The following is an excerpt of an address delivered by Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer to the Southeastern World Affairs Institute, July 30, 2006.
Was there ever a more urgent moment in which to examine the role and relevance of the United Nations? Was it ever more timely to recall first principles, the great traumas that occasioned the UN's creation and to the challenges that have beset it – and its supporters – from the very beginning?
We meet this weekend at an extraordinary time. Israel continues its assault on the people of southern Lebanon, with children the main victims among the 50 or more killed just this morning in the town of Qana. Hezbollah missiles continue to fall on northern Israel. We have the unprecedented spectacle of a United Nations secretary general accusing a government, Israel, of deliberately targeting a UN observation post on the Israeli-Lebanon border. And meanwhile, this morning in Beirut, the UN headquarters is ransacked by Lebanese enraged by the world's failure to stop their country's destruction.
The Security Council is poised to meet in urgent session, taking up an as-yet undrafted resolution intended to facilitate a ceasefire in southern Lebanon – a ceasefire contingent on a promised disarming by the Hezbollah militia that appears far from certain and premised on the commitment of international peacekeeping forces from European countries that have thus far been conspicuous mostly by their silence.
We have a U.S. representative to the United Nations who openly mocks the institution, disparaging it as just one forum among many for addressing international problems. We are pressing a UN Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear program that we call a last-chance ultimatum in advance of global sanctions – and that the Russians and Chinese characterize as simply a warning. Iraq spirals ever more out of control, the UN barely a factor. And even where the UN is present, in Congo or Sudan or Haiti, it is far from clear what difference it has made.
Against that sort of backdrop perspective is a precious thing, and perspective, in my view, was the watchword of this year's conference.
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