If New York is the metropolis of the Western world where all ethnicities co-exist, the United Nations organization is its mirror. Overall, 193 countries worldwide take part in this international organization, which was founded after the end of World War II to prevent future conflicts. This week the U.N. General Assembly is bringing hundreds of heads of state and thousands of delegates and reporters to the city. Although the city’s tourism infrastructure is enough to accommodate them — despite the soaring prices — as far as the transportation system of the city is concerned, things are different. There are tight security measures around New York City. It is full of policemen and special agents. The roads are closed; there are dozens of police cars and armored SUVs, which are accompanying the limos of leaders to the hotels where they are staying.
With reinforced roadblocks around the block and metal detectors at every entrance, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel has been transformed into the U.S. government headquarters. Not only is this because the U.S. president stays there when he is in New York, but the U.S. State Department is also occupying an entire floor, where among others, it is briefing reporters about the diplomatic frenzy taking place this week.
On the streets around the U.N. headquarters — an impressive skyscraper overlooking the east side of Manhattan — even pedestrian access is denied. In order to pass, you need a special registration, which is an exhausting procedure both in terms of the control and the time needed for its completion.
On Sunday, Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon joined the march for the protection of the environment in the streets of New York. Leonardo DiCaprio, the new “U.N. Messenger of Peace” on climate change, which is his official title, accompanied him. However, the next day, the protesters were kept at a safe distance from the international organization and its delegates. During another march without any VIPs, protesters were being arrested. Among them was a man wearing a polar bear costume.
All this bemusement covers up the organization’s work on five continents. This year, after many years of considerable effort, climate change, which is an eminently global issue, is being discussed at a special U.N. assembly for the climate. In general, the level of knowledge and specialization concentrated at the U.N. is impressive and devoted to human well-being at a global scale. From U.N. peacemakers, referred to as “Blue Berets,” who operate in conflict areas, to U.N. scientists designing economic and social development programs, the daily contribution of the U.N. to the planet goes far beyond New York City’s limits.
As is surely the case with any organization, the U.N. has developed its own bureaucracy. Its employees enjoy privileges that are difficult to find in the private sector of any country in the world. They might have to pass tests to secure a job, but the right connections and alliances are also useful for promotion to the higher ranks. At one stage of the long recruitment process at the United Nations, one candidate also had the chance to ask the interview panel, “What would you change, if you could?” In a chorus, they answered, “The U.N. Security Council.” They explained that it is dysfunctional and cannot make decisions because of the “right to veto” of the five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France — and finally, because it undermines the effectiveness of the organization.
Despite the once-obsolete structures and the infighting, this modern Tower of Babel has developed a common communication code and remains the only international organization through which the voice of a country, no matter how small, can be heard. As is the case with New York, the co-existence of disparate ethnicities does not always mean osmosis and harmony. However, it does mean tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation, when the United Nations is at its best.