TOPICS: UN’s original aim: Peaceful conflict resolution

Why have Americans allowed their government to act with such reckless disregard for the survival of the global system that for the past 61 years has successfully prevented the outbreak of worldwide war while it has also allowed numerous nations, including the US, to prosper?

The very first words in the UN’s Charter were, “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...”

In recent years, have we forgotten the wisdom of those words? In 1945, US power stood astride the world. That was not just the power of US armies, though that was huge. It was also the power of a humming American economy and much-admired US ideals. The global system that Truman established in 1945 has brought many benefits to Americans. It also allowed Japan and the war-ravaged nations of Europe to get back on their feet. And in more recent years, it has allowed China and India to rise to the status of major global powers.

But along the way, many Americans, politicians and citizens alike, forgot important portions of the “lessons of 1945.” They forgot that warfare is always a harmful scourge. They came to think that wars could be fought and won easily and therefore easily justifiable. Many Americans forgot important things about the UN, too. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, American military power once again stood unchallenged astride most of the world. But this time — under President Bill Clinton and now even more so under President Bush — the strategic self-restraint and basic wisdom that marked Truman’s approach to world affairs were missing. In 2002, Bush decided he was prepared to overthrow Saddam Hussein by force and that he would do so even if he failed to win the UN Security Council’s backing. Bush was also actively opposing other key international agreements such as the Kyoto Agreement on the environment and the Rome Treaty on the International Criminal Court.

We should remember that after 9/11, people and governments around the world expressed unprecedented solidarity with America in its time of woe. Sadly, Bush squandered all that goodwill — particularly with the invasion of Iraq. Far from being an action that caused little damage to civilians and was rapidly winnable, the invasion turned out to be a tragic quagmire that has brought great suffering to Americans and especially to Iraqis.

Now, it is time to rethink the degree of support that so many Americans have given to the idea that fighting wars can never resolve any problems. And it is time, too, to seek a government in Washington that will recommit to the idea of a rules-based international order — an order in which the same set of rules applies to all, with no exceptions.

So let’s use the UN for de-escalation and problem solving. Non-violent resolution of conflicts was the main thing the UN was intended to do. The founders knew war is a “scourge.” — The Christian Science Monitor