Federico Mayor


Although public opinion in most countries may be aware of the existence of the United Nations system, it is not always very sure of the system's use in practical terms. Do you really think that the UN system is indispensable?

- The system is even more necessary today than it was in the past. In 1945 it responded to a bitter, lucid analysis (lucidity and bitterness often go together) made in the after-math of a disaster. Today it responds to an acute awareness of the increasingly global nature of problems which we can only face together.

The system has not solved all the problems with which it has been confronted, far from it. But it has shown itself to be increasingly irreplaceable as a meeting place, as a forum of conciliation and reconciliation, as a place where new approaches can be sought, and avenues of co-operation carefully explored. It is, fundamentally, the seat of a new identity, that of the "global village". A pluralistic and multiform village which regroups, and must protect, all cultural identities, the infinite diversity of peoples, and the irreplaceable originality of each community.

Contrary to what is often thought, the United Nations system was not constructed ex nihilo, arbitrarily established in 1945 on the decision of a handful of idealistic visionaries. It is the prolongation of a long history. It is the outcome of a historical process that began in the late nineteenth century whereby an increasing number of individuals, currents and nations have become aware of the need to create common structures of consultation and co-operation on an international scale.

This awareness was a response to new realities: people were starting to realize that the world was one: communications were intensifying; commercial, industrial and financial interests were no longer confined within national and even continental frontiers; information was beginning to cross the oceans on a regular basis. This emergence of a world system called for the organization of mutual consultation on a worldwide scale.

So the system was created in response to a need?

- The human species is the only one which is endowed with the distinctive faculty of creativity. There are always some far-seeing persons who take timely initiatives in response to new challenges.

The first institutional international structure-the League of Nations-was created after the First World War. This terrible convulsion revealed that the world was not only a market to be shared but a heritage to be protected. Some statesmen, but also philosophers, scientists and writers, thought then that it would be useful to have two distinct organisms, one to settle political differences (the League of Nations) and the other to promote intellectual and cultural co-operation (the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation).

Of course, when I speak of heritage I am not only thinking of our physical heritabe-the natural, environmental, artistic and architectural heritage-but also of our common spiritual and intellectual heritage-the fruits of knowledge, human rights, the universal values and principles.

But the League of Nations was not strong enough to resist the hurricane of fascism in the name of all this. The Second World War was a much more serious warning for humanity. Not only were the death and destruction it caused out of all proportion to those of the earlier war; not only did the scale of the conflict gradually extend to five continents; in addition, the explosion of two atomic bombs showed to everyone that for the first time in history mankind had endowed itself with the means of self-annihilation.

A third world war could mean the extinction of the human race.

Until then, all wars-all conflicts-had had their winners and losers. Now all sides faced the threat of losing. War became a nonsensical proposition. Almost imperceptibly the civilization of war gave way to the civilization of peace, not through an access of virtue but through fear of the power now commanded by the technology of destruction. …

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