April 1, 2011


U.N.'s value is in hope and help

Gillian Sorenson.

Why is the United Nations valuable to the United States?

"To my mind, the U.N. is the place where realism and idealism meet," said Gillian Sorenson, United Nations Foundation's senior adviser and national advocate.

"Peace is possible. Nations can work together. We need a place to meet, and that forum is the U.N.," she said in her March 29 Halle Speakers Series lecture.

Sorenson's job is to advocate for the United Nations, specifically in the face of anti-U.N. sentiment in the United States.

"The U.N. is a place we can lead by example. It's not a world government; it's a voluntary association."

But, she warned, "Not every one of the 192 [member] nations is committed to the goals of peace, justice, security."

"We need to be realistic about what it can do. It reflects the will of the member states," she said about the 65-year-old international entity. "When U.N. stumbles, it is because the member states have stumbled."

Sorenson continued, "A common criticism is that the U.N. is a threat to our sovereignty. That is a myth. It cannot order the U.S. to do anything we don't choose to do."

"We could not possibly do it alone. Even superpowers need friends."

The political climate and attitude in the United States precludes U.S. soldiers from participating in U.N. operations but the United States contributes transport and logistical resources to the 17 peacekeeping operations the U.N. currently has going, she said.

Sorenson ticked off the various global problems that affect all nations, crossing all borders, including health, security, human rights, climate change and investments.

"We could not possibly do it alone. Even superpowers need friends," she said, quoting former U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright.

Sorenson said there are "a billion people who live in dire poverty. We know what to do about that if we have the political will."

Right now, the United Nations is sheltering some 20 million refugees around the globe.

Sorenson talked about other work of the United Nations — democratization, disarmament and human rights.

The most visible piece of democratization, she noted, is the monitoring of free and fair elections.

Disarmament of nuclear, biological, chemical and other weapons, is "an issue that affects us closely."

"The U.S. plays a very damaging role in this because the U.S. is, by far, the biggest maker and seller of these weapons. I'm sorry to say that."

The rights of women and children, while expressed in the original 1947 charter, have only recently been given more attention. The latest is a new department called U.N. Women, headed by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. It will give special attention to seeing that girls from 9-15 have chance for education, Sorenson said.

"Human rights are the most visible value where what we say must match what we do. It is not possible for us to say one thing and do another," she said, citing the Abu Ghraib scandal and the detainees held in Guantanamo Bay without charge or counsel.

The United Nations — an "imperfect but indispensable organization" — shows "we are one human family."

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