The United Nations, founded in 1945 with high hopes for international peace and security after the horrors of two world wars, has reached the venerable age of three score years and ten and it is time to take stock. During those seven decades the United Nations has grown exponentially, spawning many organizations and agencies designed to improve most aspects of human existence. Its normative activities are extensive, ranging from human rights to drug control and nuclear arms. Poverty was seen as a major scourge and led to a wide network of operational programmes of technical and financial assistance in developing countries.
Political activities at United Nations Headquarters to solve or reduce threats to international peace and security, the main aim of the Charter of the United Nations, have had to contend with a turbulent and ever more complex world, and have not always been successful. Mediation and conflict resolution have been supported by operational peacekeeping missions that have multiplied since the end of the cold war and now embrace peacebuilding elements as realization has grown that security and development are intertwined.
It is fashionable to criticize the United Nations for its shortcomings and overlook achievements obtained against great odds. There have been many regional and local wars, but global conflict has been avoided, although humanity has teetered on the brink of catastrophe several times. Poverty and inequality still persist, but there have been major advances in critical areas such as maternal/ child health care and infant mortality, and the killer disease of smallpox has been eradicated. The Organization has become proficient in handling natural and manmade disasters and has also taken the lead in addressing emerging issues of international importance, such as climate change.
I have been involved with various aspects of the Organization for 63 years, 41 of them--from 1952 to 1993--as an official and, since my retirement, in advisory and voluntary capacities. It was by coincidence that I became a local staff member of one of the first technical assistance offices in the Philippines in 1952. That opened the door to a long career that has brought me many satisfactions as well as some disappointments. I was fortunate to work mostly in operational field programmes and to spend 22 years living in poor developing countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. These were concrete activities with specific goals and...