Read Einsteins Open Letter to the U.N. in 1947, then read the just released article “Empty Seats at UN Signal Decline of World Body Hamstrung by Veto.”


By Albert Einstein

As I see it, this is the way for the nations of the world to break the vicious circle which threatens the continued existence of mankind, as no other situation in human history has ever done.

We are caught in a situation in which every citizen of every country, his children, and his life s work, are threatened by the terrible insecurity which reigns in our world today. The progress of technological development has not increased the stability and the welfare of humanity. Because of our inability to solve the problem of international organization, it has actually contributed to the dangers which threaten peace and the very existence of mankind.

The delegates of fifty-five Governments, meeting in the second General Assembly of the United Nations, undoubtedly will be aware of the fact that during the last two years – since the victory over the Axis powers – no appreciable progress has been made either toward the prevention of war or toward agreement in specific fields such as control of atomic energy and economic cooperation in the reconstruction of war-devastated areas.

The United Nations cannot be blamed for these failures. No international organization can be stronger than the constitutional powers given it, or than its component parts want it to be. As a matter of fact, the United Nations is an extremely important and useful institution provided the peoples and Governments of the world realize that it is merely a transitional system toward the final goal, which is the establishment of a supranational authority vested with sufficient legislative and executive powers to keep the peace. The present impact lies in the fact that there is no sufficient, reliable supra-national authority. Thus the responsible leaders of all Governments are obliged to act on the assumption of eventual war. Every step motivated by that assumption contributes to the general fear and distrust and hastens the final catastrophe. However, strong national armaments may be they do not create military security for any nation nor do they guarantee the maintenance of peace.

There can never be complete agreement on international control and the administration of atomic energy or on general disarmament until there is a modification of the traditional concept of national sovereignty. For as long as atomic energy and armaments are considered a vital part of national security no nation will give more than lip service to international treaties. Security is indivisible. It can be reached only when necessary guarantees of law and enforcement obtain everywhere, so that military security is no longer the problem of any single state. There is no compromise possible between preparation for war, on the one hand, and preparation of a world society based on law and order on the other.

Every citizen must make up his mind. If he accepts the premise of war, he must reconcile himself to the maintenance of troops in strategic areas like Austria and Korea; to the sending of troops to Greece and Bulgaria; to the accumulation of stockpiles of uranium by whatever means; to universal military training, to the progressive limitation of civil liberties. Above all, he must endure the consequences of military secrecy which is one of the worst scourges of our time and one of the greatest obstacles to cultural betterment.

If on the other hand every citizen realizes that the only guarantee for security and peace in this atomic age is the constant development of a supra-national government, then he will do everything in his power to strengthen the United Nations. It seems to me that every reasonable and responsible citizen in the world must know where his choice lies.

Yet the world at large finds itself in a vicious circle since the United Nations powers seem to be incapable of making up their minds on this score. The Eastern and Western blocs each attempt frantically to strengthen their respective power positions. Universal military training, Russian troops in Eastern Europe, United States control over the Pacific Islands, even the stiffening colonial policies of the Netherlands, Great Britain and France, atomic and military secrecy – are all part of the old familiar jockeying for position.

THE TIME has come for the United Nations to strengthen its moral authority by bold decisions. First, the authority of the General Assembly must be increased so that the Security Council as well as all other bodies of the United Nations will be subordinated to it. As long as there is a conflict of authority between the Assembly and the Security Council, the effectiveness of the whole institution will remain necessarily impaired.

Second, the method of representation at the United Nations should be considerably modified. The present method of selection by government appointment does not leave any real freedom to the appointee. Furthermore, selection by governments cannot give the peoples of the world the feeling of being fairly and proportionately represented. The moral authority of the United Nations would be considerable enhanced if the delegates were elected directly by the people. Were they responsible to an electorate, they would have much more freedom to follow their consciences. Thus we could hope for more statesmen and fewer diplomats.

Third, the General Assembly should remain in session throughout the critical period of transition. By staying constantly on the job, the Assembly could fulfill two major tasks: first it could take the initiative toward the establishment of a supra-national order; second, it could take quick and effective steps in all those danger areas (such as currently exist on the Greek border) where peace is threatened.

The Assembly, in view of these high tasks, should not delegate its powers to the Security Council, especially while that body is paralysed by the shortcomings of the veto provisions. As the only body competent to take the initiative boldly and resolutely, the United Nations must act with utmost speed to create the necessary conditions for international security by laying the foundations for a real world government.

OF COURSE there will be opposition. It is by no means certain that the USSR – which is often represented as the main antagonist to the idea of world Government – would maintain its opposition if an equitable offer providing for real security were made. Even assuming that Russia is now opposed to the idea of world Government, once she becomes convinced that world government is nonetheless in the making her whole attitude may change. She may then insist on only the necessary guarantees of equality before the law so as to avoid finding herself in perennial minority as in the present Security Council.

Nevertheless, we must assume that despite all efforts Russia and her allies may still find it advisable to stay out of such a world Government. In that case, and only after all efforts have been made in utmost sincerity to obtain the cooperation of Russia and her allies – the other countries would have to proceed alone. It is of the utmost importance that this partial world Government be very strong, comprising at least two-thirds of the major industrial and economic areas of the world. Such strength in itself would make it possible for the partial world Government to abandon military secrecy and all the other practices born of insecurity.

Such a partial world Government should make it clear from the beginning that its doors remain wide open to any non-member – particularly Russia – for participation on the basis of complete equality. In my opinion, the partial world Government should accept the presence of observers from non-member governments at all its meetings and constitutional conventions.

IN ORDER to achieve the final aim – which is one world, and not two hostile worlds – such a partial world Government must never act as an alliance against the rest of the world. The only real step toward world government is world Government itself.

In a world Government the ideological differences between the various component parts are of no grave consequence. I am convinced that the present difficulties between the USA and the USSR are not due primarily to ideological differences. Of course, these ideological differences are a contributing element in an already serious tension. But I am convinced that even if the USA and Russia were both capitalist countries – or communist, or monarchist, for that matter – their rivalries, conflicting interests and jealousies would result in strains similar to those existing between the two countries today.

The United Nations now and world Government eventually must serve one single goal the guarantee of the security, tranquillity, and the welfare of all mankind.

signed by A. Einstein

By Flavia Krause-Jackson

While the familiar clashes among countries echo through the 193-member United Nations General Assembly hall this week, empty seats will bear mute testimony to the world body’s waning significance.

Some of the most important leaders — China’s Hu Jintao, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan — are skipping this year’s annual meeting. U.S. President Barack Obama made only a brief appearance and didn’t formally meet one-on-one with foreign officials.

The 67-year-old UN’s influence has always been limited by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Now, however, global technological, financial, environmental, social, religious and demographic forces are further curbing its ability to act and eroding its foundation in the 17th century concept of sovereign nation-states.

“The concept of a world of nation-states, which dates to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and the idea that they have a monopoly on international relations and on the conduct of war, is no longer valid,” said Max Manwaring, a professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “It’s been replaced by non-state actors and proxies of states, and public opinion has become the primary center of gravity. Whatever you can do to manipulate people’s views is fair game.”

While governments try to preserve their independence, Islamist terrorist groups, Somali pirates and Mexican drug cartels, to name a few, have “made a mockery” of the notion that countries control their own borders, Manwaring said in an interview.

Obsolete Idea

Built to help nations defuse conflicts before they escalate to open warfare, the UN is ill-equipped to tackle such transnational challenges in an Internet age that can flash financial news and videos throughout the globe faster than the Security Council can muster a quorum, much less reach a consensus.

“At a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete,” Obama said during his speech yesterday to the General Assembly.

In this increasingly borderless environment, an anti-Islam video posted on YouTube has sparked a wave of deadly anti- Western protests across the Muslim world, and the self- immolation of a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor triggered rebellions across the Middle East.

‘Unprecedented Role’

“Social media have given non-state actors an unprecedented role in shaping the world’s priorities,” said Ali Wyne, a research assistant at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

At the same time, the financial crisis that began with U.S. subprime mortgage defaults in 2007 has infected much of the world.

The diminishing power of nation-states hasn’t gone unnoticed at the UN. In 1992, then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the UN needed to adapt to remain relevant in an ever more interdependent world.

“The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty, however, has passed; its theory was never matched by reality,” he said in a report entitled “An Agenda for Peace — Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peace-keeping.”

Traditional concepts of sovereignty, ideological differences and international rivalries have always hampered the UN’s efforts to respond to the rapid evolution of a global economy and communications technology.

Dismissing PC

Almost three decades ago, in September 1983, the UN and its Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization held a roundtable in Igls, Austria, on “The New World Information and Communication Order.” The gathering faltered when the Soviet delegate dismissed the personal computer as “a matter for the 21st Century.”

Since its birth from the ashes of World War II and the failure of the League of Nations, the UN’s ability to help end crises peacefully has similarly been trumped by the veto power held by the five permanent members of its most powerful body, the Security Council — China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.

The UN decision-making body’s paralysis on sore subjects such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria’s rebellion, North Korea’s errant rocket launches, and Palestinian statehood is nothing new, and diplomats at the world body’s headquarters don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Standing By

Over the decades, the UN has suffered a string of similar failures, from the Rwandan genocide, to the sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Bosnia and the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. In Haiti, UN peacekeepers brought in to help after a deadly 2010 earthquake are suspected of having introduced cholera to the devastated population on the Caribbean island.

Now, as heads of government have converged on New York for the General Assembly’s annual gathering, the UN has stood by as turmoil in the Middle East has swept across borders, ousted longtime rulers, and altered the political landscape in the region.

In Syria, three Russian vetoes in the Security Council have relegated the UN’s role to that of impotent observer to the daily slaughter in an 18-month conflict raging between President Bashar al-Assad and the armed insurgency.

“The UN often gets the blame, but it’s a futile exercise,” said Miles Kahler, who teaches international relations at the University of California, San Diego.

Hamstrung by Veto

While the UN still has the ability to bring people together and give them a forum — most notably at the current General Assembly — that isn’t enough. The Security Council moves more slowly than information does, remains hamstrung by its five permanent members’ veto power, and has no enforcement authority of its own.

That nations are now being buffeted by global forces they can’t control has made many of them even less willing to cooperate and compromise with one another and quicker to raise nationalist and protectionist banners.

“The idea of a world government, where states have to cede sovereignty is not a very popular position these days; just look at the European Union now,” Manwaring said.

Domestic Preoccupations

For many absent leaders this year, political priorities are close to home.

Germany’s Merkel has the survival of the European single currency and the health of the German economy to consider. China is facing a once-in-a-decade leadership change and acting more assertively toward its neighbors. Russia’s Putin, last seen in New York seven years ago, was just re-elected president, and amid political dissent at home has tossed out the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Even Obama, who re-injected a multilateral approach to American foreign policy and finally paid the U.S.’s back dues to the UN, made only a fleeting appearance this year, with his re- election in November at stake.

That’s left the stage to a fresh crop of Arab leaders making their debuts at the UN as a wave of anti-American sentiment grips the region and tests Western perceptions of a movement that a year ago was met with enthusiasm. More than a year later, the unemployed youths who took to the streets clamoring for better economic conditions and living standards still have no jobs.

Uncharacteristic Timeliness

When the Arab Spring got under way, it looked as if the UN might have found a new calling.

Acting in rare unison and with uncharacteristic timeliness, the Security Council approved a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who had threatened to kill his own people “like rats” to squash a rebellion.

The honeymoon didn’t last. Today an atmosphere of distrust, suspicion and acrimony hangs over the 15-member council.

While former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev relented to Western pressure on Libya, abstaining from a critical vote that paved the way for NATO air attacks, Putin’s return took Russia back to its time-tested tradition of saying “nyet.”

In 1950, the U.S. was able to circumvent Russia blocking action in the Security Council to protect South Korea and take the matter directly to the one-nation, one-vote assembly.

At the height of the Cold War, there were other moments of high drama when the two nuclear foes let off steam.

The most famous example was during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when in a deathly quiet council chamber, U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson demanded that his Soviet counterpart answer whether his country was supplying Cuba with missiles: “I am prepared to wait for my answer until Hell freezes over.”

Obsolete Structure

The UN remains a platform where powerful nations can slug it out with words. Witness the clash of ideologies earlier this year between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused the West of “geopolitical engineering” in seeking the overthrow of incumbents under the pretext of humanitarian aid.

The structure of the UN’s executive arm has grown obsolete, though, still reflecting a 1945 reality that no longer exists. France and Britain owe their places in the decision-making body to their positions on the winning side of World War II.

The influence of both former colonial powerhouses has ebbed over the decades. Germany, which today holds the fate of the Euro area in its hands, and India, an Asian economic titan, will both be bumped off the Security Council at the end of this year.

UN as Scapegoat

The Permanent-5, as veto-wielding China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. are known, are in rare agreement about one thing: keeping permanent membership to the club closed.

“There will be no quick, overnight explosion of understanding that produces reform,” said Michael Doyle, a special adviser to Kofi Annan when he was secretary-general. “The 1945 structure has become a legitimacy burden, as it no longer reflects the major political and economic powers.”

The focus on the Security Council detracts attention from a lot of the good work carried out by UN agencies in immunizing children or improving water supplies, said Doyle, who now teaches international affairs at Columbia University.

“The UN does make mistakes, but its accomplishments also get lost,” he said in a telephone interview.

With nothing to replace it, the UN remains the place where international grievances get aired.

As Annan once said: “S.G. doesn’t stand for secretary- general, but scapegoat.”


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