Friday, October 14, 2005

16] Can A United Nations Think?

CAN A UNITED NATIONS THINK?: NOTES ON AN EMERGING EDUCATIONAL FRAMEWORK by Azly Rahman, Columbia University New York "If the UN had not existed, it would have to be invented." The United Nations as a necessitated invention which grew out of the "failure" of the League of Nations can be viewed as a problem solver par excellence . It was born out of the necessity to ensure the survival of the human race so that another war which will end all wars and one which will wipe out entirely the human species can be avoided. Muller (1971) reflected upon this role of the UN as problem solver in his statement: ...The length of life of a civilization depends on its capability to solve enviromental and social problems; the civilization must not destroy itself soon after it masters the technicals means to do so. Our own civilization stands now at this precise threshold. (p.12) Remarkable it may have been illustrated of the UN's achievements in checking and balancing the global power scale in the first half of century of its existence, a more comprehensive framework for problem solving is perhaps needed for the UN to continue playing its role in the 21st century. This framework may not only be formulated by key policy makers in the UN circle but also reflect the universality of grassroot demands of the peoples constituting UN as a society of nations pursuing for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Einstein once said that problems cannot be solved if we look at them from the plane of where they exist. Falk, (1991) wrote about two schools of thought, "system reforming" and "system transforming" governing UN's approaches to achieving its ideals. I believe they reflect the structural-functionalist approach to problem solving by the UN in that they fine-tune dysfunctional aspects of a problem-solving machinery which should been replaced in order for it to function in the context of new realities and challenges. Gorbachev (1971) wrote about the system transforming necessity of the UN by insisting as a comprehensive system of international security. He asserted: we could speak indefinitely about the need for terminating the arms race and uprooting militarism, and about cooperation. Nothing will change unless we start acting. (p.197) For fifty years hence, the UN has been moderately successful in containing the build up of militarism and stopping "crimes against humanity"; from inter-racial strifes in territorial states vying for successions, to the Cold War of the 1980s which still house stockpiles of ICBMs and other sophisticated engines of mass annihilation especially amongst the Superpowers. In the 1990s, classified reports prevent the global public from ascertaining what genre of nuclear weapons are currently being developed and which at times are tested albeit the protests of states and NGOs wishing to be close to the article of faith on peace and disarmament. It is disheartening to know that while efforts are being made by the Superpowers to deploy nuclear arms, Third World militarism is advancing in the form of a new arms race conventional, chemical, and biological in nature. As stated in the report of the Commission on Global Governance (1995): The Third World became increasingly militarized, drawing funds away from vitally needed economic and social development. ...The world may, in fact be on the verge of a new race to acquire weapons of mass destructions. These include biological weapons in addition to nuclear arms.(p.13) It is within this phenomenological backdrop that Gorbachev's call for the needed system of international security is all the more welcomed so that, reflecting Muller's (1971) earlier statement that civilizations would not be destroyed after Man has mastered the technical means to create more sophisticated technologies. Education as an enterprise to sustain the development of human potentials towards spiritual, religious, and moral ends should be a powerful avenue to counter the Machiavellian concept of power brokering and balancing in the global arena. A looming question is that; can educational priorities of each territorial state be the highest in the agenda so that peace education and the learning of creative, critical, and futuristic strategies of poverty alleviation be given the biggest funding, superseeding that of "defense"? An added dimension in the problem solving agenda of the UN is the systematic destruction of the ozone layer legitimized under the shibboleth of developmentalism. Chaos theory applied, we are witnessing irreversible damage done not only on the biosphere but in the spread of diseases related to the imbalances in Earth's ecological stability. I believe that militarism and the balancing of power through balance of terror is a natural outgrowth of territorial state capitalism. It is a newer form of imperialism and a natural progression of global capitalism. Enviromental destruction is an aftermath of centuries of industrialization and the latter grew out of the need for Man's search for a Material meaning in life in which the creative, critical and futuristic faculties of the mind are geared towards producing "wants" more than "needs". It is a philosophical question for finding meaning of our existence on this Earth. If the purpose of life be it for an individual, a community, nation, territorial state, multinational corporation, or a global business conglomerate is to pursue, in a Machiavellian way, material wealth primarily, we may see the continual progress of conflicts, tensions, wars, and plunders on Nature as consistent themes in global politics. I believe that the prevailing economic, social, cultural, moral, and spiritual decay of many a territorial state are a result of politics being practised in a framework anathema to the Uthopian ideals of the United Nations. In much of the literature on the historical development of the UN, a consistent theme is the struggle of "we the peoples" against, paradoxically, "we the peoples" too. It is a history of half a century's struggles between Eros (Life) and Thanatos (Death). It is a reflection of our own inner struggle against the forces against us which are anti-life, shrouded in arrogance and with the inability to differenciate between what is humane and what isn't and what constitutes being human. As such above, it is not a historical question; it is ahistorical grounded in the historicity of the struggle between Good and Evil. The question of human nature comes into play, with all the subconsiderations related to it. One can relate it with religious, philosophical and cultural themes if one wishes to analyze the struggle between "we the peoples" and our alter-ego "we the peoples". Educating "we the peoples" thus, through a framework cutting across boundaries of religion, territorial states, ideology, and other mental constructs which are shackling the mind of the oppressed, may be a necessary process to "conscientize" (borrowing Paulo Freire's term,) the future generations of "we the peoples". Mische (1977) posed a set of thought-provoking questions on the potential of the UN to strategize its thinking and problem-solving efforts: ... the question before us is not whether the UN can or will require change, for past history shows it can, and future history requires that it will. It is rather: How much and what kind of change? Based on what assumptions, values, and worldviews? For whose benefit? How can change be guided to serve the common good? (pp.3-4) The UN must promote a radically different paradigm of existence if it must insist on becoming a peace educator which can keep up with the excesses of human nature. I propose, in the following discussions, a framework of human development as it relates to what can possibly be adopted as a paradigm of thinking beyond UN's fiftieth year of existence.

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.