Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:

Guess Who's Sustaining Iraq (July 14, 2003)
"Nine U.N. agencies are now operating in Iraq, doing many of the jobs the U.S. military was apparently not prepared to tackle."

A New Step for the U.N.—an Ombudsman (July 8, 2003)
"Until now, most employees had to wait until an internal dispute provoked administrative action—and then appeal it."

U.N. Still Battered by U.S. Action On Iraq (July 1, 2003)
"Americans seem to hate the United Nations for not supporting the war, while a lot of the rest of the world hates the organization for not preventing it."

AIDS, Other Trends Give New Prominence To U.N. Population Division (June 23, 2003)
"Ethnic wars, epidemic diseases, huge migrations of people have helped make [the U.N. Population Division] one of the busiest offices in the U.N. Secretariat."

Fixing The Security Council (June 16, 2003)
"If the United States and the rest of the world seem to be looking at the same Security Council and seeing two very different images, most governments can agree on one point: the council needs fixing."

Peacekeeping's Unsavory Side (June 10, 2003)
"Among the uglier stories surrounding international peacekeeping in recent years is that U.N. operations too often fuel booms in local prostitution."

More from U.N. Notebook.


U.N. Notebook | July 21, 2003
 
from U. N. Wire Academic Council on U.N. System Leaves U.S. for Canada

by Barbara Crossette
 
....

UNITED NATIONS—In 1987, a group of North American foreign affairs scholars got together with some U.N. officials to create an academic association supporting education, research and cooperation on global issues. The founders named it the Academic Council on the United Nations System, and Dartmouth College gave it a home, using a bequest from a former college president, J.S. Dickey. Under an agreement to relocate the headquarters every five years, the council then migrated to Brown University and after that Yale.

This year, ACUNS left the country.

It is not much of a stretch to see the emigration of the organization to Canada as one more symbol of the ambivalent (at best) attitudes among U.S. intellectuals about the United Nations and internationalism in general. True, Yale offered to continue its sponsorship of ACUNS—now with about 900 members in 50 or more countries—and Columbia and the City University of New York also put in bids. But only Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, made the kind of pitch the council's board could not resist.

What Wilfrid Laurier offered, and no U.S. university would match, is the full-time leadership for five years of a tenured associate professor of political science, Alistair D. Edgar. He has been given academic leave to concentrate on making the council a central player in research in international affairs at the cluster of colleges and universities at Waterloo. Furthermore, in making its bid, Wilfrid Laurier also had the political backing of the Canadian government, especially the Foreign Ministry.

A new Canadian think tank in Waterloo, the Center for International Governance Innovation, received a generous grant of $22 million from James Balsillie, the CEO of Research in Motion, producers of the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. Part of that grant, $36,000 this year, will cover the basic operating budget of ACUNS, which has also been supported over the years by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Better World Foundation, a sister organization to the United Nations Foundation, which underwrites U.N. Wire.

"Does it mean ACUNS is turning its back on the U.S.?" asks Craig Murphy, professor of political science at Wellesley College and the chairman of the council's board. "I hope not."

Nevertheless, Murphy added in an exchange of e-mails that there is an unmistakable resistance on American campuses to treating the study of international institutions seriously, just as the globalization of everything from the economy to diseases seizes public imagination. "In many American schools there is growing undergraduate interest in international affairs and, especially, in studying multilateral institutions, international law, the political economy of globalization and other interdisciplinary fields," he wrote. "Typically, however, these are not fields considered acceptable to mainstream political science or economics, so the undergraduate (and much graduate) teaching gets done by adjuncts and part-timers."

The people running the departments, meanwhile, are "scholars who see the work in statist terms and tend to reduce many things to the interests and concerns of U.S. policymakers."

This is not unlike the tendency of major American media organizations to cover the world—when they report on foreign affairs at all—largely through U.S. eyes, leaving the agenda on international affairs to be set by whatever administration happens to be in the White House. The United States may be the biggest world power, but it is not much of an international player. Compared with Europe, for example, American diplomacy does not put a high priority on working in international bodies, and jobs there (at least below ambassadorial level) do not rank very high in the career aspirations of U.S. diplomats or among those who train them.

"There is really a generation of scholars in their 30s, mostly born in the late 1960s, throughout U.S. academia who have re-energized the study of the U.N. 'family,' but—and this is an important point—there are very few with concrete knowledge of the U.N. who actually have positions in the leading graduate departments," Murphy says.

In Canada, the academic discipline of international relations not only turns out first-class diplomats with a broader world view but also influences politicians and policymakers. Murphy points out that since ACUNS' inception, every Canadian foreign minister has been involved in the organization. In the United States, only Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state and an ambassador to the United Nations, became a member. In Washington, members of Congress are rarely interested—the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another ambassador to the United Nations, was an exception.

Yet the council counts in its ranks many leaders in the study and practice of international relations around the world, providing a forum for new or different voices not usually heard in American debate. Among the most active members is Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and a widely recognized expert in international law and the new International Criminal Court. Other well-known names include Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. high commissioner for refugees who recently co-chaired (with Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning Harvard economist) the independent Commission on Human Security; Jorge Sampaio, president of Portugal; and Sir Marrack Goulding, warden of St. Antony's College, Oxford, and former undersecretary general for political affairs at the United Nations.

The council has published a journal, Global Governance, since 1995, and it also maintains a Web site, now with a new address: http://www.acuns.wlu.ca/. When it is updated, it will provide a ready reference for U.N.-related documents and other information.

In a conversation in New York in June, between sessions of the annual ACUNS conference at the United Nations, Edgar, the new executive director of the council, stopped short of saying that it was time the organization found a friendlier country, but he did say he hoped the new Canadian home of the organization would be attractive to its global membership, only about half of which is now from the United States.

This has been a year in which many scholars as well as policymakers outside the United States have despaired of American support for the United Nations. For Americans, Edgar said, the biggest challenge is to build political support in the country for the United Nations and many related institutions.

Canada may be coming to the rescue. One of Edgar's plans is to run workshops across the United States to teach Americans a little more about how the world can work together.


What do you think? Discuss this article in the Foreign Affairs conference of Post & Riposte.

More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National Journal Group. For information on National Journal Group publications, see NationalJournal.com.

Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.