Curatorial Initiatives
Kant's Essay

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In Conversation with Thomas Stelzer

In May 2010, the Perpetual Peace Project filmed Thomas Stelzer, an Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations, in the conference room in which he conducts his affairs in New York. He spoke of the United Nations not as monolithic but as a complex institution with heterogeneous interests, accurately representing the diversity of the world in which we live. He noted that the United Nations is the only global institution at which 192 nations can sit together and come to consensus about matters of international concern. Smaller blocs such as the Group of 8 (G8) or Group of 20 (G20), while seemingly efficient, do not work by global consensus and proceed on the assumption that what is good for some ought to be good for all. When asked what he would do if he could introduce one significant change at the United Nations, he explained that top-down approaches to enacting change are naive in the context of his work, where he must always work through consensus building and act with the interests of other nation-states in mind.

The lack of water and the consequences of global warming will become major causes of future conflict, and he spoke about these developments in the context of his own work at the United Nations, which takes a variety of forms including research, policy coordination, and inter-agency affairs. Though his work does not reside on the ground, he was passionate about how his work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private interests, and statistical data nevertheless has real consequences for the lives of individuals, and how his work acts as a bridge between diverse actors. Among the many statistics he cited, he lamented that the cost of stationing one United States soldier in Afghanistan, at roughly $1 million a year, could be used by the United Nations to finance the well-being of an entire village, and that this later approach is a more effective way to facilitate sustainable peace. At one point, Stelzer spoke about how there is more wealth and poverty today than ever before, but for those that live in poverty this world can be described literally as hell on earth due to lack of clean water, sanitation, education, and economic development. He lamented that the United Nations is often blamed for not having solved problems such as these, when it has in fact inherited responsibility for them from member nation-states themselves.

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