Letter to the Editor: Don’t forget U.N. successes even with its constraints

I find the conclusion of Friday’s piece titled “U.N. fails to live up to mission” by Alex Turner troubling.

This was not only for its narrow standards on which U.N. success was measured (namely, failing to prevent atrocities comparable to those that occurred in WWII), but also the lack of consideration for a myriad of other U.N. accomplishments that are more indicative of its success.

U.N. success should not be judged by the fact that problems still exist in the world (it is naive to believe that any organization is capable of correcting the world’s ills), but by how far our world has come since the creation of the U.N.

To answer the question that the article poses regarding Darfur, “Why haven’t troops mobilized, invaded, and overthrown the regime?,” I call attention to that paragraph’s first sentence: “The problem with the U.N. is that it is made up of representatives of countries who all have their own agenda.”

Indeed, the U.N. is not an individual actor; it is a tool through which member states channel their priorities. Often this can create a diplomatic tug-of-war, but the U.N. is the closest thing we have to a world government that is able to set forth international standards, norms and expectations. It is the only forum in the world in which all nation-states are equal.

In the process of diplomacy there will always be disappointments, but it is undeniable that the U.N. has made major contributions to world peace.

The real problem – one that is evident in the column – is that we tend to remember failures and discount successes. We remember Rwanda and forget El Salvador, Mozambique and Namibia. We recall Kosovo, where the U.N. mission met resistance, and forget Cyprus, where the U.N. has successfully preserved peace.

We all too often forget the dozens of specialized agencies that perform specific operations that promote peace. Last year the United Nation Children’s Fund gathered more than $700 million in supplies for children, operated safe water and sanitation programs in 90 countries and served as the principle aid agency to the 13 million children in Africa who have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.

No sensible observer can discount the value of the World Health Organization and its work in ending smallpox, controlling diseases such as polio and malaria and dealing with AIDS prevention and treatment.

Let us not forget also International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. A study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reported that without the IAEA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty we could expect as many as seven more nuclear weapon-enabled powers in the world. These are only a small sampling of the good work that the U.N. and its agencies have achieved. We need the U.N. for all of these functions, and we need to be more thoughtful before criticizing it for things that are out of its control.

Matt Buongiorno is a senior political science major from Arlington and heads this year’s Model U.N. delegation.