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The United Nations



Visualize, Then Realize: Giving World Peace A Chance


It's a Wedding!

Have you ever considered the possibility that we could, in our lifetime, achieve world peace? What would it take to make that happen? What kinds of sacrifices would we all have to make? And what would it be like, to live in a world without war, or the potential for war?

"Hey Neda, what am I supposed to be visualizing again?"
"Hey Neda, what am I supposed to be visualizing again?"
These are loaded questions, I know. They’re also very abstract - after all, what does "world peace" actually mean to you and me? How would the absence of conflict in the Sudan, or Indonesia, or Kashmir affect your life here in the US? And don’t we already have too many problems in this country to worry about everyone else?

OK, enough questions! Here’s what I’m getting at: after World War II, world leaders not only grappled with these same questions, they sought practical answers. Countries were still in shock over the total destruction that had occurred and no one wanted a repeat situation. So what did they do? They created a world organization, called the United Nations (UN), to work towards achieving world peace. The logic was (and still is) simple: if countries were able to discuss and work together through a global organization, then future wars could be prevented.

That, in essence, is the role of the UN - to provide a forum for dialogue between its member states (189 countries at the moment) in the hopes of avoiding conflicts.

But the UN doesn’t just encourage dialogue; it promotes action. Since conflicts often arise out of poverty, inequality, ethnic tensions and lack of education, these must be eliminated if peace is to be achieved. The logic here is also simple: if people have access to education, jobs, health care and other basic rights, then they will be happy and less likely to engage in war. As UN personnel Patricia Seghers explains, "The overarching goal of the UN is world peace. But what does that mean? It means other things because how can we have world peace if we’re hungry? Or if we don’t have an education? Peace means education; it means you can vote for your own leader; it means you can observe a religion of your choice."

Daphne and Patricia try hard to visualize…whirled peas?
Daphne and Patricia try hard to visualize…whirled peas?
So UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, UNDP and UNEP* implement projects around the globe to reduce infant mortality rates, improve access to clean water, eliminate landmines, and distribute medical kits, among other things. In short, they work to help poor people live better lives. (*All these acronyms! These organizations focus on many issues such as children, health and the environment. You can find out what their letters stand for and what they do by surfing the UN website.)

Consider this:

  • More than one billion people in the world earn about $1 a day
  • An additional $6 billion a year would be needed to achieve universal education
  • An African woman is 180 times as likely to die from complications during pregnancy as a western woman
  • More than 110 million landmines are buried in 64 countries

These statistics paint a bleak picture. They reflect the inequalities between the privileged few (that’s you and me) and the rest of the world. And they point to some of the challenges that must be overcome before world peace is finally achieved.

Neda loves the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as much as I do!
Neda loves the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as much as I do!
I keep thinking about how people must have felt back in 1945 when the UN was created. Millions of Jews (as well as homosexuals, communists, Catholics and others) had been assassinated by Hitler’s Nazi regime. Europe was devastated. The only solution seemed to be to come together and work towards peace. Three years later, in 1948, that sentiment was strengthened when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asked governments to ensure that all human beings, rich and poor, strong and weak, male and female, of all races and religions, be treated equally. See Daphne's article on Eleanor Roosevelt

When I visited the UN headquarters in New York for the first time in ’95, I was awed. I took the tour, bought a T-shirt and took a copy of the Declaration home with me. I felt incredibly inspired by the idealism that guided the formation of this organization and hopeful that "world peace" didn’t just have to be a bumper sticker slogan.

Can members of the Security Council spell "world peace"?
Can members of the Security Council spell "world peace"?
So what happened? Why are we still waiting for peace? Wars rage on, children continue to die of ailments ordinary to us, and our natural resources are more polluted than ever. It seems incredible to me that countries can produce so much destruction so quickly (as evidenced by every war) but take so long to improve living conditions of world citizens!

Unfortunately, many countries don’t seem as committed to world peace as before. And since countries make up the UN, their politics and priorities are ultimately what guide the work that gets done. As Patricia puts it, "The problems are enormous and the UN is limited in its functions - it has the largest membership of any world organization but not universal mandate because it’s not a world government."

At the UN gift shop, I couldn't find any "world peace" on sale, but I did come across this fine-looking tote bag
At the UN gift shop, I couldn't find any "world peace" on sale, but I did come across this fine-looking tote bag
I don’t want to sound as though the UN hasn’t been able to accomplish anything. It has. Thanks to UNICEF and WHO, 80 per cent of the world’s children have been immunized, saving 3 million lives a year. UN peacekeeping forces and diplomacy have diffused or ended wars in Mozambique (1994), El Salvador (1992) and Iran/Iraq (1988). And as a result of its decolonization efforts, more than 80 former colonies are now themselves Members of the UN. The list goes on and on.

But the success stories come at a high price and take a long time to be realized. And behind every bleak statistic is a real person who lacks the opportunities - and basic human rights - you and I take for granted.

Now consider this:
· In 1995 the world spent nearly $800 billion on defense (the US spent almost $300 billion of that), while the cost of achieving basic social services for all has been estimated at $400 billion over ten years - half of global military spending!
· In 1995, the United States spent 33 times more on defense than on official development assistance

Obviously, our priorities are screwed up! There is a growing consensus that, in the long run, the world can either continue to pursue the arms race or achieve social development for the benefit of all. It can’t do both. Unfortunately, governments such as the United States find it easier to increase military spending rather than fund development projects, leaving the UN to chip away at the problems instead of battling them head-on.

Every member country presents the UN with a gift, and this mosaic came from Morocco
Every member country presents the UN with a gift, and this mosaic came from Morocco
Before I became a Trekker, I lived and worked in one of the world’s poorest countries, Mozambique. Almost every UN agency had a project there and I knew several people who worked for them. Susan was at UNV, Jan-Thomas was at UNIDO, Rita at UNFPA, Sam at UNICEF. Although I wasn’t part of the UN, I did work for another large donor agency with many of the same objectives. Together, we tried to chip away at some of Mozambique’s most glaring problems by improving access to health care for the population, immunizing children, and training workers, among other things. And we did it for many reasons, but mainly because -- as cliché as it sounds -- we cared. As Sam said to me, "One of the key differences in working for a UN organization is the core commitment of the organization. Working for UNICEF means working to promote children’s rights - right to health care, education, freedom from abuse, and the right to be a healthy child. That, for me, provides more motivation than I would have if working solely for a profit-oriented company."

Working for the UN - or at least living by its ideals - means caring for the welfare of all peoples across the globe, not just the ones inside our political borders. It means accepting that each life matters, whether it’s a Mozambican woman stuck in floodwaters, or a Sudanese farmer fleeing the civil war, or an American youth caught up in the drug trade. They need our help, our resources, and our commitment.

Neda and Daphne hope their countries, Brazil and Iran, make world peace their number one priority!
Neda and Daphne hope their countries, Brazil and Iran, make world peace their number one priority!
The sense of urgency that existed after World War II has been replaced by general indifference, which is punctuated with bursts of solidarity whenever a catastrophe occurs (such as the earthquake in El Salvador or the famine in Ethiopia). But the urgency remains. And until all of the countries that make up the UN, especially the United States, make social development across the globe their number one priority, the statistics will continue to paint a bleak picture.

Visualize again world peace. Imagine a world where human rights are upheld, where all children go to school, and where our environment is protected. If you like what you see, then rekindle your idealism and help make it come true.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - The sweet solace of a farm in war time
Nick - When you must survive, you will find a way
Becky - Suit up! It's time for Zooting in Los Angeles
Irene - You are a U.S. citizen but we will still put you in a concentration camp
Nick - You work hard and still that isn't good enough
Becky - The making of the world's largest vaporizer: The Bomb
Stephen - What did the war mean to the fighters?
Team - Why wouldn't you help, if you could?