Andrew Overton

Communications Officer

Part of Shoulder to Shoulder

24th October 2013 Washington DC, USA

The UN: A Revolutionary Idea with a Big Role to Play Today

As the deadliest war in history was coming to an end in 1945, the international community began to envision ways to maintain peace and prevent another global conflict. This led to the adoption of UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, and the creation of the United Nations 68 years ago today. After traveling to New York for the UN General Assembly last month and seeing firsthand how the UN and its 193 member states employ the Charter today, I’m more convinced than ever of need and the role of the UN in today’s world.

United Nations, New York
United Nations, New York

Back in 1948, the UN Charter was revolutionary. Never before in history had the international community taken such explicit and direct steps in cooperating to curtail war, preserve peace, promote human rights, and maintain international law. Today it is still monumental. While under the UN’s watch, we’ve made the world safer through nonproliferation agreements and seen the standard of living rise dramatically for billions of people across the globe.

At this year’s UN General Assembly we witnessed two historic events. First, Iran pulled a near diplomatic 180. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani met with foreign leaders that their predecessors had not met with in decades. Most notably, as President Rouhani was leaving New York he spoke with President Barack Obama by phone, marking the first time the leaders of the United States and Iran have spoken since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council

Second, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile—a landmark diplomatic success by any standard. While there’s still a long way to go in the process, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it is confident that Syria will meet an early deadline by destroying all equipment used in the production and mixing of poison gases and nerve agents by November 1.

Despite these diplomatic successes, critics of the UN abound. Just last week in an unprecedented move , Saudi Arabia turned down a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council as a sign of frustration with the Security Council and what it sees as a lack of action on Syria.

There’s no doubt that the UN needs reform. In fact, the UK wants to see a Security Council that is more representative of the modern world, and so it supports the efforts of Germany, Japan, Brazil, and India to take up permanent seats. The UK also would like to see permanent African representation at the Security Council.

United Nations, New York
United Nations, New York

Despite its flaws, it is important that we remember that the historic events last month would not have been possible without the UN. During the General Assembly, I saw firsthand how foreign leaders—friend and foe alike—when they’re in close quarters can speak frankly and work diligently to solve problems. When structural challenges arise in the UN, let’s work to fix them. But let’s not forget the vital role the UN has played in promoting peace, human rights and international law. The world will be much better and safer working with it.

About Andrew Overton

Andrew Overton is a Communications Officer at the British Embassy in Washington. Andrew is responsible for communicating the UK’s foreign policy and security priorities to the US. He focuses largely…

Andrew Overton is a Communications Officer at the British Embassy in Washington. Andrew is responsible for communicating the UK’s foreign policy and security priorities to the US. He focuses largely on the Middle East, particularly Iran, Syria, and Egypt. A Philadelphia-area native, Andrew joined the embassy in 2012 bringing his experience in public relations and politics. Andrew graduated from Marist College with a double-major in communications and political science, and he is currently pursuing a master’s in international affairs at American University.

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