Disarmament: first strengthen the UN

Suppose that after much hard work by many dedicated people both the United States and the USSR do finally agree some momentous day to introduce a genuine freeze on the production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons. If that giant step could ever be taken, what should come next?

Most people would say that after a nuclear weapons freeze the next step should be to get on with genuine disarmament. However, only a nodding acquaintance with history tells us that in the past, and certainly during the past 35 years, disarmament has been mainly an elusive dream, although much hard work as well as considerable rhetoric have been devoted to it.

This is so because governments arm themselves, in the first place, because they feel insecure without arms. The nuclear arms race, for example, began when the leaders of the US and the USSR felt insecure in the lawless community of national states and became preoccupied with trying to find safety.

In the world as it is today, each country, feeling insecure, builds up its armed forces to protect itself; that country's neighbors then perceive these armed forces as threats and proceed to strengthen their own armed forces against possible external attack. In this way, as if all were being victimized by some malign curse, each country strives for its own security, but in the process all countries become more and more insecure.

Thus disarmament remains a chimera because no country, knowing that it must be prepared to defend itself in such an anarchic world, can afford to disarm unless it knows that all other countries are disarming at the same time. The only certain way such knowledge could be provided in a world where already a half dozen or more countries have nuclear weapons would be through an international security agency that could (1) verify full compliance with disarmament agreements and (2) adjudicate such other international disputes as might arise.

What looks at first like a threat of war lying across our globe can be viewed instead as a vast human cultural lag: We have created one worldwide science and technology, one world community of travel and communication, and one world market - but politically our world community is still fragmented into disunited, quarrelsome national states.

What is to be done? We desperately need a strong and effective international political institution, but the only such institution we have is the weak, flabby , and discredited United Nations. It was created by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin intentionally to be weak, and today it just sits there, virtually helpless, although the rhetoric of its preamble states that it should ''save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.''

The answer has to be to find ways of building up and strengthening the United Nations instead of letting it die on the vine.

The UN needs strengthening in two important ways. First, it needs to work more effectively at its present tasks in order to gain more of the stature and prestige that political organizations must have.

For example, it needs a permanent peacekeeping force instead of hastily assembled, poorly financed ad hoc expeditionary forces.

To forestall the recourse to arms and promote the peaceful settlement of disputes it also needs - but does not have - a permanent conciliation and mediation service, panels of arbitrators, and well-established procedures for adjudicating international disputes. Procedures should be set up to encourage greater access to the underused International Court of Justice; United Nations human rights activities should be expanded; there should be regular and more independent sources of finance. Most of these proposals were discussed at US House and Senate hearings on UN reform in 1979.

The second kind of UN reform will be possible only in the future, after the organization's present functioning has been improved. Then truly basic reforms like revising the General Assembly's unrealistic voting rules and modifying the use of the veto in the Security Council will have to be explored. Until the US and the USSR agree to an expanded world role for the UN, however, we will have to be content with piecemeal reforms.

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