Former political insider speaks about the United Nations |

Former political insider speaks about the United Nations

Christine Ina Casillas
NWS Peter Leslie 11-6-03 CS

Leslie, who just moved to the valley this year after retiring from the United Nations, spoke Thursday before a small crowd of people at the Antler’s Hotel in Lionshead. The Vail Symposium, in partnership with Colorado Community College, played host to hot political topics for November, in which Leslie was one of its first speakers.

Leslie spent the last seven years in Switzerland in the office of the secretary general as inter-agency coordinator for finance and budget for the U.N. system’s Chief Executive Board.

“I’m back in the U.S. and away from the constraining environment in Switzerland,” Leslie said. “They did nothing but laugh at our president, and all I could do was sit back and take it. Now I can be politically incorrect if I want to.”

Leslie, who has lived and visited 98 countries, spoke about politics and the United Nations and about his tenure working for what some, he says, call a “weak” or “failed” institution.

But in a world plagues by conflict, Leslie said, the United Nations provides the best available mechanism when it comes to solutions.

“The U.N. is universal,” he said. “But it has its weaknesses. The U.N. can and does act on vital issues but it’s still in a learning curve. Can it learn from its mistakes?”

Leslie said the United Nations had a “checkered career” since its inception, and a large number of people lost confidence in its ability to act promptly on conflicts and other problems because of its track record.

A former director of the United National Development Programme, which is active in more than 160 countries, Leslie said 60 percent of the people were unhappy with the United Nation’s record.

For cynics, he said, the U.N. only exists so nations could get together and decide that nothing can be done about conflicts collectively.

“Some critics think its a waste and a corruption,” he said. “Other says it’s a democratic institution but it doesn’t always function well when they call themselves democratic.”

For Leslie, he said he didn’t leave a well-paid career to spend the last 13 years of his life working for the U.N. if he didn’t think the institution was beyond repair.

But, he said, the U.N. system is fragmented. Each organization has its own governing body, budget and staff. It has 52,000 staff members and 12 special agencies.

When the United Nations was established in 1945, it only had 50 members. Now, it has 191 members.

“The U.S. didn’t join – and that’s one of its failures,” he said. “And Britain was too traumatized from World War I to join.”

But it failed to halt aggression, he said.

Other U.N. failures included stopping genocide and stopping the exploration of weapons of mass destruction.

“War continues to be a major part of the international scene,” he said.

But the United Nations also has its perks.

The United Nations helped to build developing economies, eradicate disease and “it does respond quickly to national disasters,” he said.

However, he asked, “what would happen if the U.N. didn’t exist?”

Quoting U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, he said: “Do you have anything better to suggest?”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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