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Religious, Academic Ethicists Defend U.N. in Face of GOP Assault : Conference: Developed world has a moral obligation to support United Nations, speakers say. 'Contract with America' would slash peacekeeping funds.

March 11, 1995|From Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich dismisses the United Nations as "a totally incompetent instrument."

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole says it is "out of control" and needs to be "reined in."

The GOP "contract with America" would slash its funding.

But amid the assaults on the United Nations--founded 50 years ago to bring international order in the chaotic aftermath of World War II--a group of religious and secular ethicists, academics and activists has come to the organization's defense.

They argue that a continuing commitment to the United Nations, especially its controversial peacekeeping efforts, is a moral obligation that the developed world must continue to support.

At a conference at the National Cathedral this week titled "The United Nations and Common Security: Fifty Years After San Francisco and Hiroshima," a broad range of speakers addressed the two anniversaries, all saying the United States should bolster its support of the United Nations and take steps to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

"Religious people particularly are called on to moderate national sovereignty and to increase global loyalty and so help the United Nations," the Rev. William Sloane Coffin said in the opening address.

"To help the U.N., what religious leaders have to teach and preach is that our lives are in danger not so much from others but from the fear and hatred we carry in our hearts," said Coffin, head of the anti-nuclear group SANE.

The Rev. Alan Geyer, resident ethicist at the National Cathedral and professor of political ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, warned of what he called the "Somalia Syndrome"--the view that there should be no more interventions in which U.S. military personnel are put at risk.

Citing the comments by Gingrich and Dole, Geyer said powerful voices in the United States are undermining the U.S. commitment to help maintain peace around the world.

Since 1992, the United Nations has undertaken four major peacekeeping operations--in Mozambique, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia--and now has about 80,000 peacekeepers in the field. It spent $3 billion on peacekeeping in 1993.

But the Somalia operation, in which 18 U.S. personnel were killed during an operation against Somali gunmen, has sharpened criticism of U.S. involvement in U.N. peacekeeping efforts.

Under the foreign policy proposals of the "contract with America," which passed the House on Feb. 16, the President could not deploy peacekeeping forces without consulting Congress, and the United States would reduce its contribution to the U.N.'s peacekeeping budget.

Charles Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, echoed Geyer's concern.

While no one is yet calling for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, Maynes said, "the assaults on the organization are mounting and daily becoming more dangerous."

The Republican proposals, he said, "would starve the U.N. for cash and close down its most valuable activity--peacekeeping."

At the same time, he said, public opinion polls show "exceptionally high support" for the international body, with polls showing more backing for U.S. participation in the United Nations (74%) than in NATO (58%).

"The current crisis over U.S. policy toward the U.N. is an elite crisis," Maynes said, suggesting that it is the conservative intellectual elite--and not the general public--that wants to weaken the United Nations.

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