What Can the UN Do?
A pile of new books on the United Nations is usually enough to drive even the most public-spirited man to his Ian Fleming. After all, what can be said about the UN that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? And if anything new could be said, what difference would it make? The UN seems here to stay, its longevity assured by the fact that it knows its place. It has not been allowed to interfere with the vital interests of the super-powers, nor to intervene in areas where world peace is really threatened. Except for the lunatic fringe of Maoists and Birchites, the UN has no real enemies. Liberals sing its praises, conservatives accept it as a minor inconvenience, and virtually everyone agrees with U Thant’s recent assurance of “how much sorrier a state the world would now be in if the United Nations had not existed.”
It is, of course, easy to take the name of the UN in vain, but few people would be tempted to dispense with it altogether. It is too useful, too sacrosanct, and, when it comes to the really crucial issues, too irrelevant. Therein lies the secret of its success. It has won the world’s heart because it has not stepped on any powerful nation’s toes—or at least not hard enough to do any damage. Having settled for weakness as the price of survival, the UN has been absorbed into the world power structure. Why attack it for not being more than it is, when what it is serves most people’s interests so well? If the UN did not exist, we would have to invent it, and what we would invent would probably be very much like what we have today. This is the tragedy of the UN, and also the reason for its endurance.
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