In 1919, the world was struggling to recover from the First World War and created the League of Nations. The idea was American, but the United States never joined. The League was flawed and political will in subsequent years faltered. In 1929, the U.S. Stock Market crashed, and its effects reverberated around the world. Everywhere, there was unemployment, inflation, poverty, and desperation. The Italians decided to trust their fate to Benito Mussolini. Later the Germans put their trust in Adolf Hitler. In Spain there was a civil war which resulted in the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. In Japan, militarists and expansionists took power, and the world was set for a Second World War that was far more deadly and effected a greater part of the globe than the First.
As the Second World War ended, the world came together and formed the United Nations which itself grew about 108 other agencies, such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, the IMF, the World Food Program, and many more. Like the League of Nations, the United Nations is flawed, but it has prevented a Third World War. It has expanded human rights, drastically decreased extreme poverty, and dealt with health emergencies such as Ebola and SARS. Eventually, the United Nations also brought the world together to tackle the existential threat of climate change. In present day, climate change and conflict have produced massive global migration; the worst since the Second World War.
When problems become too big for governments to solve quickly, as happened in 1929, electorates turn to authoritarian nationalist leaders who promise to put nation first, to push out or eliminate “the other,” and to bring jobs and prosperity for all “pure” members of the nation. We saw this in the form of the America First Committee in the United States during the Depression, led by Charles Lindberg. That movement was anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and, according to President Franklin Roosevelt, Nazi. Fortunately for the United States at that time, the America First Committee failed in taking power.
The World again is stressed and again voters are turning to ethno-nationalist parties to push out or eliminate the “other” and provide jobs and prosperity to all “pure” members of society. In the 1930s, this led to the worst suffering and devastation the world had ever seen, and it is clear that turning in that direction again will produce even more catastrophic results.
What’s the alternative? It is the United Nations, which has a Global Compact for Migration, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review to strengthen human rights protections everywhere. UN Women works for gender equity. UNICEF works to ensure that children everywhere grow up healthy and have access to quality education for global citizenship. The World Health Organization works to maintain the health of the world. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank work to maintain global economic stability. The 144-year-old Postal treaty maintains the global postal system so that letters and packages can be sent from anywhere to everywhere. (Note: The Trump administration has just announced plans to remove the United States from this 144-year-old treaty.)
In addition to removing the USA from the Postal Treaty, the Trump Administration has removed the United States from the Human Rights Council, so our voice will no longer be heard in that forum. He has withdrawn us from UNESCO which promotes education, science, and culture. Trump has defunded UNRWA which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees. The Trump administration condemns multilateral cooperation and promotes “patriotic” nationalism. It condemns the International Criminal Court which ensures that the worst human rights violators are brought to justice. (Note: in the 1990s, Unitarian Universalists led the faith-based caucus to establish the International Criminal Court and we were in Rome for the negotiations of the Rome Statute which established the ICC.)
It is bad enough that the Trump administration has turned its back on the United Nations, but there are also other nationalist governments in several parts of the world and nationalist parties vying for power in many of the Western democracies.
At a time when we face global problems, it is time to strengthen the UN, which is what your office at the United Nations is working to do. We work to enhance access of civil society to UN processes. We work to strengthen the UN General Assembly, and especially the democratic Member States in the General Assembly, to confront the great powers and demand accountability and peace. It was over 120 Member States in the General Assembly that moved forward a treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons last year. We hope to see more of that kind of activity in the General Assembly. We want all nations (especially the USA) to sign, ratify and adhere to United Nations conventions and declarations such as:
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
- The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
- International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
- The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
And all the other important UN treaties, conventions and declarations which endeavor to make this a better and more just world.
It is easy to become depressed with the lack of U.S. Government cooperation with the UN. However, your Unitarian Universalist office at the UN (the UU-UNO) is working with our faith-based and secular partners to reinforce the important work of the UN. UN reports on climate change, poverty, global health, gender equity, education, and more are highly respected. Other countries and local and state entities are stepping up to take the lead in areas where U.S. leadership no longer exists. An important climate conference was held recently in California, attended by climate activists from all over the world, in support of the UN Paris Agreement, showing that the U.S. is “still in” even if the federal government is not.
You too can show your support for the important work of the UN by organizing a UN Sunday worship service at your congregation and continuing to have events in your community and congregation to support the UN’s Global Compact on Migration, the UN’s Paris Climate Accords and all the other important work of the UN. Thank you for your continuing support of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office and for lifting up the ongoing critical mission of the United Nations.