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.
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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 personalitieseven 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 healthis, 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
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