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Bruce Kent: As I please

UN reform should be a priority for radicals, argues Bruce Kent

Something odd happened a few weeks ago. Britain, France and the United States sent their planes off to bomb targets in Syria. None of those countries had been directly attacked. It was a punishment raid for the use of chemical weapons, allegedly by Syria.

About 100 missiles were launched and at first the claim was that no one was killed. Then a single casualty was mentioned. No one else. I’ll believe that when I see pigs flying.

Where did these three get the authority to make a war even worse? There was a lot of political crossness in the country because parliament had not been consulted. But almost total silence about the way that the United Nations Charter had been trashed. MPs are as ignorant about the Charter as the rest of the country.

You can’t get a print copy here even from the United Nations Association. True, one does get directed to some bookshops, but ‘They are not in stock. We will order some in for you.’ is the standard response. One can get some complimentary copies from the UN information office in Brussels but I was looking for quantities for some of the senior school classes to which I am glad to be invited.

The aim of the Charter was to end ‘the scourge of war.’ That is what it says at the opening of its preamble. Military action is only to be allowed as immediate self-defence if there is an attack and such authority only lasts until the UN security council has taken over (Article 51).

Is the UN going down the drain as the League of Nations did before it? I very much hope not. The work it has done for the betterment of humanity is outstanding.

As a force for good in global public education, health, agriculture, the care of refugees, the promotion of human rights, dismantling of colonialism, and in the building of an international legal system of justice, the work of the United Nations has been and is astonishing. War? No, it has not succeeded in ending ‘the scourge of war’, in part because the major powers have no such vision. But in part too because the radical world, of which Peace News is a part, does not show much interest in the slow work of moving public perceptions and attitudes. Not very glamorous, not very heroic most of the time but essential if we are to move forward to a better kind of world. As Saul Alinsky said in Rules for Radicals, we have to start where people are, rather than where we’d like them to be.

Remember Erskine Childers? If you do, it may well be because of the role his grandfather played during the efforts of the Irish to escape colonial status. His grandson, ‘my’ Erskine, was a UN civil servant for most of his life. His concern expressed in so many ways was for United Nations reform. His books on UN reform, jointly authored with Brian Urquhart, are as important as ever they were in 1990.

If Peace News wants to be an organ with a small readership for a radical minority so be it. But if it is to reach out to a much wider world it needs to make UN reform and the building of global structures much more of a priority.

Where to start? Take up my previous offer of a free copy of the UN Charter preamble and stick it up on a public notice board somewhere. That’s a bit of direct action open to all.

Topics: War and peace