Reluctant Hope at the UN

web_aaron_erb_bwDespite gaping holes in the United Nation’s effectiveness as a global governing body, I left a recent Peace Fellowship-orchestrated visit to the UN optimistic about the possibility of institution-led progress towards peace.

At first glance, the shortcomings of the UN, numerous as they are, can easily crush hope in the institution.

An hour after meeting Doug Hostetter, Director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) UN, his disdain for UN peacekeeping efforts and archaic organizational structure assured me there was common ground between us. Hostetter’s criticism of increasingly “ro- bust” UN peacekeeping missions, which encourage UN peacekeeping forces to become more prominent actors in conflict through mandated civilian protection, illuminated the fatal consequences of international military action.

My disenchantment with the UN intensified as Hostetter explained his frustration with the UN Security Council (UNSC). Made up of five permanent (P5) and ten rotating member-states, the P5 gained UNSC permanency as the victors after WWII. Their legitimacy as current world powers is doubtful after seven decades of geopolitical shifts, yet reformation of Security Council membership seems distant at best.

These facts beg the question: what hope is there for institutional peace-building? Why not explore avenues of peace that circumvent clumsy institutional systems completely?

Hostetter seems to have wrestled with similar questions. Witnessing UN failure for years now, he has nonetheless decided to remain with MCC, working within the institutional confines of the UN. I see three reasons for this.

Senior Krista Rittenhouse, senior Aaron Erb, Sophomore Rachel Bowman, and Senior Litza Laboriel discuss problems with the UN in New York City.

Senior Krista Rittenhouse, senior Aaron Erb, Sophomore Rachel Bowman, and Senior Litza Laboriel discuss problems with the UN in New York City.

First, Hostetter understands the complexity of the UN’s global work. Despite many shortcomings, the UN initiates significant projects in development, disarmament, and humanitarian aid that must give pause to those painting the UN into a corner of complete incompetence.

Second, the UN provides worldwide networks that MCC utilizes. With 193 member states, the UN offers an organized assembly of diplomats with whom MCC, through the UN office, can negotiate global projects.

Finally, MCC UN offers a unique presence at the UN as a pacifist NGO. When the UN relies heavily on military peacekeeping, which is becoming increasingly harmful in efforts to protect civilians, MCC UN consistently advocates for alternative intervention through nonviolent, diplomatic terms.

Despite some glaring weaknesses, the UN manages to provide organizational structure and funding for effective humanitarian work. Undoubtedly, the UN offers practical possibilities for an earnest peacenik.

Because of administrative inefficiency and organizational stagnancy, institutions are often excluded from the conversations of peace-seeking youth like myself. This categorical omission must be reconsidered.

Declaring the hopelessness of an institution like the UN is dishonest and shortsighted. While acknowledging the need for institutional reform, the most productive place for a critic seems to be within, not without. The point of greatest impact is not outside and removed, but among and within.

-Aaron Erb, Contributing Writer; photo credit, Seth Stauffer


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