A Vision for the Earth

Interview with Robert Muller

Robert Muller is a former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN who served the organization for 38 years until his retirement in 1986. He is Chancellor Emeritus of the UN-established University for Peace in Costa Rica. His classic book Most of All They Taught Me Happiness and ideas for a better world can be found at

SGI Quarterly: What is the UN to you and what would you like to see it become?

Robert Muller: The UN is, on the one hand, essential, and, on the other hand, it is insufficient to what world problems have become and require. It is good that out of the Second World War we got a United Nations which has survived, which has grown. After the First World War, the League of Nations did not survive and we had a second war. The fact that we have a UN, which is composed of practically all the governments of the world, is vital for having prevented any conflicts from developing into a world war.

In addition, the UN has created and connected another 32 specialized agencies around the world which have been able to look into the new fundamental problems which have occurred, like overpopulation, water problems, climate change, etc. I joined the UN as a young man in 1948 and I questioned whether it would survive; and it has survived. On the other hand, the UN has been outdistanced by new problems, and this is why there is now going to be, for the first time, a total review for the reform of the UN. Whether this world conference for the reform of the UN is going to succeed--that we do not know. It might not be immediate, because some governments might not want to see the changes happen so quickly.

New Priorities

SGIQ: What are the main changes you would like to see?

RM: One would be to go beyond the concept of merely maintaining peace. World war is practically out of the question. Most of the wars today are wars within countries, and very often the UN can't do very much, because it is not allowed to intervene in local, national problems.

My dream is that the UN should be elevated by a whole series of measures, for example, having a parliamentary representation of all the parliaments of the world, so that people would have, through their parliaments, a voice in the UN--which they do not have today because the UN gets its recommendations only through foreign affairs offices and through meetings of the General Assembly.

Education is the key to a global community  [UNICEF Turkmenistan / 2004 / Pirozzi]

Another dream would be for the UN to take up uncommon subjects, like the development of ways of life to achieve happiness in the world. We do not speak much about happiness, though there are certain constitutions, like the U.S. constitution, which give the government the role of ensuring the happiness of the people.

There should also be more cooperation to show to the rest of the world what the European Union has done, namely suppress the borders between 25 countries to create a united Europe.

Also, to develop the notion of Love--that we have to love our Earth, we have to love our skies, we have to love our waters. We have to live with nature, and we must absolutely prevent the death of so many species because of our lack of attention. Why each five hours do we allow a species to disappear from the planet? This will mean the loss of 84,000 species in the next 50 years!

We are destroying our Earth. The UN was created primarily for governments and for humanity. Today, in my opinion, the first priority is the Earth. We cannot continue to kill our Mother Earth. Humanity is only a part of Earth, and must behave in such a way that the Earth is preserved.

Global Citizens

SGIQ: Many people wonder how much the UN can really do.

RM: One problem is that the UN and its global work is not taught to children in schools and is not received with interest by the media. Governments should really ensure that the decisions, ideas and concerns that come from the UN are brought closer to the people. And also that people are educated about the fact that there are many things which are part of their daily lives which have been brought into being through the UN. Like road signals--the fact that red means "Do not cross," etc. I was in the meeting when we came up with the idea that we needed the same road signs in all countries on Earth. There are many, many examples. People are not informed about the UN. The reforms should seek to bring the UN closer to the people, because it is the United Nations of the people, not of governments only.

Young Czechs celebrate their country's entry into the European Union  [Peter Hirth / Still Pictures]

In schools today children are taught about their nation. Only at the end are they told about the whole world and whole universe, but not with enthusiasm.

In the last 10,000 years since humans were added to the life forms on this planet, they have lived around the planet in very distinct groups and apart from each other. It is only recently, in the last 100 years, that we discovered that we are on a globe! Since then, people have got in touch with each other by wars--sometimes also by cooperation. It's very difficult for people who have been educated in a particular language, in particular principles, particular forms of eating, to understand other people and not to dislike them. Groups want to remain as a group. So education is the key to our global community.

SGIQ: What is it that enables you to remain optimistic about the future?

RM: As a child, living in Alsace Lorraine in a very poor neighborhood, on a border which I was not supposed to cross, and knowing that the people on the other side had the same types of names and spoke the same language, I thought, "Why are these people different? Why is there a border here which we cannot cross?" As a child, too, I thought that to be alive, to have life, was a miracle. And then I discovered that we have wars. Our town was evacuated twice. We were given three hours to leave--a town of 15,000 people--and to go to live in the south as refugees of France. I have seen so many horrors during the Second World War between French and Germans that I swore that I would spend the rest of my life working for peace on this planet.

And I continue to do this also because I liberated 20 young Germans who had been told by Hitler that if they were taken by the French, they would be killed. I promised them: "We will not kill you," and they surrendered. I had to go to help liberate another town, and when I came back, I asked where the young Germans were. They had all been killed by our commander. I swore to the memory of these 20 young people that I would do everything to make peace on this planet!

Reason to Hope

I love the planet. I love the skies. I love nature. I love people. I love diversity. At the age of 82, I wake up in the morning, and I come up with a new idea for a better world! It's important to keep a positive view, because a positive view will help you resolve problems.

Schoolchildren in Cameroon learn about the rain forest  [Gilles Nicolet / Still Pictures]

On the whole I think that people are doing pretty well. They don't want wars. When I was in the UN we had many heads of state who visited us. I was invited to their luncheons and I always asked them: "Would you start a war to gain some territory from your neighbor?" and they always looked at me as though I was mad and said, "Why should we? Why should we not remain within our borders?" This is totally different from the way it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

Our planet is unique. So far we have not found another one that has life. Things are very complicated and we make many errors, but we are evolving. We must make this planet Earth paradise Earth. This must be our objective, and we can get there, but we have to work very, very hard as a global community.