UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson told students and distinguished guests, including retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Tuesday night that the UN is “is facing a most important crossroad.”
Eliasson said that despite criticism of the UN, including the oil-for-food scandal in which former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein pocketed billions of dollars meant for Iraqi citizens through UN programs, he hopes the UN can continue to promote peacekeeping throughout the world.
Eliasson’s comments came at the opening of an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskj?ld. The event was co-sponsored by the Elliott School of International Affairs and the Swedish Embassy, and used Hammarskj?ld’s peacekeeping ideals as a jumping off point for a discussion of the future of international relations and the UN.
Eliasson, who served as Sweden’s ambassador to the United States prior to serving in his new post at the UN, stressed that communication between countries and strong human relationships are essential to the establishment of peace, especially with the raging riots in Paris drawing attention to the ethnic tensions in Europe.
“Together we can deal with the real problems of the world,” he said. “By talking and listening to others we can lessen barriers.”
Hammarskj?ld, also a native of Sweden, became UN secretary-general in 1953 and died in a plane crash in 1961 while doing humanitarian work in what is now Zambia. He developed the idea of a UN peacekeeping force during his time as UN leader. The exhibit will be on the ground floor of the Elliott School building until Friday.
Eliasson said Sweden has reaffirmed its commitment to Hammarskj?ld’s peacekeeping legacy by stationing more than 8,000 Swedish humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, and it continues to supply soldiers to multilateral peacekeeping missions worldwide.
Elliott School Dean Michael Brown agreed that issues such as the avian flu and terrorism cannot be addressed unilaterally since “international problems require international solutions.”
Eliasson stressed that the United States needs to be involved in order to create international peace and should avoid its sometime isolationist tendencies.
“It is in the long term national interest to participate in international dialogue,” he told The Hatchet. “If the U.S. does not participate in the dialogue, it will weaken America.”
Hammarskj?ld remains a symbol for the interdependent global community, and he is remembered by Swedes and diplomatic circles for standing up to all members of the UN Security Council in an attempt to preserve peace through preventative diplomacy.
“Hammarskj?ld was the embodiment of the modern Swede,” said Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund, who praised Hammarskj?ld’s commitment to a unified global community.
The opening of the Hammarskj?ld exhibit is a prelude to the opening of the new Swedish Embassy in Georgetown, both signs of Sweden’s eminent role in international politics, Swedish leaders at the event said.