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.
And until we do better at preventing and reducing conflict, we are doomed to be in a cycle of having to help feed or shelter people when societies collapse.
As another legendary UN leader, who was also killed in the line of duty, Dag Hammarskjöld, said “Everything will be all right – you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves”.
The UN can only change if governments change their policies. And if we as citizens ask our governments to do that. It is moving, if you think about it: We are the future generations envisioned in the UN Charter.
When our grandparents resolved to “spare future generations the scourge of war”, as written, they were thinking of us. But as well as dreaming for our safety they also left us a responsibility.
President Roosevelt, addressing the US Congress in January 1945, six months before the end of World War II, said this: “In the field of foreign policy, we promise to stand together with the United Nations not for the war alone but for the victory for which the war was fought”.
And he went on: “The firm foundation can be built- and it will be built. But the continuance and assurance of a living peace, in the long run, must be the work of the people themselves.”
So today, we have to ask ourselves, if we are living up to that mission? They gave us that start. What have we done with it?
It is clear to me that we have made huge strides. But our agreements and institutions are only as strong as our will to uphold them. And if we do not, for whatever reason, we bequeath a darker and more unstable world to all those who come after us. It is not for this that previous generations shed blood and worked so hard on behalf of all of us.
The memory of those who came before us holds us true to our ideals. Resting unchanging in time, they remind us of who we are and what we stand for. They give us hope to stay in the fight, as Sergio did, until his last breath.
14 years since his death, there is a stronger need than ever before for us to stay true to the ideals and purposes of the United Nations. That is what I hope his memory holds us to today.