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UNITED NATIONS by Stanley Meisler

UNITED NATIONS

The First Fifty Years

By Stanley Meisler

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87113-616-3
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

 An even-handed, realistic history that implicitly measures how far the UN has come in achieving the high hopes its founders held when it was created at the end of WW II. With the failure of the League of Nations constantly in mind, the UN sought, in the words of its charter, to save ``future generations from the scourge of war.'' Yet as shown by Meisler, who covers foreign affairs and the UN for the Los Angeles Times, the organization's dream of cooperation vanished almost immediately as it was overshadowed by the onset of the Cold War; indeed, the UN almost foundered before it began because of Western-Soviet deputes over voting procedures. Much of the history here covers the crises that were inevitably colored by the superpowers' confrontation: the creation of Israel, the Korean War, the Suez affair, the Congo, the Cuban missile crisis, the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War, and the Iranian hostage crisis. The organization's Third World members often engaged not in constructive peacekeeping or even the honeyed palaver often associated with diplomats but in hot rhetoric oddly irrelevant to the organization's mission (at the insistence of Arab members, a 1975 UN-sponsored Conference on Women passed a resolution calling for Zionism's elimination). Aside from Dag Hammarskjîld, praised by Meisler for his ``stubborn principle and exquisite tact,'' the superpowers often settled for secretaries- general who turned out to be clumsy (Trygve Lie), colorless (U Thant), or venal (Kurt Waldheim). Even after the Cold War's end raised hope that the organization might finally achieve its promise, it remained mired in ambiguity; successful peacekeeping missions in El Salvador, Haiti, and Cambodia contrasted with misconceived ventures in Somalia and Bosnia. This history could have used more of Meisler's own interviews for a fresh perspective on past events, and the optimistic conclusion is overdrawn. But generally, a clear-eyed view of an organization as victimized by naive hope as by corrosive cynicism. (photos, not seen)