Last Best Opportunity for Empowering the UN

Until now Uncle Sam has been the big dog in the global community, the undisputed guardian of decency and humanity, while the UN — the entity created to embody the world’s better impulses — has remained a foster child forced to beg for scraps to continue its existence as a shadowy entity able to exhort and wheedle but rarely able to take action.

In this era of failing European economies, jobless American millions and ballooning budget deficits, no politician has the guts to voice support for funding a more powerful United Nations. That’s a shame because the UN may be humanity’s best hope for moving beyond the age of parochial bickering to one in which the human race begins to tackle global problems collectively, rather than piecemeal and often at cross-purposes.

There are some big problems that can only really be tackled collectively — global warming, genocide, human trafficking, terrorism, piracy, hacking and ID theft. The list is long and growing longer while the big dog is becoming smaller and smaller relative to the size of the global economy. And time is fast running out.

By the end of World War II when the US became the world’s acknowledged savior, it accounted for nearly half the world’s economic productivity. The dollar was so mighty that American kids earning $1.50 an hour at summer jobs on US bases around the world could swagger through local nightlife like young demigods. Even upper-class locals had to kowtow to them and to the GIs who were only a couple of years older.

In those days Americans may as well have been aliens freshly off UFOs from a world so advanced that it had mastered anti-gravity, time-travel and the total conversion of matter into energy. Those days are now long gone.

We’re only about a decade away from the day when China will be able to match the US in its ability to project economic might overseas. At that point each nation will account for about a sixth of the world’s economic production. Neither will have the muscle to do much on its own, but each will command a following — about half the world will see its self-interest in siding with China in global disputes. Without an honest referee the world will squabble and squander valuable opportunities to address that long list of problems until one or more leads to costly disasters that neither side will have the might to tackle on its own.

Today the US still remains the world’s big dog, if only for a while longer. This is the best and possibly the last decade when we can leverage our clout into a legacy that will give humanity a way forward through the many hurdles that stand between it and a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable world. The only way that legacy can become reality is to throw our full support behind a better-funded, stronger United Nations with the resources to overrule even us on matters of survival of the human race.

I recognize that it would require exceptional leadership and statesmanship by an American president to persuade lawmakers to support an institution whose true value to us will only be manifest years down the road. I may be an optimist, but I think it can be done before the moment passes into another bi-polar world and we revert to the kind of tense standoff that caused so much waste and suffering for so many people for nearly half a century. This time around another such cold war may not end so well.