A founding father assesses UN's role

Carlos Romulo, minister of foreign affairs of the Philippines, is the only surviving founding father of the United Nations. He signed the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945 with such legendary figures as Anthony Eden and Vyacheslav Molotov. In New York Mr. Romulo told the Monitor what in his view ''went right'' and what ''went wrong'' with the UN.

Did the UN live up to your expectations?

There are two United Nations. The specialized agencies and the political body. The specialized agencies - UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, FAO, and others - have in a large measure assisted the world and not just the third world. They have fed the hungry, educated children, given hope to the distressed, upheld the dignity of men. The political body has been less successful. The reason for this is twofold.

* It is rooted in the Charter itself. In 1945 we knew nothing about the atom bomb and we drew a pre-atomic charter. Later the bomb changed the world. The Charter did not provide the UN with the power to enforce its decisions. The Charter tried to balance the unanimity rule in the Security Council with the majority rule in the General Assembly. But what it did, in fact, is to create a majority tyranny in the General Assembly and a minority tyranny in the Security Council.

In this connection, I regret to say, the US bears a heavy responsibility. At the time the American delegation insisted on the unanimity rule in the Council, that is on the right to veto. Otherwise, we were explicitly told, the US Senate would never ratify US participation in the UN.

* The UN has become the battleground of ideologies. During the '50s we had a ''mechanical majority.'' Latin Americans systematically voted with the United States. In the '70s, with the emergence of the third world, we had the ''automatic majority,'' which often voted against the United States. In the '50s the Soviet Union was unhappy with the way the UN worked; today it is the United States which frequently complains.

Does that mean that in terms of keeping the peace the UN has been irrelevant since its foundation?

By no means. We have had disturbances in the world but without the UN we might well have had a holocaust. The UN in effect created a world opinion and had a restraining effect on the superpowers. Without the UN the US might have used nuclear weapons in Vietnam or crushed Cuba in a matter of hours. The Soviet Union might have struck at China or dealt much more harshly with Afghanistan.

What can be done to strengthen the organization?

UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's efforts to strengthen the Security Council in preventing conflicts from erupting ought to be given full support. Member states must come to recognize that the common interest of humanity takes precedence over their narrow national interests.

In this country the states of the union eventually recognized the authority of the federal government. One hundred fifty nations must understand that their individual interests must be submerged in the larger interest of peace and order. I also firmly believe that the decisions of the International Court should be made compelling. They are now optional.

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