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The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations Hardcover – June 20, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian and political commentator Kennedy here turns his attention to the United Nations, an institution he believes, with reform and sustained effort, can make serious headway in addressing the kinds of problems he documented in Preparing for the Twenty-First Century. The core of the book-six broad and insightful mini-histories of the last sixty years of global security; peacekeeping efforts; economic development; environmental, social, and cultural advancement; human rights; and the creation of an international civil society-is grounded by a strong opening account of the historical factors and motivations shaping the U.N. charter. That document achieved the formidable task of keeping all of the Great Powers involved and is largely responsible for the U.N.'s indispensable role in shaping policy addressing Kennedy's six problem areas. However, Kennedy argues that international changes like widespread corruption in failing postcolonial states and a shifting balance of world power have created an urgent need for moderate structural changes and more radical conceptual ones if the organization is to remain effective and become more so-as, he believes, it must. Concluding with a brisk series of reform proposals that recognizes the limitations of superpower realpolitik, Kennedy offers an impressive, authoritative and sympathetic account of the U.N.'s past contributions and potential for the future.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Kennedy's history of the United Nations takes its title from "Locksley Hall," Tennyson's weirdly prescient vision of air war and world government. Like the poem, it oscillates between gloom and sentimentality. Kennedy, who wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," proceeds methodically through the U.N.'s charter and its various branches, concentrating more on structures than on personalities—even figures like Ralph Bunche and Dag Hammarskjöld appear as little more than sketches. But, amid the morass of commissions and conferences, and failures like Rwanda, he manages to find something convincingly heroic. "The traditional, limp, liberal defense" of the U.N.—that it is a useful body in times of international crisis and has done good in areas such as Third World health—is, he writes "too weak a riposte" to the institution's critics. For Kennedy, the U.N.'s accomplishment is an "international civil society"—a development comparable to a second Enlightenment.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker - click here to subscribe.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375501657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375501654
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Analyzing almost sixty years of United Nations history is, to say the least, an ambitious undertaking. Kennedy has tackled the challenge admirably producing a substantive and very readable account of the "evolution of the many UNs since 1945". His previous participation in the review and reform process of the UN system adds to his qualifications. This study is an excellent entry for anybody interested in learning more about this unique institution, its origins, growth and progress into one of the most complex international organizations.

Kennedy anchors his analysis firmly in the Charter of the United Nations, negotiated toward the end of World War II by the "Big Three" (US, Britain and USSR). He often refers back to these early days to remind the reader of the historical context of the UN and the challenges that ensued from these beginnings. The reader is reminded that only 50 states signed the Charter back in 1945, while the UN today has 191 members. Following chapter 1, which provides an overview of the origins of the UN, Kennedy groups the historical analysis by the major themes, reflecting the core responsibilities of the UN bodies, such as security, peace and war; the social and economic spheres; international human rights and finally global governance, democratization and civil society. It is in this context that Kennedy refers to the "many UNs. In the final part the author summarizes current trends in the reform debates of the UN and includes recommendations for future development.

Taking the theme approach engages the reader more easily in the historical perspective on the UN. Kennedy provides many examples of successes and failures in the areas of peacekeeping (or making) and in the social, economic and human rights spheres. He does not shy away from criticism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1945, in San Francisco, when the UN Charter was written, the victors of the Second World War were looking to create an international body that would guarantee global security and prevent another conflagration like the one they had just experienced. The lines from the Tennyson poem "Locksley Hall:" "Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furl'd / In the Parliament of Man, Federation of the World" were carried by President Truman in his back pocket when he gave his famous address calling for a United Nations.

Paul Kennedy, Yale historian and author of "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers," reminds us that the internal contradictions that exist at the UN today were present at creation, so to speak. The UN was essentially created by the victors of World War II. The General Assembly, which at the time was made up of 49 members, reflected the internationalism of this venture, each member was allowed one vote regardless of size or power. The Security Council, on the other hand, made up of the five permanent members ( the US, China, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union) were the only members allowed the veto reflecting the realism of the founders.

Essentially the UN is no more than what the great powers want it to be. It is disingenuous for the American right to attack the UN for being weak and ineffectual when they need it because it was designed to be so. In the case of Rwanda and Bosnia, the UN stood by helplessly while thousands were massacred; this was because no great power stepped forward in time to stop these atrocities. Likewise, if a great power decides to act unilaterally such as the US in Iraq or China in Tibet, there is nothing the UN can do. In the politcal and military realm the UN is primarily a tool for the great powers.
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Format: Paperback
As a reporter who has covered the UN, I read this book around the time I first came here. It is helpful for understanding the basic layout of the organization, its history and purpose, which are things that I was completely in the dark on before I came here and rather suspect most of my countrymen are ill-informed on as well. The chapter on the history of the Security Council is extremely helpful in getting a basic understanding of the UN's role in major foreign affairs in the past 60 years. However, this book is often dry and rambly in its later stages, and just doesn't have that much to say about, say, NGOs and civil society. By contrast, I found James Traub's "The Best Intentions," on the twilight of the Kofi Annan years here, to be a more engaging, if slightly less objectively detached, treatise of the United Nations.
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Format: Paperback
There's probably no better qualified writer for a history of the UN and assessment of its prospects. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers was an important and influential book, and the formation of the UN around the alliance of the victorious Allies really was the last collaboration among them. As the driver of the Great Powers School of geopolitical thinking, Kennedy was the right author for an analysis of the UN. Having a strong interest in the UN, I looked for a good history of analysis a few years back, and discovered the last one, by an LA Times reporter, was a decade old and out of print. It was wonderful to learn that a seminal historian would tackle the subject.

But at a time when most organizations are undergoing serious scrutiny for their roles in failing to capture the peace dividend, or serious lapses of intelligence and execution, in Kennedy's book the UN hardly gets any tough analysis. It is truly inexplicable that Srebrenica not get reviewed, or even Oil-for-Food Scandal.

The book not only overlooks what's important, it's boring. Yes, instead of looking at the organization from the ground up, he peers at it through a stack of paper. He wades through the verbiage of its self-definition, then bogs down in all its silly acronyms.

Here's what he should have written about: The UN is as DOA as the League of Nations unless it can rebalance membership in the Permanent Security Council to reflect the latent military clout of the current world. At heart, all the UN is an alliance between nations that were victorious 60-years ago. It will lose all purchase unless it can reflect probable military realities. Either it will change, or disappear. Hey, that would be a bad thing.
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