Discussing the mistakes the United States has made as a member of the United Nations while looking with hope to the future, Gillian Martin Sorensen spoke at Global Review last night.
Sorensen is currently a Senior Adviser at the United Nations Foundation. Her work with the United Nations includes having served as the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations from 1996-2003 and the Special Adviser for Public Policy from 1993-1996.
“I am very encouraged, very optimistic that we can regain our standing in the UN,” Sorensen said.
From the United States paying their close to $1 billion in unpaid UN membership dues, to recommitting itself to the UN’s World Population Plan of Action, Sorensen says the Obama administration has already done much to show its global priorities.
“The new president absolutely understands the values of international policy,” she said.
Though there is now much criticism towards the UN, there hasn’t always been national disagreement over it. Sorensen said the first years of the UN were different.
“One hallmark of the UN is that, back then, there was bipartisan support,” she said.
Describing the United States and UN’s relationship as a “rocky romance,” Sorensen cited the conservative anti-UN movement of the mid 1990s as one of the low points.
“That did a lot of damage to us as a superpower, as a leader in the world,” she said.
Sorensen said she resented the way the United States used the UN, even after criticizing it so strongly.
“It made me very sad sometimes to see how the UN was used and abused,” she said.
Schools no longer teaching about the UN in their curriculum, the media fueling the anti-UN fire, and national leaders opposed to the UN all contributed to negative perceptions of the organization, Sorensen said.
Sorensen acknowledged that the UN, like anything else, is imperfect. “It is meant to represent the world as it is—wars and all,” she said.
Among the UN’s missteps, Sorensen points to Rwanda as a tragic mistake. Sorensen says the stabilization of government in Mozambique and efforts in East Timor were successes, but were not widely publicized.
“It’s like the plane that doesn’t crash,” she said. “You don’t hear headlines about what works.”
Sorensen also discussed intervention and when it is appropriate. She said the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was the wrong kind of intervention and could have been avoided “had we listened more closely to what the UN missile inspectors were saying.”
President of Global Review Rollin Horton said that Sorensen’s presentation gave students a chance to learn about issues they normally would not hear of.
“It was really informative,” he said. “It’s not taught in our history classes, but it’s important to be informed. The UN is indispensable as a way to work with the global community.”