The alternation of night and day is a cosmic process of which humans have been long aware and which has led to dualistic thinking: day and night, light and dark, right and wrong, pure and impure. However, during this alternation of night and day, there are two periods of transition — twilight as the day fades and night comes on, and dawn as night is replaced by the rays of the coming sun. During these periods of transition, shapes are less clear. Twilight may also resemble dawn, and it is not clear from the color of the sky if the day is fading or growing.
So too, in the study of international society and world politics, it is not always clear if we are moving toward greater night or clearer day. For our efforts to be most effective, we need to have some understanding of where we are in the cosmic process, if it is time to get more fuel for our lamps because night is coming on or if we can start putting away our lamps because day will soon be here. In this period with strong shadows and unclear shapes, we must be particularly careful in our evaluations of events and currents.
Around the world today, numerous communities face an immediate future of intense violence and social upheaval. The Congo, East Timor, Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Tibet are examples amongst many others. In zones of chronic tensions, politics characteristically lurch back and forth from hope to despair to hope to despair. Peace talks, road maps and new elections descend into the daily hell of missiles, armoured vehicles and suicide-martyrs — and the new maps are drawn again.
We see among the shadows a world of base calculations, of power plays, of special interests working for national advantage and overlooking global responsibilities. In the confusion of today’s economic situation when only short-term profit and consumption mattered, we see jobs lost, homes lost, medical and educational facilities cut back or closed. Through financial misdoings, avarice and corruption, we are compromising our future and that of our children. We see a world where we have reached critical limits on pollution, on fossil-fuel extraction, on endangered species, on climate change.
To meet these challenges, often the result of limited visions and short-term political calculations, we need a strong, values-based United Nations, and we need ethical and future-oriented Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The United Nations has taken unprecedented steps to focus the world’s urgent attention on the need to protect nature and to encourage ecologically-sound development. The UN has held major environmental conferences such as those of Stockholm (1972), Rio (1992), Johannesburg (2002) and the climate conference planned for Copenhagen in December 2009.
NGOs have responded to these challenges. They work year round to reverse the deterioration of nature’s plant life, water quality, forest cover, mountain ecosystems and marine resources. They combat atmospheric pollution, desertification and chemical hazards.
NGOs are active in defending and promoting human rights, in assisting refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants, in running medical, educational and vocational-training institutions, in overcoming patriarchal obstacles to women’s empowerment, in healing children, and in giving youth a voice in determining the future. NGOs are helping people redefine themselves from victims into partners for a new world society.
Where social welfare is lacking, where social justice is lacking, there you will find NGOs ready to take a lead, to take responsibility, to take action.
There is a need for NGO leadership and cooperation, for adequate funding and the sharing of information as to new needs and new opportunities. With such leadership and cooperation, we will not mistake the dawn for the twilight.
*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens