U geography professor offers reform proposal for United Nations

by Elizabeth Dunbar

The image of Saddam Hussein’s statue falling to the ground Wednesday in Baghdad triggered questions about what is next for Iraq.

Though President George W. Bush has emphasized the United Nations’ humanitarian role in a postwar Iraq, others say the United Nations should help build the new Iraqi political system.

“I think the U.N. needs to take a more active role in (postwar Iraq),” said Hillary Kraus, the University’s United Nations Student Association president.

On Thursday, members of the student group listened to emeritus geography professor Joseph Schwartzberg’s U.N. reform proposal.

“We have to either reform the U.N. or create something entirely new so that we don’t have to repeat the awful situation we’ve created in the past three weeks,” Schwartzberg said.

After having to watch the United States take unilateral action in Iraq, he said, the United Nations’ credibility is in question.

“A lot will depend on how the president plays his cards,” Schwartzberg said. “I don’t think Bush believes the U.N. has a great political role to play in Iraq, but I think Tony Blair recognizes the necessity of having a viable U.N.”

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the United States should encourage the needed U.N. presence in a postwar Iraq.

“As soon as possible, the U.N. needs to be involved in the easing of Iraq into a new government and future,” he said during a conference call Wednesday.

“The U.S. has a crucial role to play to ensure that the U.N. is reaching and retaining its desired role,” he said.

University political science professor Bud Duvall said an assessment of the United Nations’ credibility depends on the type of organization it is made out to be.

“If we think about the United Nations as a set of member states that have signed on as a collective endeavor … the decision by one or a subset to take unilateral action certainly does weaken it,” he said.

On the other hand, Duvall said, the United Nations can be seen as an organization with its own goals and moral standards for action.

“(Secretary General Kofi Annan) has been a prominent figure in the international discourse surrounding this situation,” he said. Duvall added that Annan’s constant questioning of the war might enhance the United Nations’ future influence.

“Sooner or later, the U.S. is going to have to recognize that it has to return to collective action,” Duvall said. “(In this situation) the U.N. may have established a kind of moral high ground and that may have strengthened the U.N.”

Dayton said the U.S. decision to go against the United Nations does not undermine U.N. credibility for dealing with future conflicts.

“The U.N. is not a puppet of the U.S.,” he said. “We need to acknowledge that there were differences there.”

Kraus said the majority of people look at the situation as the United States making the wrong decision and not as a U.N. failure.

“The U.S. just decided to act alone and the world population looks more favorably on the U.N. than the U.S., so in that sense it hasn’t lost credibility,” she said.

Schwartzberg said the current U.N. system is unfair in several ways.

“There are glaring inequities,” he said. “For example, even a country as big as Vietnam – 80 million people – has never served on the Security Council.”

Schwartzberg’s proposed reforms include eliminating the permanent members of the Security Council’s veto power and changing the system of representation.

“The key to making the U.N.’s decisions more palatable is to give the U.S. more power in the General Assembly and a lesser overall role in the Security Council,” he said.

The United States would have more power to “do good” in the General Assembly if his plan were adopted and Security Council conflicts would be avoided, Schwartzberg said.

“The reason (the U.S.) wants the U.N. to be weak is so we can call all the shots. That’s not the world I want to live in,” Schwartzberg said. “We got away with it once, but when people start adding things up, I think opinions will change.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]