The University for Peace," says former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Robert Muller, "is one of the most beautiful ideas born on the eve of the Third Millennium. It's an idea whose time has come."
And the perfect setting for such a university is the peaceful nation of Costa Rica, a country even without a military. Costa Rica is one of the few nations in Latin America distinguished for its democratic principles and human rights. Dr. Muller came to Canada in July to join in celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and to speak about plans for the celebrations of the new millennium.
Obviously, the university is dear to his heart. He is its chancellor. In 1978 Rodrigo Carazo, then the President of Costa Rica, proposed the creation of the university to the 33rd General Assembly of the United Nations. The Costa Rican government donated the land for it--700 acres near the capital city of San Jose. The university's primary objective is to study the problems and functions of current international society and to provide, from a perspective of peace and justice, specialized training for students of international cooperation, integration, and development.
Although the construction of its main buildings was completed in 1982, the University for Peace still does not have sufficient funds to maintain a full curriculum for the estimated 2,000 students who will be graduating from the school each year in the near future. Only a few courses are available to students at this time. These include International Political Economy, Peace Research, the United Nations System, and International Humanitarian Law. Most impressively, the classes are taught by renowned professors from all over the world, including Dr. Muller himself and former President Carazo.
It is ironic that the nations that can spend some $800 billion a year on armed forces and weapons cannot afford $600,000 overall (or $3,800 per nation) for the operating expenses of the first peace university on our planet. Nations such as Canada, Brazil, and Mexico, which promised to deliver funds now cannot do so because of their high deficits and lack of strong economic growth. For this reason, United Nations Associations in more than 80 countries around the world, as well as foundations, corporations, charities, and other nongovernmental organizations, are attempting to raise funds for the university. As Chancellor Muller stated, "a small sum will easily finance this magnificent instrument of peace, which can change the course of the world by training young people to be the friendly and cooperating leaders of tomorrow."
The post-Cold War world is a fractured place in this last decade of the millennium. Everywhere there is ethnic bloodshed and civil war. Leaders of both national and international political organizations are in panic, searching for solutions to these problems. We need a new generation of social, economic, and political leaders with mastery in the arts of conflict resolution, integration, peacekeeping, and international cooperation. This is why the University for Peace will play such an influential role for humanity in the future. It will show how people can learn from each other in creating a safer, more harmonious planet. Dr. Muller remains resolutely optimistic about the university's future, and he asks Canadians to write letters to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, asking the government to do its part.
Robert Muller began working for the United Nations as a pessimistic young man. He agreed with the prevailing view that the U.N. would not last more than five or ten years. As it survived, year by year he gradually became what he calls "an optimistic old man." Others listening to him felt inspired as he spoke about the evolution of humankind.
His early biography made pessimism an understandable view, for he was born and raised in Alsace-Lorraine, a region that both France and Germany had long claimed and sometimes fought over. As a boy, he used to get angry when he rode his bicycle up to the border and then had to stop. Now he can take the train through that countryside and when it crosses the border between border between France and Germany, nothing happens and nobody notices it. Muller feels joy whenever he experiences this. Almost all the borders in Europe are becoming equally insignificant.
Not long ago, Muller visited the grave of his friend Robert Schuman, whose idea it was to organize the European Steel and Coal Community. Muller would have liked for Schuman to see the results of his plan, for out of that organization grew, first the Common Market and, eventually, the European Union that is coming into existence now. All this goes to show that a single person can sometimes make an enormous difference.
Robert Muller's own contributions to world peace are remarkable. He was educated in both economics and law, and then joined the United Nations in its earliest days, staying on there for the next 38 years in numerous varied jobs. For a time he was director of the budget, and at another time he was in charge of coordinating the 32 agencies in the economic and social council. Since retiring in 1986, he has served without pay with the University for Peace.
Dr. Muller recently gave several talks in Toronto and went on to San Francisco where he was scheduled to give several important speeches. He also was collecting ideas to pass along for those planning the future of the organization. When we asked him to identify his own top priority proposal, he said that international security was the most urgent matter. Nations cannot be expected to disarm, he pointed out, unless the world community or regional security organizations can guarantee their safety against aggression.
If that is his highest priority, one could forgive him for being a pessimist. Yet when someone suggested that we need a "world anthem," he showed he was way ahead of us. His proposed world anthem was "Ode to Joy," familiar to everyone who has ever heard Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Chancellor Muller whipped out a harmonica and tooted away at the tune, with the whole audience clapping and swaying together in shared joy.