To gain an understanding of international affairs, Dr. Michael Grillo’s Political Science class traveled to New York to participate with worldwide students in Model UN. Kerrville participants were assigned to become Ecuador’s delegation. Everyone spoke English, but at times communication was challenging.

Participation began with an assignment to a small group of “countries” negotiating a specific topic. Drafting the material was relatively easy compared to the next task, merging their efforts with those of two or three more groups working on the same topic.

UN High Commission for Refugees groups drafted five working papers on the Venezuelan crisis, including housing issues and sexual abuse of women. Around 600,000 Venezuelans fled to Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.

The UN Finance Company worked on access to affordable, sustainable energy, especially needed in Africa. Solar and hydroelectric were most economical but, to provide hydro, China’s representative asked for 90% of oil production, a rather realistic portrayal of China’s tough tactics.

Two separate UN agencies are Peacekeeping and Peace Building and Maintaining. The students laughed ruefully when I asked, “They’re still working on it?” It was the UN’s chief purpose when founded in 1945. Many like Eleanor Roosevelt hoped that the United Nations would end the loss of thousands of promising young lives in destructive, devastating wars. Initially, the UN did achieve some collective cooperation.

In 1947, Palestine was partitioned to create Israel. A US-led coalition kept North Korea from invading South Korea in 1950 but resulted in a divided country. In 1956, a UN peace-keeping force was sent to the Suez Canal crisis, in 1960 to the Congo, in 1964 to Cyprus. 

The UN’s inability to stop the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 particularly dashed hopes for world justice and peace. 

When colonization ended in Africa in the 1960s, 16 newly minted nations joined the UN. The greater Third World presence brought a shift of goals to economic development and cultural exchange. Peace-making shifted to crises within nations (Somalia, Haiti, Mozambique, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, Congo, etc.). However, a 2013 review concluded that even these less ambitious efforts suffered systemic failure. How could it be otherwise when two of the UN’s big five permanent members fought a Cold War, and no one delegated enough military power to the UN to make it a significant player?

President Trump holds international institutions generally in low regard and believes UN politics is stacked against the US. He prefers working directly with powerful leaders of nations. When China joined the World Trade Organization, other nations failed to challenge its abuse of rules, facilitating China’s swift rise to become a major economic power. In 2013, China launched a “Belt and Road Infrastructure” project, the “crown jewel” of its drive for economic dominance.

It seeks to revitalize the old Silk Road with land and maritime routes linking the Eurasian landmass with the Middle East and North Africa through Chinese-financed public works projects. With unsustainable loans, China gains political and economic leverage. It has been described as offering “the equivalent of funding of the United Nations, World Bank and Marshall Plan rolled into one.” 

Countries doubting the US’s continued world leadership and attracted by money, take chances on this rising power. Italy signed on with ports of Genoa and Trieste, Greece with Piraeus port authority, Belgium with Zeebrugge. China now owns 1/10 of Europe’s port capacity. Control of infrastructure gives China tremendous leverage. These countries might well be careful of aligning with such a power.

President Xi Jinping’s “China Model” is economic growth without political liberty. Consider the ruthlessness of this would-be world leader! China practices genocide against 11 million Uighur Muslims imprisoning, torturing, starving and using them for instant organ donations. It also increasingly suppresses Christians. 

China is building military might with carriers and created islands, challenging the US Navy in the South China Sea. It wires the world with 5G telecommunications and steals US corporate and military technology. 

Via smartphones, it monitors and controls its own huge population, bringing a swift end to dissent. Nothing is permitted to challenge state authority.

It is sad that the dream of maintaining world peace is still unattainable, but Kerrville’s Model UN students had a good experience traveling to a wider world, negotiating with students who do not share our values and learning how extremely difficult it is to reach an agreement. This is the way it will be unless nations learn to cooperate with each other rather than fight for power. 

Verna Benham is a Kerrville resident. She is a former employee of the U.S. Foreign Service whose career took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.

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