National newspapers have been full of anti-UN and especially anti-Kofi Annan editorials recently. Most have been written by people who don’t have even a minimal understanding of how the UN works. As a student of international relations, reading these absurd editorials makes me want to tear my hair out in clumps as I come across factual error after factual error, and alarmist statements galore.

The UN is corrupt! The UN steals our tax money! The MDGs are a way to impose communism on the world! The UN is eroding our sovereignty! The UN is stealing our national parks! Kofi Annan is an anti-Semite!

What a load of you-know-what.

Thankfully, some papers are still willing to print pro-UN (or at least balanced for pete’s sake!) editorials. Here’s a great one from the Christian Science Monitor. It almost makes up for the fact that the CSW printed an astonishingly ignorant anti-UN piece just before it.

Feeding the hungry and saving lives, the UN is a blessing

It provides the guiding vision, framework, and influence in implementing public policies for the global good.

By Salil Shetty


Every few years, the United Nations is declared dead. The reality,
however, is that I cannot remember when the UN has been more in the
center of the news and public debate. The need for the UN is felt the
most when there is a crisis that goes beyond national boundaries, and
you would all agree that we have had no shortage of those in recent
times, whether it is 9/11 or Iraq or the tsunami.

The facts are in. The UN has fed more than 100 million hungry people
in the past five years. It has saved millions of lives through its
response to deadly diseases such as AIDS and malaria. It averted a much
bigger humanitarian disaster after the 2005 Pakistani earthquake. It
works to ensure that women have contraceptives, healthcare and, most
important, dignity. It takes care of millions of refugees. It has
improved agriculture and food security. And it has boosted global
literacy levels.

Above all, the UN provides the guiding vision, framework, and peer
pressure in implementing public policies for the global good. Take the
Millennium Development Goals. The world is united around these eight
goals – to be achieved by 2015 – to combat poverty, disease,
illiteracy, and environmental degradation.

And then there is the much more difficult work the UN does to
protect and promote human rights and to improve governance and
democracies. UN peacekeeping forces are working in some of the most
difficult settings across the world, from Lebanon to Haiti. And don’t
forget what the UN has done to stop the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction.

How much does all this cost? Less than $1.5 billion per year – less than the cost of the New York Police Department.

Let us not forget that the UN was built on the debris of two world
wars that took millions of lives in the first half of the 20th century.
The second half of the 20th century was not without problems, but we
have had far fewer conflicts. Consider this: There were 40 percent
fewer conflicts in the past decade alone, life expectancy has gone up
everywhere, diseases such as polio have virtually disappeared, and we
have more democratically elected governments than ever before. Has this
all happened because of the UN? Of course not. But the UN has played a
crucial role.

This has happened in spite of the fact that the UN has no real
power. The UN cannot tax, regulate, or arrest, and it has no army.

Nobody would suggest that the UN is perfect. But we have to remember
that the UN is a club, and, like any club, it is as strong as its
members want it or allow it to be. As clubs go, it’s a pretty
attractive one. Every country in the world that could become a member
has become one.

If you ask indigenous people or the lowest caste groups, they would
say that without the UN and its human rights instruments, they would be
decimated. If you ask the people or leaders in poor countries, they
will tell you that despite all its imperfections, the UN is the only
international institution where they have at least some voice.

The need for the UN is only growing. Unilateralism is increasingly
recognized as a recipe for disaster. Global challenges need
multilateral global solutions.

Of course, there are many things that need to be fixed in the UN.
Citizens must be more directly represented by the UN. We cannot have
veto powers and permanent representation in the Security Council for
World War II victors. A lot of administrative reform is also required.
We have to stop the bullying and systematic undermining of the
proceedings in the UN by major powers and some minority outliers.
Discussions on radical reforms to the UN are at an advanced stage. This
is the time for all those who believe in multilateralism and the role
of a democratized UN at the center of it to support this process.

Salil Shetty directs the UN Millennium Campaign.