Why the United Nations matters in Cleveland: Carina Van Vliet
CLEVELAND – Next week, October 19, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs welcomes Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, to talk about the role of the United Nations in a changing world. Global change is indeed happening at an accelerating pace, and the United Nations – which represents the collective will of the “international community” or its 193 member states – must adapt quickly to new realities. Like many institutions of the post-WWII era, the United Nations faces shifts in political, economic and demographic power; by the way, technology is connecting and empowering more people; by changing social and cultural norms; and by a changing climate.
All of this can seem quite intimidating: there are vast issues looming over them that primarily affect others. When you live comfortably in Cleveland, you might ask yourself: what does that matter to me? The simple answer is that all global developments end up having a local impact. This is a key lesson from this pandemic. This is also something we have recently experienced seeing the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and now being involved – as a welcoming city for newcomers – in the national refugee resettlement assistance process. Afghans. Global migration is a trend that will only grow in the future, and Cleveland can benefit greatly from the talents and hard work of future newcomers – if we are well prepared to welcome them.
And, as the business world fully appreciates, geopolitical shifts are altering business patterns, impacting markets, and redefining business opportunities. Finally, take climate change, which is a challenge that the United Nations has spent a lot of time, effort and political capital in trying to address. Here in northeastern Ohio, scientists are seeing a seasonal redistribution of precipitation, which is impacting crops. Extreme weather events in the future, including heavy rains and flooding, will likely strain our stormwater management infrastructure. Etc. As engaged citizens of Northeast Ohio, we need to be very concerned about these global trends; this is where the challenges lie, but also the opportunities for growth, that will shape our future – right here in Cleveland.
The less straightforward answer is how the United Nations fits into this, because the ways the United Nations affects us are indirect and diffuse, and its benefits are most visible in the very long term. As Mr. Dujarric will probably explain, the United Nations has been an integral part of many extraordinary achievements in its 76-year history: unprecedented reduction in levels of poverty around the world; the virtual abolition of child labor; preservation of biospheres; progress on women’s rights, and much more. More fundamentally for us as Americans, the United Nations helps sustain American might: it has created and continues to promote global standards that generally align with American values; it supports global cooperation on a wide range of issues – trade, telecommunications, tourism, postal services, outer space, health, education, development – which are vital to our ability to pursue our economic interests; and finally, the UN is a forum for dialogue which meets in New York, on American soil, and which places the United States in a privileged political position. In other words, the United Nations should matter to us because it matters to the United States.
In light of these global challenges, their stakes for our country, and their impact on our community, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs is more committed than ever to its mission to nurture the global mindset of engaged Cleveland citizens. Almost 100 years ago, in 1923, the Council was founded by staunch Clevelanders who believed in peace through greater international understanding. Today, a comprehensive understanding is needed. For the future of Cleveland. For growth. For resilience. And, yes, maybe – one day, eventually – for peace.
Carina Van Vliet is the CEO of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. She was a United Nations Political Affairs Specialist from 2006 to 2014. Since 2014, she has been a proud Ohio City resident with her husband and son.
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