to love our neighbor. This is the only approach to life that will result in peace among nations or between individuals. Mankind simply cannot construct its own way to peace, apart from God and His laws.

The Bible tells the story of human beings trying to build their own civilization apart from God. From the days recorded in Genesis 3, when our first parents took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, mankind has sought to build its own society. The result has been a civilization based upon a fatal mixture of good and evil. Such a divided house cannot stand indefinitely. The years ahead of us will see the passing of our present civilization, and the emergence of a new civilization based upon totally different values. How will that civilization emerge, and how can you enjoy its benefits? The answer is in the pages of your own Bible.

The Bible shows that the age-old scourges of war, famine, and disease are yet destined to ravage humanity on a more terrible scale than ever before. In the midst of a world threatened with terrorism and economic collapse, a would-be savior will emerge in Europe. Allied with and endorsed by a charismatic religious leader who will dazzle the world with dramatic signs and wonders, this European leader will promise universal peace and prosperity. Though undoubtedly there will be initial signs of success, the ultimate result of this alliance of church and state—reminiscent of the old "Holy Roman Empire" of the Middle Ages—will be a descent into the hellish world that your Bible calls the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21). The UN will not only be powerless to stop this terrible time of trouble; its structure will probably be co-opted and dominated by this soon-to-emerge European dictator. Perhaps for this reason, the prophet Zechariah uses the phrase "all nations" when describing the multinational force that will occupy Jerusalem on the pretext of bringing about peace in the Middle East. The conduct of that prophesied army certainly reminds us of UN "peacekeepers" in previous international conflicts: "The city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished" (Zechariah 14:2).

The only development that will bring about peace will be the returning Prince of Peace! "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives… and the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—'the Lord is one,' and His name one… and it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which come against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:3–4, 9, 16).

Thankfully, the UN is not mankind's last, best hope for peace. Fatally flawed from its inception, the UN has been unable to come anywhere close to achieving the lofty aspirations of many of its founders. Ultimately, humanity as a whole must learn that the "way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Truly, unless the Lord shall build the house, the weary builders toil in vain!

Jesus Christ came two millennia ago announcing the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14). He will soon return in power and glory, and will bring to pass the good news He has promised. God speed that day!


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