Many of these things are not new – but taken together – and in the absence of strong international leadership, they are deeply worrying.
When we consider this — all of this and more, as citizens, what is our answer? Do we, as some would encourage us to think, turn our backs on the world, and hope that the storm will pass? Or do we strengthen our commitment to diplomacy and to the United Nations?
I strongly believe there is only one choice, demanded by reason as well as by conscience, which is the hard work of diplomacy and negotiation and reform of the UN.
This is not to say that in any way this is an easy road. And there are reasons for people to feel insecure today. The level of conflict and lack of solutions combined with the fear of terrorism; the reality that globalization has bought vast benefits to some and worsened the lot for others; the sense of disconnect between citizens and governments, or in some countries the lack of governance; the overall feeling that for all our gains in technology and connectedness, the less we are in control of forces shaping our lives – all these factors and more have contributed to a sense of a world out of balance, and there are no easy answers.
And despite the millions of people who have lifted themselves out of poverty in our lifetimes, the difference between the lives of those of us born in wealthy, democratic societies and those born into the slums and refugee camps in the world is a profound injustice. We see it and we know it’s wrong, at a simple human level. That inequality is contributing to instability, conflict and migration as well as to the sense that the international system serves the few at the expense of the many.
But again, what is our answer, as citizens? Do we withdraw from the world where before we felt a responsibility to be part of solutions?
I am a proud American and I am an internationalist. I believe anyone committed to human rights is. It means seeing the world with a sense of fairness and humility, and recognizing our own humanity in the struggles of others. It stems from love of one’s country, but not at the expense of others – from patriotism, but not from narrow nationalism.
It includes the view that success isn’t being better or greater than others, but finding your place in a world where others succeed too. And that a strong nation, like a strong person, helps others to rise up and be independent.
It is the spirit that made possible the creation of the UN, out of the rubble and ruin and 60 million dead of World War II; so that even before the task of defeating Nazism was complete, that generation of wartime leaders was forging the United Nations. If governments and leaders are not keeping the flame of internationalism alive, then as citizens we must.
The challenge is how to restore that sense of balance and hopefulness in our countries, while not sacrificing all we have learned about the value and necessity of internationalism.
Because a world in which we turn our back on our global responsibilities will be a world that produces greater insecurity, violence and danger for us and for our children.
This is not a clash between idealism and realism. It is the recognition that there is no shortcut to peace and security, no substitute for the long, painstaking effort to end conflicts, expand human rights and strengthen the rule of law.
We have to challenge the idea that the strongest leaders are those willing to dismiss human rights on the grounds of national interest. The strongest leaders are those who are capable of doing both.
Having strong values and the will to act upon them doesn’t weaken our borders or our militaries – it is their essential foundation. None of this is to say that the UN is perfect. Of course, we know it is not.
I have never met a field officer who has not railed against its shortcomings, as I imagine Sergio did in his darkest moments. And he, like all of us, wanted a UN that was more decisive, less bureaucratic, and that lived up to its standards. But he never said it was pointless. He never threw in the towel.
The UN is an imperfect organization because we are imperfect. It is not separate from us. Our decisions, particularly those made by the Security Council, have played a part in creating the landscape that we are dealing with today. We should always remember why the UN was formed, and what it is for, and take that responsibility very seriously.
We have to recognize the damage we do when we undermine the UN or use it selectively – or not at all – or when we rely on aid to do the job of diplomacy, or give the UN impossible tasks and then underfund it.
For example today, there is not a single humanitarian appeal anywhere in the world that is funded by even half of what is required. In fact, worse than that. Appeals for countries on the brink of famine today are 17%, 7%, and 5% funded, for example.
Of course, emergency aid is not the long-term answer. No one prefers that kind of aid. Not citizens of donor countries. Not governments. Not refugees. They do not want to be dependent. It would be far better to be able to invest all of our funds in infrastructure and schools and trade and enterprises.
But let’s be clear, emergency aid has to continue because many states cannot or will not protect the rights of citizens around the world. It is what we spend in countries where we have no diplomacy or our diplomacy is not working.