Recent Books on the United Nations

Reviewed by Kimberly Bush
General Works
Birth of a New World: An Open Moment for International Leadership. By Harlan Cleveland. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.
The Birth of a Global Civilization. By Robert Muller. Anacortes, WA: World Happiness & Cooperation, 1991. 138 pp. $9.95.
United Nations: A Working Paper for Restructuring. By Harold Stassen. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, 1994. 125 pp. $14.95.
We're all looking for ways to dispel the cynical attitudes of American youth about public service, international politics, and the United Nations itself. Although the authors of the three books under review are short on media appeal, their experience and integrity would impress even the most hardened skeptic.

Messrs Cleveland, Stassen, and Muller share a common experience and vision, and, even more importantly, a faith in international organizations that few of us, as their children and grandchildren, have ever known. All of them were involved on the front line in one way or another in establishing the institutions of the UN in the 1940's. Harlan Cleveland worked with UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Europe, Harold Stassen was on the American team that signed the Charter in San Francisco in 1945, and Robert Muller spent forty years working in a number of important positions under a succession of Secretary-Generals.

Their similarities don't end there. Knowing that international organizations can work effectively, whether in the establishment of global standards for aviation or the decolonization process, has given them the confidence and determination to propose major structural changes for the UN. Each of their books carries a unique vision that can both inspire and inform teachers and students.

Harold Stassen's United Nations: A Working Paper for Restructuring is the most straightforward in its approach and thus the most immediately useful in the classroom. The original Charter and the suggested reformed version are on facing pages so that even those who have never looked at the Charter before can see it in historical context and-by comparison-understand its shortcomings. There's something very compelling about seeing a blank page on the left with the note "no parallel provisions in the original 1945 Charter" and, opposite it, say, Stassen's startling proposal for a Central Cabinet of Administrators. As a "working paper," it invites the reader to offer perhaps a third alternative and can stimulate active discussion-and work!-in a social studies class.

In Birth of a New World, Harlan Cleveland ably summarizes the work of an August gathering of internationalists known as The Group, whose mandate at their meetings from 1986-89 was to "rethink international governance." The author, founding Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, summarizes the work of the committee well, offering concrete suggestions for systemic changes in the way things are done at the international level. Two chapters stand out: "The International System: What Works and Why" is a convincing counter argument to UN bashers while "A Global Commons: Trusteeship for the World Environment" goes one step further than Stassen in suggesting a novel function for the nearly moribund Trusteeship Council. The other chapters-many of which will stand alone as resources for teachers and students-are equally innovative, whether the subject is the role of regional organizations or how "activist neutrals" might help to prevent the spread of local conflicts into larger ones.

Robert Muller is unique among the three authors reviewed in both the nature of his message and his general orientation. He is currently the Chancellor of the UN University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica, and an outspoken supporter of the entire UN family. The book under review brings together some of Muller's most important ideas under one cover. His "world core curriculum," for example, suggests a structure for global education that goes far beyond what most U.S. schools have tried. Educators might discount his ideas as fanciful and too idealistic, but, in fact, his educational program has a better chance than most of producing true international thinking in schools. He goes beyond Stassen's and Cleveland's visions of the future by posing the question many of us want to postpone: can we create a United States of the World? Many of us would say no, but this, and many of Muller's writings, provoke a deeper discussion.

As the Fiftieth Anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the UN approaches, it is nice to be reminded that there are more than a few wise international diplomats who still believe in the institution and want to breathe new life into it. These three authors are clearly ready to pass the torch on to the next generation of diplomats, scholars, and world activists; their books will help us as teachers to prepare their successors.

Academic Publications
The United Nations in the 1990s. By Peter R. Baehr and Leon Gordenker. New York: St. Martins Press, 1994 (2nd Edition). 197 pp. $16.95.
United Nations, Divided World: The U.N.'s Rules in International Relations. Edited by Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993 (2nd Edition). 589 pp. $18.95.
What books about the United Nations belong in every school library? We've been asked that question often and have recommended two book lists-one for schools with big budgets and another, shorter one for the modest budget. Both of the above books belong in the big library: they're invaluable reference works, up-to-date (new editions!), and bring together some of the most respected names in international relations. They are, however, academic works that might intimidate students with beginning projects or a hesitant initial interest in matters international.

Of the two, that by Baehr and Gordenker is the more accessible, offering historical background on the organization itself, clear tables about the main members of the UN "family," and helpful overviews on topics like the maintenance of peace and security and human rights. Their chapters balance fact and opinion in a way that is clearly based on extensive experience in world politics. As academics from either side of the Atlantic, their perspective is truly international, and supportive, but critical of the institutions they are describing. For example, in "Membership and Decision-Making," they raise important questions about the one-nation, one-vote system and conclude that "even if the UN were to persuade all of its members to adopt a weighted voting system that would better represent the elements of power and population, a great deal of difference would still remain in the degree to which governments truly represent their people."

With this book in hand, and judicious use of its bibliography, a newcomer to the world of the United Nations could learn a lot and not be overwhelmed by an avalanche of information.

United Nation, Divided World is a weightier tome that brings together some of the most respected names in international relations, from ex-Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar to Brian Urquhart, one of the most articulate "friendly critics" of the UN. Its index, bibliography, and appendices are thorough and well organized and of real assistance to the patient researcher. It would be hard to find a more comprehensive and timely volume, which includes not only a very scholarly introduction by the editors (also collaborating across the Atlantic), titled "The UN's Rules in International Society since 1945," but also seminal chapters on human rights, the environment, and the development of international law, to name just a few important topics.

In this book, students learn directly from the experts, and are exposed to the most current thinking about what the United Nations of the next century should look like. For example, in "The Historical Development of Efforts to Reform the UN," by Maurice Bertrand, a member of the UN Joint Inspection Unit from 1968-85, we are treated to the perspective of a consummate insider, and an impressive synthesis of information on the subject.

Neither of these books is for the faint-hearted, beginning young researcher, but for those students who are willing and able to penetrate either dense social science writing or the usual UN-speak, their efforts will be rewarded. Both of these volumes offer among the most thoughtful analyses about international organizations in the mid-1990's.

Kimberly Bush, a former education and social services officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, is now a high school teacher of Spanish and Social Studies at Henry M. Jackson High School in Everett, Washington.