United Nations Summit in New York in September was the second major gathering of
government leaders marking the millennium. The first was the South Summit in
Havana in April. The UN Summit received considerable national publicity, while
the South Summit was barely reported, a reflection of the "imbalance"
in the global system that it deplored.
South Summit brought together heads of state of the "Group of 77"
(G77), now 133 countries, accounting for 80% of the world's population. The name
G77 is carried over from the founding meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and
Development (UNCTAD) in 1964, attended by 77 of the "developing
countries." The April 2000 Summit was of unusual importance. The first
meeting ever at the level of heads of state, the Summit focused on the concern
that the South is "collectively endangered" by the global economic
system that has been instituted by the rich countries.
leading third world journal described the Summit as "a defining moment in
G77 history," ending on "a note of confidence and determination from
the leaders to work together to bring about a new world order based on equity
and fairness," with South-South cooperation as a centerpiece and a plan of
action seeking significant changes in the global system (Third World Economics,
the New York Times Week in Review, UN correspondent Barbara Crossette reported
that the Summit "denounced the global economy and its symbols" (the
World Bank, IMF, and WTO), dismissing it as insignificant because "slogans
and oratory do little to illuminate the profound complexity of human development
in the new economic order." According to "development experts,"
for the poor "nothing could be more irrelevant than global theories or
rants against multinational corporations." "The experts," who
recognize the "profound complexities," prefer serious measures to deal
with them: for example, persuading multinationals to "help workers improve
their lives" and inducing "big international institutions" to
adopt policies that "work for all levels of society."
experts are also bemused by the "irony" that the World Bank is moving
"dramatically into social programs...just as protestors operating on
outdated images single it out for attack." Translating to the real world,
the World Bank is reacting to protestors who have been operating for years on
quite accurate images, as the experts now tacitly concede; whether the reaction
will pass beyond rhetoric depends substantially on the dedication of the critics
who are largely responsible for bringing it about.
Summit produced a Declaration. The Declaration of the UN Summit consisted
largely of pieties, though at least one resolution had a certain bite: "to
encourage the pharmaceutical industry to make essential drugs more widely
available and affordable by all who need them in developing countries."
There is little need to elaborate on the extraordinary human catastrophes to
which the resolution alludes, and it is clear enough who bears the primary
responsibility to address them.
central topic, much discussed in commentary, was what Secretary-General Kofi
Annan described in his call to the Summit as "the dilemma of
intervention": "national sovereignty must not be used as a shield for
those who wantonly violate the rights and lives of their fellow human
beings." That much is generally agreed, at least at the rhetorical level.
But a rift appears with Annan's next sentence: "In the face of mass murder,
armed intervention authorized by the Security Council is an option that cannot
be relinquished." The US and its allies, which monopolize military power,
adopt a very different stance: they insist on their unique right of armed
intervention without such authorization. Annan is relatively popular in the West
because of his efforts to accommodate the interests of the rich and powerful,
but in this case he sided with the South Summit, which rejects what it calls
"the so-called `right' of humanitarian intervention" by the powerful
in violation of the UN Charter and "the general principles of international
Declaration of the South Summit also "firmly reject[s] the imposition of
laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact and all other forms of
coercive economic measures, including unilateral sanctions against developing
countries." The Declaration calls on "the international community
neither to recognize these measures nor apply them," alluding obliquely to
US initiatives, primarily. The Declaration insists on "the right of
developing countries, in exercise of their sovereignty and without any
interference in their internal affairs, to choose the path of development in
accordance with their national priorities and objectives." It views
"with alarm the recent unilateral moves by some developed countries to
question the use of fiscal policy as a development tool," reiterates
"the fundamental right of each State to determine its own fiscal
policies," and reaffirms "that every State has the inalienable right
to choose political, economic, social and cultural systems of its own, without
interference in any form by other States." It calls for "reformulation
of policies and options on globalization from a development perspective,"
and is sharply critical of the specific forms of international integration that
have been imposed by concentrated political and economic power -- what is called
"globalization" in Western rhetoric, often depicted as a neutral force
to which "there is no alternative," in Thatcher's famous slogan.
calls are directed primarily to Washington. The same is true of the call to
"promote respect for all universally recognized human rights and
fundamental freedoms, including the right to development." The first part
is ritual incantation: the right to development the US has forcefully rejected.
the South Summit, "our highest priority is to overcome underdevelopment,
which implies the eradication of hunger, illiteracy, disease and poverty."
The UN Summit adopted similar wording. "Although this is primarily our
responsibility," the South Summit declares, "we urge the international
community to adopt urgent and resolute actions, with a comprehensive and
multidimensional approach, to assist in overcoming these scourges, and to
establish international economic relations based on justice and equity." It
goes on to deplore "Asymmetries and imbalances that have intensified in
international economic relations" to the severe detriment of the South, and
calls for reform of "international economic governance" and
"international financial architecture" to make them "more
democratic, more transparent and better attuned to solving the problems of
development," reviewing current problems in some detail.
Declaration also warns that "the prevailing modes of production and
consumption in the industrialized countries are unsustainable and should be
changed, for they threaten the very survival of the planet." Furthermore,
"technological innovations should be systematically evaluated in terms of
their economic, social and environmental impact, with the participation of all
the social sectors involved," including "groups that have not
traditionally been part of this process" -- almost everyone. It calls on
"the developed countries to fulfil their commitment to provide developing
countries with financial resources and environmentally sound technologies on a
preferential basis." Further provisions, also elaborated in some detail,
will not be unfamiliar to the ranting protestors with their outdated images.
recommendations to the UN Summit included implementation of the Kyoto Protocol
on greenhouse gases; providing "the necessary resources" for the UN
"to carry out its mandates," specifically its "peacekeeping
operations"; debt relief; and "more generous [overseas] development
assistance" (ODA). In all of these categories, the US has a special
responsibility, though it is not alone.
US has been evading the Kyoto protocol, and has one of the worst records for
violating it: emissions have in fact considerably increased. The US is notorious
for its refusal to meet its funding obligations for the UN, including
peacekeeping operations. In July, the House and Senate Appropriations committees
again rejected an administration request for a miserly $107 million for
peacekeeping expenses in Kosovo and East Timor, while cutting the small request
for peacekeeping by almost 50%, to $500 million. Debt relief remains words, tied
to strict conditionalities ("reforms"). ODA has declined sharply in
the past 10 years, most radically in the US, which by now provides virtually
nothing, far less than other industrial countries as a proportion of GNP; by far
the leading beneficiary of the minuscule ODA budget is a rich country, Israel,
with Egypt second by virtue of its relations with Israel.
the Cold War ended, the conventional self-applause held that at last Western
elites could now act in accord with their ideals and treasured values. So they
did, expressing their ideals and values with great clarity as soon as there was
no longer any need for even cynical gestures to the poor, the space for
nonalignment having disappeared.
standard version holds that the end of the Cold War coincided with the discovery
that trade is more helpful to the poor than aid. Accordingly, Annan called on
the rich countries to open their markets to goods produced in the South. On that
they have been dragging their feet, while demanding free access for their own
products and services and using a variety of methods to impose their will. Among
these are trade barriers and subsidies that are direct or hidden "under the
rubric of `defense'," as remarked by then-World Bank chief economist Joseph
Stiglitz, deploring the mixture of liberalization and protectionism in the
mislabelled "free trade" regime, geared to the wishes of the masters
of the economy. Just as the South Summit was gathering the Clinton
Administration announced its opposition to a World Bank proposal to allow poor
countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to export to the US without tariffs
or quotas; that would provide "a huge economic advantage for those
developing countries," the New York Times reported, "going
significantly beyond the administration's efforts to get Congress to forgive
their debts as they undergo economic reforms" -- that is, facilitate the
takeover of their economies by Western firms. The World Bank and IMF endorse the
complaint of the South "that the United States and other rich nations are
using their enormous prosperity and technology to grow rapidly at the expense of
countries being left far behind by economic globalization" -- to which we
should add that a similar process continues internally.
the Declaration of the UN Summit is more muted than that of the South, behind
the scenes the mood seems to have been similar. A good report in the Boston
Globe by John Donnelly is headlined "African leaders lash out,"
accusing the UN and the West of "keeping [the] continent in poverty."
The "overriding theme" of the African heads of state, Donnelly
reports, is that "the forces of globalization are enriching the West anew
while sentencing them to even more misery," essentially the message of the
South Summit. "They said the Western powers talked a good game about the
benefits of globalization to Africa, but then stood by as corporations plundered
riches from the continent," following the classic pattern, sometimes
assisted by World Bank programs: for example, the Bank's demand for
privatization in Gambia, leading to elimination of the peanut industry by a
foreign buyer that shifted processing abroad so that the country now imports its
leaders pointed out that the "voices in the street" in the West are
repeating what "the developing countries have been saying for many years in
various international fora with little success." Several suggested that
"an alliance was possible." That has been taking shape at the
grass-roots level, an impressive development, rich in opportunity and promise,
and surely causing no little concern in high places.