On April 25, 1945, President Harry Truman signed the Charter of the United Nations (U.N.) in San Francisco.
In 1969, 24 years later, he authorized the creation of the Harry S. Truman Center for Governmental Affairs at UMKC.
“His thinking at the time was the library would be an archives, and the Truman Center would have more of a civic-engagement and education focus,” Truman Center Administrative Assistant Gayla Curtis said.
But Truman’s plan did not happen for many years.
“UMKC didn’t do anything with the center for 35 years, and in the last four years, they’ve tried to revive it,” Curtis said.
In 2007, after years of failed committees and recommendation studies, the Truman Center finally hit the ground running.
“The emphasis is on focusing on policies and things that Truman had some involvement with that are still relevant today,” Curtis said. “We try to honor things that Truman did, and oftentimes we’re doing that through public affairs programs.”
Three initiatives are listed on the Truman Center website: civic engagement, county governance and civic education.
The Truman Center’s offerings range from political internships to guest speakers.
One of the recent speakers was B. Lynn Pascoe, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.
Pascoe spoke 4:45-6 p.m. Monday in the Administrative Center’s Plaza Room. Afterward, he addressed the Mayor’s U.N. Day Dinner in Pierson Auditorium.
The event, sponsored by the Truman Center and the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City (GKC-UNA), was attended by students and faculty from UMKC, Park University, William Jewell College, Johnson County Community College and Kansas City, Kansas Community College.
Pascoe, a Missouri native with a 40-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, spoke primarily about the U.N.’s foreign involvement.
Topics ranged from blood diamonds in Africa to nuclear proliferation in Pakistan to conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Pascoe explained the U.N.’s work revolves largely around negotiations and preventive diplomacy.
“There’s no magic formula to any of these [missions],” Pascoe said.
Among myriad projects, the U.N. is currently working with the European Union (EU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to facilitate peaceful elections in Guinea.
Pascoe said this involves drawn-out negotiations and working with Guinea “each step of the way.”
“One of the very wise people I work with said our problem in this business is that we’re cheating history,” Pascoe said. “What would normally have a transition of a two decades or three decades we’re trying to force down into a couple of years.”
Pascoe went on to discuss the role of the United Nations Security Council, which drew questions from students and faculty who attended the event.
One participant questioned why no African country is a permanent member of the Security Council and whether the lack of an African veto power was undemocratic.
Pascoe cited African backing of the International Criminal Court, which has opened investigations in several African countries.
“You can’t have peace and justice as exclusive,” Pascoe said.
Other participants asked questions about nuclear sanctions on Iran, the role of private business in shaping foreign policy and the likelihood of nuclear disarmament in North Korea.
“The reality is that it is beginning to bite,” Pascoe said of the Iranian sanctions. “But is it going to stop them from the nuclear program? Probably not. Countries will do whatever they want to do and it may not be enough.”
Pascoe said he fears nuclear proliferation in other Middle Eastern counties and stated sanctions only work effectively in countries that are active in the global community.
Curtis said she was pleased with student turnout.
“You’re always concerned if students are going to interact and have questions or if they’re going to be silent,” Curtis said. “I thought it was wonderful that Jay [Sjerven of the GKC-UNA]basically had to cut off the question and answer time for the cocktail hour and the dinner. I thought it was wonderful that students were engaged.”
The Truman Center’s next event, “America’s Role in the World: What Does National Security Mean in the 21st Century?” a moderated public discussion on national security, will be held 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 28 at the Truman Forum at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main St.