This week was the eighth United Nations' "Talk Radio Day," a time when ambassadors and other United Nations officials tell the radio world what the U.N. really does. Many people typecast the United Nations as a do-nothing organization that can't solve world problems. It can't solve many of them, but without the United Nations, as U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold said, "The U.N. wasn't created to take mankind into paradise, but rather, to save humanity from hell."
Against the backdrop of German Chancellor Angela Merkel coming to D-Day on June 6, it is enlightening to look at Germany's role in the world and how much has changed since the end of World War II. For those of us born in the shadow of World War II, it is quite a sea change. Germany has taken its place as promoter of peace and stability. After my interview with Ambassador Harald Braun, I began to research the areas that Germany contributes to the United Nations and to make sure that we do not get to hell, as Hammarskjold put it.
Currently, Germany contributes 5,000 soldiers, police officers and others as part of peacekeeping operations of the United Nations. According to the mission at the U.N., Germany is the fourth largest contributor to the United Nations peace-keeping budget.
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For a nation that at one time was a proliferator of arms, Germany has now focused on disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation. Germany has taken a leadership position on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Arms Trade Treaty. First signed in 1963, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has attempted to eliminate testing and therefore radiation around the world. Those of us who grew up in the "duck-and-cover" world of the 1950s and 1960s even remember being told not to eat potato skins, as they might have attracted radiation from the testing. Now, due to the treaty, kids have grown up in a world where fear of testing is no longer a focus.
Germany has also taken a strong position on human rights, and the United Nations is taking great steps in that direction. Even the thought of protection of women from genital cutting (mutilation) or the safeguarding of gay and lesbian rights did not exist when the Charter of the United Nations was signed in June 1945 in San Francisco with 51 member countries. Now there are 193 member countries. Both of the German countries did not enter the United Nations until 1973. They became one member in 1990. Germany has caught up and is now interested in protecting everyone. In Germany's own statement, it says, "German human rights policy in international relations follows a clear obligation: protecting people from violations of their rights and basic freedoms and creating viable conditions in which oppression, tyranny, and exploitation can no longer exist." Gender equality is a clear priority of Germany now.
With young soldiers being used as cannon fodder during World War II, Germany has done a complete turnaround, going so far as to serve in a leadership position on this issue in the United Nations. Germany provides "financial support to UNICEF, which is implementing projects to protect and reintegrate child soldiers in in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic," says the mission.
With so many climate-change deniers, Germany has taken a very strong position on helping to reduce the causes and effects of climate change. "Every year, 13 billion acres of forest are destroyed – approximately one-third of Germany's surface area – leaving animal and plant species and whole ecosystems irretrievably lost." That is a much stronger position than even the United States has taken on its United Nations mission website.
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It is Germany's strong leadership at the United Nations that should give all of us hope. I have asked many reporters how it is to listen to the world's problems day after day, year after year. One reporter told me, "It is hard to get up in the morning sometimes." It certainly can be sad and depressing with so much cruel violence and ethnic tensions and war in the world. However, when you look at the example of Germany and how far it has come from a perpetrator of ethnic killing to a leader on so many fronts, then you have to believe that anything good is possible and that countries that have experienced war, dictatorship and killing in their legacy can become peaceful and leaders in the world community. It's sign of hope for us all.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].