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New Hibernia Review 7.4 (2003) 9-25

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Ireland on the World Stage:
At the United Nations and on the Security Council

Richard Ryan

When Archbishop Ireland founded this University of St. Thomas in the mid- 1880s, it was to serve a very different world. 1 The United States, with a population of sixty million people, was still in a process of healing after a terrible civil war. In my own country, Ireland, Charles Stewart Parnell was asserting the right of Irish people to control their own destiny. The British Empire exercised hegemony over large parts of the world. And, everywhere, not least here in the United States, a process of economic and industrial change was underway that in a few decades would transform the economies of developed countries.

The international balance of power system between the great states—going back, in Europe, to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648—effectively collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century and two world wars left the political dynamics of the developed world in ruins. It was from the crisis and collapse of the old order that the United Nations was born in 1945. A former Irish ambassador to the United Nations, Noel Dorr, observed, importantly, that the United Nations Charter was not devised by idealists. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, its main architects, were "hard-nosed" leaders engaged in total war who took time at major conferences in 1944 and 1945 to plan this new structure. We must assume that they took it seriously and believed it could work. It is of the United Nations that I want to speak today and, specifically, how Ireland views the United Nations and our role on the international stage, as seen following two years on the Security Council.

Let me, first, make a few general and personal observations on the role of the United Nations as viewed by someone who has seen close up how the UN works and, sometimes, does not work. [End Page 9]

First, the establishment of the United Nations should not be seen as an isolated event born only from the calamities of the first and second world wars. The establishment of the UN coincided with a growing sense of the need for internationalism or multilateralism not only to offer an alternative paradigm to nationalism but also to reflect growing interdependence among nations and therefore states. Economic relationships between countries, for example, had changed dramatically as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, and national economies now heavily depended on each other for commodities and currency stability. The establishment of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the end of the World War II were examples of this growing sense of "we act together or together we fail" and of the need for strengthened international cooperation.

Second, the United Nations was also built on the failure of the League of Nations, established largely at the inspiration of President Wilson of the United States following the first world war. The United States, of course, did not join the League of Nations for reasons that go back as far as the foundation of the Republic: a sense of "exceptionalism," observed as early as the 1830s by the brilliant observer Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America, that is still a component part of America's self-identity; a distrust, as one of the US founding fathers put it, of "entangling alliances"; a sense of "isolationism," as it was called at the time, that led to wariness of America being tied down in the exercise of its developing manifest conviction of its own destiny and its place in the world.

Third, the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 coincided with the beginning of the Cold War and this of course, deeply affected the development of the UN for the next nearly fifty years. It meant, for example, that the Security Council—invested by the Charter of the United Nations with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security—was frequently subject to the...


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