Legislature made wrong move to support withdrawal from U.N.

By By William Pingree

By William Pingree

Recently, the state Legislature passed a resolution calling upon Congress to take appropriate measures to withdraw the United States from membership in the United Nations. Citing issues of national sovereignty, the lawmakers acted precipitously and pompously to assert what they felt was a position consistent with American national interest.

This action is both childish and uninformed. Since Woodrow Wilson’s administration, each American president has shared his view that nations should be ruled by law and not power. This is especially true since the end of World War II. The Unites States has felt it was America’s mission to bring an enlightened view of human rights and freedom to the world which would, in turn, produce for it a better way of life.

By the end of World War I, the United States had moved away from its domestic agenda of Manifest Destiny as all of its territory had been settled. America had acquired an empire as a result of the Spanish American War and with the defeat of Germany and its allies, America’s mission had changed. It was now a new international Manifest Destiny, championed by Wilson and outlined in his famous “Fourteen Points” that would provide the cornerstone of American foreign policy for the future. Here, Wilson clearly desired that the rule of law and the concept of collective security would replace the old Realpolitik and balance-of-power politics of the 19th century. Wilson called for the establishment of a new approach to relations between nations. The fulfillment of his vision was the establishment of the League of Nations. All nations would join this organization by signing the Covenant of the League. Future wars would be averted as nations would see a “harmony of interest” in peace, and see that their national interest and security would best be served in a greater good. History records that the league did not fulfill these objectives and was, in fact, a failure.

As Wilson’s vision was more closely examined, it was found to be too utopian. It left out the fact that human beings are not only interested in the higher vision of what humankind may become, but are also particularistic and have other interests and goals that are not always so lofty. The American Congress of the time did not share Wilson’s vision. Its refusal to ratify the Versailles Treaty caused Wilson to abandon his high minded goals and to yield back the future once again to the isolationism of the previous century. Without American participation in the League, a power vacuum was created in which the concept of collective security and universal interest perished. This was the major contributing factor to the League’s failure.

One of Wilson’s successors, Franklin D. Roosevelt, recognized the reasons for the failure and when, once again, Americans and their allies died by the millions in World War II, he sought to build on Wilson’s vision and establish a better international organization. In the aftermath of World War I, the international community had learned the value of an international approach to economic development and the elimination of terrible disease. All nations could support these goals and as a result, we discovered that a universal approach to problems of this nature led to cooperation. This, in turn, advanced the cause of the human condition. Roosevelt and other visionaries could foresee the time when ignoring social and economic development would be contributing factors to discord and war. Roosevelt and Churchill sought to build a future for the vanquished as well as for the victor so that the conditions which led to World War II, fostered by particularist interests, would not again be repeated.

The new United Nations would build on the successes of the league and repair its failures. Organs of the new international institution were designed to keep the ultimate goals of the league in sight, but to move away from its utopian methodology. The new organization would be a political entity, established not in a religious sense by covenant, but by a charter. This would allow for amendment and change. It would reflect man as a political creature, a fact ignored by the league. The religious overtones of the league were replaced by secular politics.

The new organization would now allow the international community to cooperate on a host of issues at numerous levels. It also addressed the sticky question of national sovereignty and international security. The new United Nations recognized man as a political creature and realized that nation states needed elements of Realpolitik to be present in it. Thus, elements of the balance-of power-derived from a more realistic understanding of the international community-were necessary. By implementing the concept of a Security Council with the five great power victors of World War II as permanent members of the council with the right of veto, the new organization insured the great powers that they could not be bound without their consent.

The value of the United Nations-long recognized by all administrations of all political persuasions-has been ignored by the state Legislature. The members seem to be uninformed and have made the mistake of the U.S. Congress of 1919. The Legislature would have us revert to the dangerous isolationist tendencies of the past that history has shown to be both short-sighted and almost catastrophic. To call for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations ignores the need for international cooperation on many levels. President George W. Bush has called for a massive program to fight AIDS in Africa. Does the United States have the infrastructure to implement such a program? The answer is, of course not. In this case, America has provided money and leadership but it is clearly evident that the infrastructure to implement this bold new venture has long been provided by international institutions, particularly the United Nations. This is not the only case. Eventually, even the peace sought in Iraq will have to be implemented by an international organization due to the cost of such implementation alone.

Even though the United States is the most powerful country on earth, its national interest clearly lies in cooperating with the international community. This must be done with issues on all levels; social, economic and certainly security issues are better served in a cooperative effort. The United Nations lends legitimacy to international action and thus by rejecting membership in it, we turn ourselves back to a time that history has long recorded as one of increased insecurity, and we do this at our own peril.

Shame on the Legislature for being so short-sighted and so blind to our true national interest.

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