Celebrations of the Marshall Plan's 50th anniversary have snubbed the main instrument for carrying forward its international vision. We mean the United Nations, which Secretary of State George Marshall himself did not snub after his famous Harvard commencement address of 1947. He called the UN the cornerstone of US foreign policy: "Our faith in the United Nations has its roots in the basic moral values and spiritual aspirations of the American people. These aspirations of ours are identical with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter."
Yet the words "United Nations" were not heard at Harvard last week in the principal anniversary tribute to Marshall. A surprising omission, since the speaker was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former US ambassador to the UN.
Ms. Albright's speech, apart from a few tough-talking applause lines, was thoroughly in the reasoned Marshall vein. She made a strong stand against isolationism and for American leadership to "bring the world together in an international system based on democracy, open markets, law, and a commitment to peace."
With this reach beyond the Marshall Plan's European scope, some mention of the UN seemed inevitable. But no. It was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a couple of miles down the street, which celebrated the UN. Its commencement speaker the next day was Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general virtually engineered into office by Albright.
She probably agrees with Mr. Annan's plea that global capitalism "must be coupled with an ethic of caring for those whom the market disadvantages ... of responsibility for the collective goods that the marketplace produces ... of tolerance for those whom the market pits as your adversary." She and Annan certainly agree the UN needs the organizational reform he has undertaken. After all, Marshall was calling for improvements in the UN two years after it began in 1945.
But last year the UN's flaws did not keep Albright from assuring Balkan reporters: "Let me say that the United States fully supports the United Nations, and we believe that it's very important to the United States, and it's very important to the peace and security and development of the world." That was before a trip to Bosnia as UN ambassador. Last week she spoke after a trip to Bosnia as secretary of state. She could have taken this most visible opportunity to fit the UN into her grand design.
President Clinton had it right last fall: "In this time of challenge and change, the United Nations is more important than ever before."