Letter From Philly

By Shirley Farlinger | 1987-10-01 12:00:00

The farnous tower of Independence Hall still looks out on thriving Philadelphia. On this, the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in that hall, 300 people have gathered to call for a new Constitution -- this time to "enable the United Nations to carry out its noble purposes." Delegates from twenty countries have come to this International Bicentennial Symposium on Strengthening the United Nations.

In 1787 the 55 representatives met for fourteen weeks to write a Constitution. About twenty didn't bother to show up and some arrived two weeks late. They carne because the only man they all respected, General George Washington, had agreed reluctantly to chair the meetings. The most contentious aspect of the document, like the current U.N. debate, the voting rights of small and large states, was settled in a compromise, giving birth to the House of Representatives with "rep by pop" and the Senate, with equal representation. The Committee of Detail made up of the more dedicated delegates thrashed out the problems and the Committee of Style gave the document its cohesion and eloquence. In his farewell, Benjamin Franklin said, "It astonished me, sir, to find the system approaching so near to perfection as it does!".

Now fifty times as populous, Philadelphia has restored and cleaned its old buildings. The Delaware river, where the founding fathers fished between sessions, still rolls majestically by, though now dark and polluted Some of the old churches and small gardens the fathers visited are still evident. The five-story City Tavern, built in 1773, was the hub of dockside trading, entertaining, and political argument. Now it shelters hot weary tourists and soothes yours truly with cold beer.

Z. Francis Leddy, later elected president of the World Federalists, opened the first session, which was held in Independence Hall. He said, "Our aim is to bring about world peace and to strengthen the United Nations by strengthening world law." Many speakers stated the problem bluntly. American Charles Price said, "I cannot find one congressman or senator who says he stands up for the U.N. We have had decades of attempts to weaken the role of the Secretary-General. When you weaken something," he said, "you find that instrument is no use to you. This is why the U.N. is now ineffective in the Gulf. When you mine the harbors of a foreign country [Nicaragua] you cannot prevent mines in the Gulf."

Carlos Andres Perez, former President of Venezuela, described the problem in these terms, "The veto power of the nuclear nations in the Security Council has prevented change. Bloc politics and an unbridled arms race have brought the U.N. to a crossroads. Add to these the current UN.-bashing craze in this country. The U.S. has used its veto twice as often in the '80s as in the '70s, pressing the red veto button 500 times between 1980 and 1985, earning it the name, The Great Rejector. The U.N. budget, he said, "has now been frozen at $800 million a year. This equals seven hours of the arms race. One-third of the cost goes to U.N. salaries, which benefits the U.S., especially New York. Other countries contribute fifty times as much in proportion." Perez's shocking conclusion: "The U.S., the prime mover of the U.N. has, for all practical purposes, withdrawn." The keynote speaker was Norman Cousins, Honorary President of the World Association for World Federalism (WAWF) and author of twenty books. He described Contragate as "good men gone wrong, good men orating outside the law." Cousins called WAWF the only body working on a form of world government that will eventually make the arms race unnecessary. "Keep this idea alive until the realization of its validity takes hold" The evening ended with a social hour at Arch Street Friends Meeting House, reminding us that Philadelphia was founded in 1682 by peace-loving Quakers.

The Symposium moved from Independence Hall to the University of Pennsylvania, where most of us were billeted I doubt the founding fathers encountered any of our problems. At 4 a.m. the fire alarms sounded and we descended seventeen flights in garbage-strewn stairwells to find out that it happens all the time. Other days they painted our rooms, changed the locks without warning, and notified us that we were to be exterminated on Tuesday. Outside, the graffiti and paper-scattered streets gave evidence of American self-interest at its worst. So much money for arms and so little for waste baskets.

Next day, Major General Indarjit Rikhye, President of the International Peace Academy, shed new light on U.N. problems. "The birth of so many small states originally had the blessing of the U.S.," he argued, "as it supported the de-colonizing process. But the strategic reason was that these countries would become U.S. allies and keep Russia out. "The U.N. Peacekeeping process was unique," he said, "but it had the disadvantage that since peace was kept no one talked of how to resolve the underlying problems." For example, no solution has been found for the 250,000 refugees of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The U.S. began peacekeeping efforts outside the U.N. without understanding that superpowers cannot be part of the forces and that the use of force is counterproductive. "The U.S. began treating the U.N. like the Congress. In the General Assembly they began to arm-twist. If you don't vote with us, you'll lose our aid. The reaction," he claimed, "was to say, 'to Hell with you!"' The new stales voted together and often this coincided with Russia's vote.

Douglas Roche, Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament, outlined the world's major problems of the arms race, overpopulation, environmental degradation, the rich-poor gap, and the breakdown in public morality. Yet he held out great hope for the September 15 summit talks. "The U.S. and the USSR with 97 percent of all nuclear weapons, must sign the agreement, even though it means only a three percent reduction."

Another speaker was Clovis Maksoud, Ambassador from The League of Arab States. "We are all moderates when our rights are forthcoming; we are all radicals when our rights are deprived. Violence is the result of frustration, hopelessness, and unresolved problems," he claimed. "The Middle East is the most complex U.N. challenge." He faulted the media for reporting on each tanker in the Gulf rather than describing the larger issues. The Philadelphia newspapers are covering the Gulf but they also contain all of President Reagan's buck-stopping speech. There's a refreshing page of anti-Reagan letters and cartoons. Contragate jokes are circulating. How many White House staffers does it take to change a light bulb? None. They like to keep the President in the dark. The Contragate drama has bothered the President; he's had many sleepless afternoons.

On Friday afternoon the only living signer of the U.N. Charter, Harold Stassen, was the speaker. Now age 80, he has drafted a new charter with over a hundred new suggestions. To improve problem-solving he recommends a World Panel of Mediators, a World Board of Arbitrators, and a Court of Equity. To counter terrorism, he proposes a new 250,000-strong U.N. Police Peace Force. He would continue the one-vote-one-state system but would introduce a Central Cabinet of Administrators with votes reflecting total population, annual gross national production, and per capita production. Also, he proposed a U.N. Inspection Corps to verity arms limitations and keep outer space nuclear-free. To finance the bankrupt UN., Stassen suggested a charge of one percent on the import and export of goods, borne equally by the exporters and importers.

Last we heard from China and Jamaica. Wang Xuexian of the Chinese Mission to the U.N. said China sees the U.N. as the only place small countries can be heard abroad, a venue for the U.S. and the USSR to meet, and a drafting lobby for international law.

One of the best speakers, handsome Donald Mills, comes from Jamaica He empathized with Canada in that we both think of our relations with our neighbor as "being in bed with an elephant." "The U.S. is too big for its own good and for ours," he says. It turns out that Mills has already been through the exercise that Stassen calls for. A group of twenty-five people twelve years ago brought suggestions for restructuring the U.N. to the General Assembly. It was unwilling 10 make any of the changes. "If there were no U.N. could we create it now?" he asks himself. "No, I don't think so. Not in this hostile atmosphere." Saturday's speeches include a critique by a U.N. journalist, Michael Berlin. "The U.S. sees the U.N. as a tool of the USSR and the Third World. The UN.'s view of Zionism as racist and the ability of small states to determine budgets also alienated the U.S. Such issues as a new economic order, Palestinian rights, and South Africa sanctions are not in the U.S.'s interest. So the U.S. began to withhold funding for the PLO, SWAPO, and the Law of the Sea." But Berlin believes the crisis may have peaked. "As the U.N. becomes more efficient and learns to work without U.S. support" the pressure will be on Washington.

Women were ably represented on the rostrum by Kathleen Ayensu of Ghana. On debt repayment, she said "Give us a break! We can't progress and repay debts." On the nuclear danger, she declared, "We will not live to see the next war....In South Africa, the homelands are like reservations," she said. "The fact that the U.S. and the UK. vetoed sanctions justifies ending the veto and permanent members. Friendship is the only cement that can hold the world together." In some ways, Africa is way ahead. The Organization of African States has outlawed nuclear tests and the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Nicholas Dunlop is Secretary General of Parliamentarians Global Action, now numbering 650 from fifty countries. Dunlop is from NWF New Zealand. Joking about the U.S. response to Prime Minister Lange's refusal to allow U.S. ships into his country's ports, he said, "What a terrible blow to be cut off from Ronald Reagan's intelligence!" He predicted that global leadership will come from the middle powers, such as Argentina, India, Mexico, Greece, Sweden, and Tanzania -- members of the Six Nation Initiative began by his group. If only Canada were a middle power instead of just being in the middle!

Two speakers in the U.N. session were from the superpowers. Timor Timofeev of the USSR and John Anderson, former U.S. presidential candidate, were quite a contrast. In GUM store blue suit, short stocky Timofeev said, "No one country can protect itself, even by the most powerful military means. We rely on each other's common sense."

Tall, tanned, Man from Glad look-alike John Anderson was sharply dressed. He was the best the organizers could come up with when they were looking for a Presidential hopeful. He advised the U.N. to design weighted voting on budget matters and to make U.N. assessments a treaty obligation. He cited a U.S. poll in which 67 percent agreed that the U.N. should have more power to reduce the danger of superpower confrontation.

At 5 p.m. on Sunday the high point of the conference occurred downtown on Independence Square -- the signing of the Declaration of Philadelphia. The twenty signers agreed to present the Declaration to their own leaders, asking them to support measures to enable the U.N. to fulfill its purposes. Dieter Heinrich represented Canada. A magnificent thunderstorm dramatized the signing, and an even louder rock group, the Social Voyeurs, shook the canopy. Then the Canadians went bar-hopping in Philly. The founding fathers would have understood.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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