On August 22, 2013, I, along with fellow international studies majors, was fortunate enough to attend the International Youth Leaders Assembly at the United Nations. Rather than spending my time mulling over ideas about youth leadership that the speakers enthusiastically presented, I admit that something else was occupying my mind.
Sitting in a conference room not unlike the General Assembly, complete with microphones at every seat, electronic placards, and cushy chairs, I wondered what it would feel like to perform the duties of a diplomat. The day before the conference, 281 people died from a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, Syria. Ironically, I found myself in the same building at the same moment where deliberations were taking place about a possible intervention in Syria. What little faith I had in the effectiveness of the UN disappeared when I saw images of the chemical attack victims and when I read robotic statements from international leaders.
The Syrian people were under attack only hours before we arrived at the conference, and it was dehumanizing to know that this institution was unable to prevent these attacks. My skepticism about the UN should not detract from the efforts of the hardworking people who put this event together. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to focus on fluffy speeches encouraging us to be leaders, volunteers, or entrepreneurs. I understand that it is easy to criticize the UN from afar, and I am not assuming that the situation in Syria is black-and-white.
By the end of the day, my stances on the UN did not change– the visit only reminded me of the challenges of international politics and the dehumanized people who suffer as a result. I cannot change the nature of international law or international political economy singlehandedly (who can?). However idealistic this may sound, I stand among like-minded youth who aspire to effect change on the global scale. I find fault with our political institutions and I am not the only one. It is the youth’s responsibility to point out the faults in the world, commit to change, and, if we make progress, ensure that we do not regress to our previous state.
Maybe I did learn something about global leadership after all?