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

3.5 out of 5 stars 13 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.

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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: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on June 27, 2006
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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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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It's been called the "definitive history" of the United Nations - and that is certainly what it is. Beautifully written - as everything that Paul Kennedy writes, but then he is probably our best Historian alive today - it is comprehensive and well-balanced, covering the birth of the UN on the ashes of the League of Nations, right up to 2006, through six decades of History. The data used actually stops around 2002-2005 (depending on what kind it is), yet, for the most part, the analysis remains highly relevant.

Anyone interested in the United Nations should read this book. Kennedy throws light on many essential aspects of the UN - the way the United Nations Security Council is blocked by the veto power of the Big Five (the powers who were essentially the winners of World War II, US, Russia, France, UK and China), how the Secretary General pushes forward UN action, what the alphabet soup of UN technical agencies really does. On the latter point, Kennedy is both comprehensive and very clear; that part of the book is undoubtedly the best part - most books tend to focus too much on the Security Council and few (if any) do as good a job of both describing and providing a dispassionate assessment of UN activities in non-military areas (from human rights to emergency aid).

As you read, you can feel Kennedy's regret that the UN cannot do more because of political pressure from its member countries that all too often remain deeply attached to their sovereignty at the expense of UN goals. The "parliament of man" is not about to happen soon. But for Kennedy, not all hope is lost - and now that almost ten years have passed since he carried out his analysis, the time has probably come to update his book.
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