24 October was ‘United Nations Day’, commemorating the anniversary when the UN Charter came into effect in 1945. The UN is a large organisation. Massive, in fact.
John Bolton was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005 by President Bush. The position is also known as the United States Permanent Representative the the United Nations. His criticism of the United nations made this a surprise appointment to many, where he had earlier openly shared his strong views which were often critical of the organisation. In 1994, he said:
…there is no United Nations… there is an international community that occassionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along.
And then in 2005, he famously remarked:
The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
Unsurprisingly, he was also highly critical of the Millennium Development Goals. Looking at it from his perspective, this is understandable: it was always a target full of rhetoric and seemingly unachievable, so what was the point of exhausting resources for a measure that was simply beyond reach?
The other side of the coin is to take a pragmatic approach that argues that it is more than just a matter of idealistic and wishful thinking, but that an aspirational goal is worth striving towards. We might fall short, but in the process how much can we achieve?
I was responsible for monitoring much of our correspondence with the United Nations when I was in the Army at the time that John Bolton was the US Permanent Representative. Like others, I was amused at his blunt delivery which put a lot of noses out of joint. Years earlier, I recalled how there was in fact a lot of inefficiency in the United Nations that was plainly obvious when I was deployed to East Timor as part of the broader UN force.
Now we stand at the end of a moment of truth as it were. The next three years will be telling, and will reflect any momentum generated over the last short period. It is also a window that can be influenced through new ideas, even though a short period.
The question would be, how able is the UN really about to respond to such opportunities? Was Bolton right? Is a quarter of the UN just a waste of space?
I chose to look at 10.24 as more than just an anniversary. To me it is a personal goal I have set: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km. By doing this, I aim to stimulate a conversation that will take place in Seoul on 24 January 2013 asking how might be use our networks to reduce child mortality.
We need people like Bolton. His unyielding cynicism is an important part in generating the creative tension we need to make change happen. But you also need people to push people like Bolton a little harder and show that change is possible.
Will you join me and be one of those people? Please join me on this journey. Support me at www.pozible.com/lifebridge to make a difference.