On Thursday evening, over seven hundred delegates, staff members and advisors gathered together in the University of Michigan's Rackham Auditorium for the 31st Model United Nations at the University of Michigan Conference Opening Ceremony. The conference is run by University undergraduates, and offers high school students from 37 high schools across the country an opportunity to deepen their understanding of international affairs. The keynote speaker for the opening ceremony was University Regent Ron Weiser, and his speech highlighted "the good, the bad and the ugly" of the United Nations.
Weiser, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia from 2001 to 2005, began by discussing the history of the United Nations in regards to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s "Fourteen Points" speech, which outlined the future of nations committed to peace during World War I. He also emphasized how the United States embodied those points as it helped to shape the U.N. after World War II.
“The United States, now under the leadership of FDR, returned to Wilson’s grand strategy — to a construction of a rules-based order in which the United States and other democracies would prosper,” Weiser said.
Weiser then discussed the universality present in the U.N., which he viewed as a double-edged sword. He explained while the inclusiveness of the U.N. allows for actions against threats — such as sanctions — to be taken, it conversely allows countries unsolicited uses of the veto power.
“On a strategic level the U.N. poses a structural flaw of universality in participation because great powers can use veto (power) to barter action against themselves,” Weiser said. “For example, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union used the veto power 68 times, and the U.S. used it 61 times. On the other hand, universality is occasionally a significant plus, most recently the UN Security Council passed sanctions against North Korea.”
Weiser considered other positive aspects of the United Nations such as the legitimacy of the Security Council, the strength of technical agencies and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees’ aid to over 50 million refugee families and more. Weiser also pointed out many of the flaws that he viewed as the negative elements of the U.N. Some of the issues he noted were weak performance management culture, inadequate resourcing and implementation of mandates and lack of transparency.
The “ugly,” according to Weiser, was visible in the U.N.’s lack of investigation into claims of sexual misconduct as well as their supposedly negative bias towards Israel. Weiser brought up U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley’s speech that looked at the number of condemnations Israel received compared to those of other nations.
“The U.N. gives undo negative tension towards Israel,” Weiser said. “The Human Rights Council has passed 62 resolutions condemning reasonable actions Israel takes to defend its security. Meanwhile, human rights abusers in Syria, Iran and North Korea received few condemnations.”
Weiser ended on an uplifting note, explaining to the delegates they should not let the idea of perfection disrupt their ability to work effectively.
“Change is typically incremental, but perfection cannot be your goal,” Weiser said. “Someone famously said something that I quote often, ‘Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.’”
Though audience members appreciated Weiser’s speech and felt his perspective was an important one to hear, others disagreed with aspects of what he presented. One of these staff members was Business sophomore Lucas Reynolds, who was unhappy with Weiser’s U.S.-centered focus when discussing the functions of the U.N.
“I enjoyed his speech to a point,” Reynolds said. “I thought some of the things he said regarding the U.N. having this vision of freedom, I agreed with a lot of that. However, I didn’t like how he focused on how the U.N. is supposed to be a U.S.-centered body. I fundamentally disagree with that. Especially because now the U.N. is dealing with a lot of topics.”
LSA freshman Danielle Falling shared Reynolds's sentiment and explained while the U.S. was a part of the U.N., it did not make up its entirety.
“It’s not a U.S.-centered organization, it’s the United Nations of the world," Falling said. "I think it’s important to look at things with a grain of salt so we can’t just call the U.N. an ideal pinnacle of unity because there are problems."
Falling also touched on the relevance of Weiser’s speech, and why it was necessary for younger individuals — especially students involved in Model United Nations — to hear.
“The students here will one day become the people in the United Nations, so they’re the ones who have to think about what they want to be changed,” Falling said. “It’s important to see the faults so that they can do that.”