The 80th anniversary of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (21.08.-07.10.1944) provides the opportunity to reflect on the roots of the UN that we know today from historical and political perspectives.

The conference at Dumbarton Oaks from August 21st to October 7th, 1944, was one of the key points shaping the UN that we know today.  The "Big Four" of that time – the United States, the United Kingdom, the USSR and the Republic of China - met to discuss the establishment of a "general international organization" whose aim was to prevent another world war and ensure lasting peace.

The 80th anniversary provides the opportunity to re-visit the early thoughts and concerns in a scientific, historical conference that illuminates the situation at that time (the war was still ongoing) and the structure of the international system. The role of civil society for the outcomes in Dumbarton Oaks, and later in San Francisco, would is a highly interesting topic, especially with respect to the discussions on reforming the organization. What can we learn from these early thoughts? What assumptions are still valid today? Which factors have changed?

What instruments available to non-permanent members could Switzerland use? (e.g. organize events, propose thematic agenda items, topics during month-long presidency or in specific working groups).

  • Switzerland should promote the conference early on, bringing all organs of the UN together to reflect on its origins. Opposition by other states can be overcome by an open, neutral approach, especially because resistance could be seen as resistance against to origins of the organization.
  • The conference should bring together all stakeholders, also beyond governments of member states, especially academia and civil society. Involvement of the regional organizations like African Union, ASEAN, EU, that did not exist in 1944, can bring new perspectives that were not possible at that time .
  • The conference should address the topic from multiple dimensions, incl. diplomacy/multilateralism/intergovernmental relations, academia/history, stakeholder involvement.
  • The Secretary General should be asked to organize a global open public consultation, similar to UN75, to present a global inclusive view on the topic. (UNSC resolution?)

What strengths can Switzerland build on?

  • Switzerland has a long standing tradition on rule of law, is known for its awareness of its history and that of international organizations (esp. in Geneva). While not joining (or being allowed to join) the UN as founding member because of its neutrality, it is the host country for many important elements of the UN system.
  • Switzerland's universities receive worldwide recognition. International Geneva is well recognized.

Which partners and allies could be involved?

  • Fellow members of the UNSC will be key players to engage other member states (and the GA). PGA will be a key player as well.
  • The Graduate Institute and the UN Library will be key players for the academic perspective.
  • The consultation for UN75 and NGO liasons will be important for the civil society perspective.
  • Other international organizations can be involved to show other organizational and cultural models. (ILO for its setup with non-government stakeholders.)
  • (Not yet clear how to involve: WEF, Global Compact)

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Further reading:

Preparatory Years: UN Charter History | United Nations

Yearbook of the United Nations - The Dumbarton Oaks Conversations