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United States Ambassador discusses role of United Nations in world policy

<pefully, this trip to Minnesota will not go as badly for Ambassador Joseph Melrose. The first time he came to Minnesota in 1995, he was serving as Ambassador to Pakistan. The way he tells it, the State Department found him and told him that an international crisis had arisen and to “get your butt back to Pakistan now.” Thus ended a very short trip to the state of 10,000 lakes.

Joseph H. Melrose Jr. served three decades in the Foreign Service and now teaches at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone and Pakistan. In 2001, he left Sierra Leone to become the Task Force Coordinator for the post-September 11th Task Force with the Department of State. He later became the Senior Consultant on Counterterrorism for the Office of the Secretary of State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Moreover, he served as senior advisor to the US delegation to the United Nations General Assembly for the State Department. If all of these long titles have failed to impress, he is also the president of the National Model United Nations Board of Directors—and “Model UN” is something that any high school or college student has heard of.

In convocation on Friday, October 10, Melrose discussed the progress the United Nations has made in the past sixty or so years since its conception. A small organization meant to replace the failed League of Nations, the United Nations initially consisted of 51 members. In 2008, it now has 192 member countries. The Secretary-General’s workforce shows similar growth.Initially only 2,500 workers, now, it now consists of about 200,000.

In the face of all these changes, other aspects of the United Nations have not changed. For example, some of the main problems facing the UN in 1945 were as follows: atomic energy, Afghanistan, war criminals, refugees, food shortages and genocides. These are issues that, Melrose is quick to point out, are still very relevant today. One of the other difficulties facing the UN was the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is, likewise, a problem in the world sixty years later.

Still, this does not demonstrate how much the world has shifted since 1945, in terms of politics. In 1945, the main conflict in the world was the Cold War and most other conflicts were defined in relation to that between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the Middle East is now a pivotal player in the world and, yet, as Melrose pointed out, there is no Muslim representative in the Security Council.

Melrose also discussed the United States place in the United Nations. It has always played a dominant role as the largest contributor, followed by Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. The United States contributions to the United Nations budget are about 22%. Its contributions to the peace-keeping budget are about 27%. Interestingly, this is less than the United States initially contributed, which was 39%. Despite this, Melrose emphasized that the UN budget is in crisis. The budget is renewed once every two years and, only a year in, they have already spent more than half of it.

Many of us fail to realize how much the United Nations accomplishes because we will never be its beneficiaries. The World Food Program, the World Health Organization and many similar programs are well-known in poorer countries where such issues are widespread. For example, Melrose said, any elementary school-age child in Africa knows about the World Food Program.

The United Nations will have to make many reforms in order to remain current in today’s political affairs. These potential changes fall into three categories: the right to veto, the number of seats and its size. First of all, many people disagree over the UN policy that if one permanent member vetoes a motion, the motion is nullified. Secondly, there are disagreements over the numbers of permanent seats as well as an increase in the number of seats that are elected. The European Union, for example, has two permanent seats right now, but will probably lose one to a European nation that is not part of the EU, and the EU is strongly opposed to this.

The United Nations is ready to make the necessary changes. Melrose told the college, “The one thing I’ve seen in the last three years is a desire to move forward and to do something.”

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