Robert Muller (11 March 1923 -20 Sept. 2010) The U.N. Networker

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Decide to Network, use every letter you write, every conversation you have, every meeting you attend to express your fundamental beliefs and dreams, affirm to others the vision of the world you want. In a world of big powers, big media and monopolies, networking is a new freedom, the new democracy, a new form of happiness.
Robert Muller

Robert Muller, whose birth anniversary we mark on 11 March, devoted his life to the ideals of the United Nations, working both within the organization in which he became Assistant Secretary-General and in his talks and activities with many associations and conferences. As he wrote, his guideline was the pledge which all U.N. Secretariat members must sign when joining: ” I, Robert Muller, solemnly swear to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the functions entrusted to me as an international civil servant of the United Nations, to discharge these functions and to regulate my conduct with the interests of the United Nations only in view, and not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any government or other authority external to the organization.”

Muller joined the United Nations in 1948 with a doctorate in economics. Most of his U.N. work was related to socio-economic development in the States born with the end of Western European colonialism. As he wrote, “The human adventure on earth is taking world-wide proportions. We must be bracing ourselves for the staggering problems that lie ahead, and it is fortunate that we possess world-wide instruments at the precise moment of history and evolution when the human species enters its global age. Humanity is equipping itself slowly but surely with collective analytical tools, world-wide warning systems, and a network of feedbacks and monitoring. In other words – a kind of brain and nervous system… The United Nations has become a kind of incipient brain for the human species as a whole. It has taken stock of our planetary home and of our species, so that now we have a good inventory of our present as well as valuable appraisals of our potential futures… If something begins to go wrong on the global level, the United Nations can give a warning.”.

Robert Muller was particularly active in the preparation and follow up of a series of stocktaking U.N. conferences held especially in the 1970s:

1) World Conference on the Environment – Stockholm – 1972
2) World Food Conference – Rome -1974
3) World Conference on Population – Bucharest -1974
4) World Conference on Women – Mexico City – 1975
5) World Conference on Employment and Basic Needs – Geneva -1976
6) World Conference on Human Settlements – Vancouver – 1976
7) World Water Conference – Mar del Blata -1977
8) World Conference on Desertification – Nairobi – 1977
9) World Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries – Buenos Aires – 1978
10) World Conference on Land Reform – Rome – 1979
11) World Conference on Science and Technology – Vienna -1979

The 1970 Decade ended with the International Year of the Child. The Decade had also seen from 1974 to 1981 the World Conference on the Law of the Sea.

As Muller wrote “We must believe in peace, human ascent and justice. As for all things on this Earth, a period of preparation, of takeoff is needed. This is typically the case for economic development, and the same is true of peace, disarmament, and worldwide cooperation. The beginnings are slow, but suddenly a progress which seemed so difficult, nay impossible, begins to accelerate and to gain momentum…Therefore we must think and act years ahead. We must begin to manage our resources, our actions, behavior and interventions in a new fashion, taking into account the new world-wide dimensions and long-term effects which are being imposed on us with an iron fist by our own discoveries, intelligence and drives ahead.”

Muller understood clearly that the U.N. Secretariat had a great deal of information arising from these conferences and from U.N. field workers. However, it remained the task of the Member States to use this information to guide their policies. Yet national governments usually did not act on the information. There were very few, if any, follow ups to the U.N. conferences. U.N. Reports and studies had very limited readership. Later, Muller suggested that “The United Nations and its agencies should transform their mere information activities into active public relations and communications reaching the grass-roots level of society. Consideration should be given to the creation of a UN Planetary Information and Public Relations Agency.”

Although no such U.N. public relations agency was created, Muller was an active U.N. networker reaching out through talks and publications, especially to religious groups and schools. On retirement, he bought a home in Costa Rica to be near the U.N.-created University for Peace, whose aim was to train world-minded socio-economic activists. Robert Muller also became the Honorary President of the Association of World Citizens. He was a model of perseverance, work, faith and imagination.

His concern on how the knowledge contained within the U.N. system can be shared with a wide public in an action-oriented language remains a key issue. Too many U.N. documents are writtten in UNese, edited to offend no Member State nor to present ideas which might be disputed. Consensus-building styles of writing are not very exciting. Networking is stilla priority need.

Note: Also from Rene Wadlow in Ovi magazine: Robert Muller: Crossing Frontiers for Reconciliation, HERE!

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens


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