Iowa, University of Iowa community leaders discuss the 75 anniversary of the United Nations

Though the three-quarters of a century milestone comes at a time of many disrupted facets of international relations, experts and advocates are recognizing and celebrating the UN and all of its accomplishments.


Kate Heston

The United Nations celebrated 75 years on Oct. 24: World UN Day. The focus is that for 2020 and beyond, the UN will strive to build a better future for all.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

It’s been 75 years since the formation of the United Nations, and the international community is facing one of its greatest disruptions yet  a pandemic that impacts both local and transnational issues.

On Oct. 24, the United Nations celebrated its 75th anniversary. Iowa and University of Iowa campus and community leaders discussed the milestone of the international organization’s role within both the evolution of international relations and the current challenge surrounding COVID-19.

Part-time Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Organization Debra DeLaet said festivities for the anniversary look a lot different for the organization this year amid COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The organization held an event via Zoom on Oct. 24 titled “The United Nations at 75, 2020 and Beyond.”

DeLaet said pushing forward the UN’s mission during this time was part of the focus of the event, and that global work is ultimately essential work.

“Iowa is part of the world of course and so we are affected as much as any part of this country or as much as any population and other countries,” DeLaet said. “All Iowans are affected by the climate crisis and global pandemics.”

University of Iowa Professor and Ambassador in Residence Ron McMullen said though the UN has had its ups and downs, 75 years of existence is a significant milestone.

McMullen said in the last 20 years, the UN and some of its affiliated organizations have won the Nobel Peace Prize three times, there are 13 UN-led international peacekeeping operations and about 110,000 blue helmets – UN peacekeepers deployed in dangerous situations.

“[Peacekeepers] are not always successful, but they’re out there trying,” McMullen said. “I say that some of the best things that the UN does are through its specialized agencies, like the UN High Commission for Refugees.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees helps aid displaced people around the world. Another branch of the UN, the World Food Program, is the world’s largest humanitarian organization that helps fight chronic malnutrition and starvation.

McMullen added that the UN just brokered a ceasefire in the Libyan Civil War, and that there has been no great power war in the 75 years since the UN’s formation after World War II.

The UN and the U.S. have not always been in agreement on things, McMullen said. Most recently, he said, the Trump administration has criticized the UN for the disproportionate amount of money the U.S. pays in cost-sharing expenses.

Trump has also criticized the UN’s electing of stating China to the Human Rights Council, saying it is hypocritical and self-serving, McMullen said.

“The Trump administration is not a big fan of multilateral actions,” he said. “It generally prefers transactional bilateral relationships.”

McMullen said the Trump presidency has been a period of contraction instead of growth for the U.S. and UN.

“Many people argue that transnational issues like climate change, fighting pandemics, supporting the fight against trafficking in persons, protected wildlife, and narcotics require multilateral cooperation, because these are global problems,” McMullen said. “You need multilateral cooperation to solve them.”

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Surging coronavirus cases across the world have shifted some UN operations that are normally held in-person, he said.

“Every year in October, most rulers of the world come to the United Nations for the General Assembly, and many of the world’s leaders speak in New York to the world, and It’s always kind of a big deal,” McMullen said. “And this year, they did it all remotely.”

McMullen said moving forward, he hopes the UN shifts how they handle the Security Council, which for the past 75 years has operated exclusively under the rule of the five founding nations.

If UI students and community members are interested in getting involved with the UN, McMullen said, they should look into internships, many of which currently can be completed remotely from Iowa.

UI sophomore Thomas Duong, who is the president of the campus UNICEF chapter, said he thinks the UN is a highly impactful organization because it urges all countries around the world to come together and help one another.

Editor’s note: Thomas Duong is a former Daily Iowan staffer.

Duong said getting involved with the UN and affiliate organizations such as UNICEF is a way for college students to give back to people who don’t necessarily have the resources to obtain basic necessities.

“So, as college students, we have the luxury of getting an education, and spending time away from other things around the world such as lack of water, shelter,” Duong said. “We all take that for granted as college students.”

Duong said he thinks having an organization that allows differences to be resolved and work on bettering humanity or humanitarian cause is part of the UN’s legacy.

“To have 75 years of togetherness,” Duong said, “and the ability to work together as countries with different philosophies, is an amazing milestone.”