British statesman Winston Churchill, soon after its creation, wondered whether the United Nations would be "a true temple of peace" or "a cockpit in a Tower of Babel." Sixty years after its creation we still wonder whether it will fulfill its lofty goals and whether mankind will ever find lasting peace.
Imagine all the nations of the earth were one big unhappy family, which they are. Imagine they have a meeting hall and a family organization in a beautiful skyscraper in New York City, which they do. Imagine this family claims to live by a list of lofty principles for peace and human progress called the United Nations Charter, many spiritually influenced by principles and prophecies of the Bible. Again, they do—but really don't.
Sixty years of global family organization
As the largest gathering of world leaders in history meets this September to open the General Assembly of the United Nations, the family metaphor for the United Nations actually fits.
Humanity is now a huge, dynamic yet sadly dysfunctional family of 6.3 billion people that meets only at the United Nations in a systematic and orderly way. At the UN, mankind's greatest issues, both profoundly spiritual and immediately practical, are wrestled, debated, pronounced and acted upon on a scale not duplicated in any other international body.
The time for a truly effective United Nations is long overdue. But who will lead it in a world where no nation or person demonstrates the spiritual qualifications to unite us all as one big happy family? Neither the United States nor any other nation can perform such a messianic role. Certainly U.S. President George W. Bush does not claim such a role. Neither does UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Nor would the world's nations let them.
Touring the UN and interviewing various officials for Tomorrow TV programs and this article, I was impressed with the scale and importance of this place.
As I dove into the background stories about the development of the United Nations, I came to respect the profound spiritual significance the UN has as a global family organization. It is the one official place where the whole human race attempts to create a better world, or at least tries to keep this one from blowing up. Better to try to discuss problems than to destroy one another.
The idea underlying the UN is that mankind's innate goodness will dominate the world when the greatest powers are knit together in a security arrangement through their own enlightened self-interest in peacekeeping and peacemaking.
The actual history of the UN for the last 60 years, however, has not proven mankind has any "innate goodness." One UN employee summed up its basic problem for me in an interview: "It's a great idea, but people are flawed."
Lately, some serious flaws threaten its existence. The United States, among others, has demanded reforms. Time will tell whether the proposed reforms will come and, if they do, whether they will be enough.
A decade of scandal
"The UN-sponsored Iraq oil-for-food scandal is probably the greatest financial rip-off in the history of the world," former U.S. State Department officer Jack Skruggs told me. He formerly worked for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The UN Security Council created the oil-for-food program in 1995 to provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi people suffering from sanctions imposed on Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussein in the first Persian Gulf War. Under its terms, Iraq could sell crude oil on the open market through the UN and the proceeds would be carefully distributed for humanitarian food and aid back to the Iraqi people directly to ensure Saddam's dictatorship would not profit.
It now appears tens of billions of dollars may have been stolen from the people of Iraq when the proceeds of the oil went to the personal bank accounts of many officials and companies—even billions to Saddam himself.
Another recent scandal in the UN is the Commission on Human Rights. At one point the United States was voted off the group because it had withheld funds over suspected UN financial mismanagement.
It was replaced by notorious human-rights abusers Libya and Somalia—both of which have a history of the systematic use of torture as an instrument of state policy, yet remain on the council along with Cuba and Sudan.
Other recent UN failings include the untold number of sexual assaults committed by UN peacekeepers in the Republic of Congo and several other hot spots in the world, the coddling of rogue regimes, the constant anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, and lavish administrative spending.
Kofi Annan has agreed to sweeping reforms to correct these failings, promising to increase audits of the UN's $3.2 billion annual budget and implementing a strict code of ethics for employees. The called-for reforms also include expelling regimes using torture and human rights abuses in their own countries and member nations found engaging in genocide or crimes against humanity.
Worth the effort?
Some critics say that the UN is a waste of time and has never been worth the effort. While this is one strand of political thinking, every U.S. president since World War II has disagreed.
Is the UN a real force for human progress or an illusion? After all, it employs about the same number of people as Disney World, and many would say it brings considerably less happiness to the world.
But the UN does not deal in fantasy, though from time to time it has acted as if it does. It is not a place to escape. It is a serious place where the world's leaders and the intelligent, even brilliant, people they rely on attempt to seek solutions, save countless millions of desperately poor human beings, avert and stop wars and facilitate cooperative global efforts promoting health, economic development and peace.
UN agencies and activities are found everywhere on earth, on every continent in every time zone. The UN represents all of us alive today who live in its member countries. There is no greater place where the human potential for good and evil are represented every day, or where the brilliance and fundamental problems of human nature are demonstrated day in and day out.
If the UN fails, the fundamental flaws of humanity will be the cause.
Geopolitical opera house
The United Nations was begun on stage at the San Francisco Opera House where 51 countries signed the UN charter on June 26, 1945, after a dramatic diplomatic effort orchestrated by the U.S. State Department in the closing months of World War II. The script was intended to create a different, more secure world. Oddly, the world now seems more insecure than a hundred years ago.
The concept for the creation of the UN developed in the mind of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and his State Department in the throes of global war—as they considered the failure of the earlier League of Nations, caused in large measure by the lack of American participation. Now the United States would play a leading role. The motives were to establish a world of universal peace and human progress through a set of international activities and structures of a universal organization.
This global body would be authorized to act on behalf of all legitimate national governments and guaranteed by the security pledges of the "Great Powers," as the leading allied nations were called.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, which ignited World War II, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the need to establish "a stable international organization" after the war.
President Roosevelt wrote to the pope stating that although no single spiritual or civic leader on the international scene could create such a structure, "the time for that will surely come." He then told the pope that America would "encourage a closer association between those in every part of the world—those in religion and those in government—who have a common purpose."
It was Roosevelt himself who would develop the UN structure.
In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Roosevelt proclaimed a hope for the future based on "four essential human freedoms"—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. He said they were not for "a distant millennium," but "a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our time and generation."
Roosevelt thought a secure world with peace and plenty was possible if he could create the right kind of international structure organized around these principles. A famous newspaper editor noted his concepts were "the opening of a new era for the world" and "a new Magna Carta of democracy."
President Roosevelt first used the term "United Nations" for the World War II Allies in a document called The Declaration by the United Nations. It was signed by himself, Winston Churchill and the Soviet and Chinese ambassadors to Washington on Jan. 1, 1942, a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Genesis in moral clarity
During this time of developing lofty aspirations, tens of millions were killed as war raged on. Roosevelt's administration operated in what has been called the "complete moral clarity" of life and death in this ever-more-virulent struggle of good and evil fought across the globe.
To create a framework of agreement for future security, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the goals of global peace through disarmament, economic progress and political freedom were all developed as integrated pillars for the future world organization in the Roosevelt State Department. It was these principles and ideas that became the charter of the United Nations.
As it progressed, the concept of the United Nations was promoted to Joseph Stalin for the integration of the Soviet Union as one of the Great Powers.
Roosevelt, feeling that the nation-state systems of alliances with checks and balances could no longer be relied on to prevent global war, believed that the Great Powers needed to "run the world" for an indefinite time after the victory. He believed that lesser powers could be kept peaceful if the Great Powers held sway over a global military directed by their decisions on the newly proposed Security Council.
By the final conference of the "Big Three" at Yalta in February 1945, Stalin had agreed with Roosevelt and Churchill's plan for the basic idea of the United Nations, as long as the permanent five Great Power members of the Security Council could each veto enforcement decisions.
France, though no longer a global power but a cornerstone of the new Europe, was offered a permanent seat on the Security Council. So was China, then struggling with a communist insurrection that eventually created the red China of today.
The United Nations was the cornerstone of Roosevelt's vision of the world's future after World War II.
The United Nations charter
Before you analyze whether the vision worked, you need to understand what the UN says it is and does. The preamble to the charter explains the intent and philosophy of the organization:
"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
"AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
"HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.
"Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations."
In the UN, all nations agree to act according to a basic understanding that "membership . . . is open to all peace-loving nations which accept the obligations."
The organization acts in accordance with the following principles: It is based on the sovereign equality of all its members; all members are to fulfill in good faith their charter obligations; they are to settle their international disputes by peaceful means and without endangering international peace and security and justice; they are to refrain from the threat or use of force against any other state; they are to give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the charter; nothing in the charter is to authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.
Temple of peace or Tower of Babel?
Two months before the ratification of the UN, its principal creator, Franklin Roosevelt, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Roosevelt never saw the successes or failures of his vision of the United Nations.
The San Francisco Conference began two weeks later on the day Soviet forces encircled Berlin, and continued to meet as Germany was dismembered. One observer has noted that the participants had an "almost constant awareness of the pressure of history."
The UN almost died stillborn at the conference. Stalin already didn't see any point in the charter obligations as advancing the purposes of the Soviet Union. His mission was the communist ideology of global domination through any and all means, including violence. He had already begun to gobble up Eastern Europe. He initially didn't even send his foreign minister to the conference.
Even with such lofty ideals written into its structure, almost immediately the weakness of the whole concept of the United Nations became apparent. While the UN allowed robust involvement of every nation on earth, the participants shared no common set of rules or spiritual culture of mutual humility and respect to help them achieve lasting peace.
Ever since Lenin, the Soviets believed a treaty was only worthwhile if it advanced communist aims. The UN would be useful if it enhanced Soviet opportunities. As a member of the powerful Security Council, the Soviet Union would veto any effort that blocked communist expansion.
Even as the conference proceeded, the United States was working on the atomic bombs it would drop in August to end the war with Japan. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world community was stunned. What should be done with the awesome power of atomic weapons?
In January 1946, the General Assembly created the Atomic Energy Commission. America proposed to give all its nuclear technology to this agency of the UN, whereupon no state would develop nuclear weapons. The UN would be the only force that had nuclear weapons to ensure global peace. It further proposed that it would license the technology for peaceful use to nations throughout the world.
The Soviet Union spurned the offer. Almost immediately the world was made bipolar, manic in its competition between East and West and depressing in its constant threat of nuclear war. The world lurched into a nuclear arms race with the threat of unimaginable mass destruction between the United States and its allies on the one side and the Soviet bloc on the other.
Within a year after its creation, Winston Churchill observed that the United Nations was at a crossroads. Would the UN take the actions needed to create a truly peacefully disarmed world as the charter described or become a platform for rebellion against peaceful and principled world governance?
He said: "We must make sure that the [United Nations'] work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel."
Pulpit for propaganda
The UN's failures fulfilled the fears of Churchill. There were a few periods when it was used to preserve or make peace, but many more when it was unable to prevent war or genocide—sometimes even bringing more problems.
Korea, the Six-Day War, Vietnam, Cambodia, Biafra, the Sudan, Rwanda, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, Bosnia, the Angolan civil war, the ongoing war in the Republic of Congo and more were all failures of Roosevelt's vision and the inherent inability of people to rule themselves peacefully.
The UN often became a pulpit of propaganda in rebellion against the peaceful intent and actions of all nations required by the charter. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on his desk as the world watched on television, proclaiming to the West, "We will bury you!"
In the 1970s some members of the UN General Assembly exalted violence as a means of political progress. Condemned as the foremost terrorist in the Middle East by the United States, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat was welcomed as a head of state by the General Assembly.
The UN broke the charter's principles when it exalted the PLO's indiscriminate killing of civilians as part of its violent resistance against the existence of Israel—a nation itself created by an act of the UN in 1948.
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada addressed the General Assembly that same year, 1974, as the head of the 47-nation Organization of African Unity. To thunderous applause, he declared the United States an imperialist state dominated by a Zionist oligarchy.
Under General Assembly rules, any UN member state leader can address the General Assembly, no matter how personally unqualified or despicable. Amin soon came to be known as "the butcher of Africa" and in 1978 was run out of Uganda after he slaughtered more than 300,000 innocent people—many of them women and children—pillaged the national finances and destroyed the most advanced economy in East Africa.
Noble principles—when they will work
Franklin Roosevelt believed all nations would ultimately cooperate in the UN out of enlightened self-interest. Since 1945, however, nations generally have used the UN in their unenlightened selfish interest. The United States is no exception, although it has generally acted with a more consistent intent to act within the spirit of the UN charter than almost all other nations since World War II.
What America does not have is what all others also lack—a spirit of truly unselfish interest, care, concern and love for others.
What is needed is a new spirit in every nation to live by the spirit and letter of the Norman Rockwell artwork donated by the United States on the second-floor wall leading to the General Assembly. It is the mosaic celebrating Jesus' statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The UN does much good. The World Food Organization feeds tens of millions who have no food. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees maintains a lifeline for millions displaced by war and natural disasters. The World Health Organization prevents the outbreak of global epidemics like SARS, which could kill millions if not carefully contained.
But as good as the UN's humanitarian efforts are, the violence inherent in human nature as a means of resolving conflict will bring man back to the same crucible of war from which the United Nations sprang 60 years ago.
There is really nothing standing between humankind and World War III and all that will mean. If the UN fails to avert the next global war, could it mean that human civilization as we know it is over?
Yes—the next global war means precisely that. But mankind will not end. Nor will ordered society. Humanity will enter another period in which a spectacular new civilization will emerge. This coming world tomorrow will fulfill the loftiest goals articulated by the United Nations. The fundamental difference will be that it is directed and controlled by God, not the nations of this world.
The coming eternal united nations
The nations of this world have never been truly united. But the time is coming when they will be. The United Nations of the future will be the result of the Kingdom of God on earth, not the geopolitical efforts of the nations.
The current United Nations, at some date in the future, will fail. Yet its lofty goals will endure.
The reason the UN endures today is because all nations understand that its goals remain the highest for the world, and these goals will endure as long as the world hopes for the future. But the central message taught by Jesus in the Bible is the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).
It will suddenly appear in a moment of supreme crisis, amid a complete meltdown in man's ability to control his violent nature. Then a new divine government will supernaturally unite all the nations based on a new way of life and new way of leadership.
God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Only He is qualified to rule all nations.
The fact is, Jesus Christ authored every lofty principle of the United Nations either directly or indirectly. Total disarmament, peaceful negotiation, the wealthy caring for the poor, the value of developing every creative talent of man, the healing of the sick, the relief and restoration of justice for the suffering victim of indiscriminate violence—all flowed from His teaching recorded in the Bible.
Forgiveness and reconciliation, the need for integrity and total transparency of leadership, and ultimate justice for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are all promises and prophecies articulated by Jesus Christ.
Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president during World War I, absorbed these ideals from his father, a Presbyterian pastor. They became part of the ideology of Wilson's vision of the League of Nations at the end of World War I, which heavily influenced Roosevelt's dream of the United Nations. Roosevelt himself was exposed to these biblical concepts as a devout Episcopalian.
These UN architects were well aware of the teachings of Jesus on these issues. Both were regular churchgoers. Their generations were broadly and thoroughly exposed to the Bible.
No other leader in world history, religious or otherwise, ever laid the groundwork of perfect ethics in principles and actions as Jesus Christ did. No one today, when reading the New Testament, can really argue about the qualifications of Jesus Christ to rule the world tomorrow.
But few in the world today really believe Jesus Christ will come again and make His principles a global reality. The good news is that He will.
Matthew 25 tells us: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" (verses 31-33).
Jesus Christ is coming to rule and administer justice over every nation and every leader of the United Nations. He will use the gold standard—the law of God, first articulated by God in the Garden of Eden, codified under Moses to the nation of Israel and revealed to all humanity in the pages of the Bible.
Man's future is still wonderfully positive, because one day all nations will be transformed through a conversion to the nature of Christ, when the human character takes on the nature of God. That change in man's nature will provide what is needed for "collective security" in a truly peaceful world of united nations.
That is God's promise. It is God's work. It will surely come. GN