IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

The challenges of education

OK…that is a rather general title for this post, but it reflects how I’ve been feeling.  As I’ve mentioned, I teach graduate level courses on international affairs, including conflict management.  I have just finished my discussions (these are online courses btw) for a course on conflict management, and as always, my primarily American students tend to have a lot to say that is critical of the U.N. without apparently really understanding the background and context of the organization.

Most of the discussions this time around went something like this (I’m greatly oversimplifying, of course):

1.  The U.N is weak and the U.S. is strong

2.  The U.N. is inefficient and the U.S. gets things done

3.  The U.N. fails and the U.S. succeeds (think Rwanda vs the Bin Laden attack, maybe)

The conclusion, the “QED” if you will, is “who needs the U.N. when we have the U.S. Things would get done a lot better through unilateral U.S. actions, or U.S. led coalitions.”

There is some truth in all of these points (note:  I said “some”).  However, they also completely miss the point, in other ways.  At times I go into some of the background and context (and try to make sure that everybody reads the U.N. Charter before they engage in extensive critiques of the organization).  However, what has impressed me this “time around” is how intuitive and normal it seems to my (relatively well educated) American students to engage in this sort of discussion; even though they are poorly informed about the facts.  I’m starting to wonder if this is not somehow cultural (though that may not be the right word).  We all know that the U.S. has been isolationist in the past, and this seems to have an impact right down to the individual’s world view and mindset.

So, even though historically  the U.S. essentially created the U.N., it is very easy for Americans to start seeing the U.N. as “them”, as something rather alien on U.S. soil.  Also, when the U.N. is associated with a conspicuous failure/tragedy such as Rwanda, it is like pulling teeth to get such people to look at the facts:  ie peace and security is decided solely by the state members of the Security Council (not some faceless U.N. bureaucracy).  If things go well it is because those states (and obviously the permanent members of the Council bear the biggest responsibility here because of the veto) made the right decisions, and if things go badly the “buck” also stops with them (not the Secretary General, or the undersecretary for peacekeeping or any other UNocrat).

So, in fact, in regard to anything that concerns the big issues of war and peace it is to the policies of the major states one should look for explanations–whether those policies are pursued through or outside of the U.N..  Of course, there is also the question of certain countries very much wanting the U.N. to look (this is all about image) weak, while they look strong…but that is another story.

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May 17, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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