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World Summit between Disappointment and Hope

The Unfinished Agenda

The World Summit of the United Nations, held in New York from 14-16 September 2005, was no breakthrough to a new multilateralism. It disappointed many (far too ambitious) hopes. But upon closer examination, its results are more interesting and pathbreaking than has been conveyed in the first press commentaries and even in some spontaneous statements issued by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), writes Rainer Falk.

By no means was it an accident that the hope for this largest-ever UN summit did not come from the plenary sessions of the over 150 heads of state and government attending. Real highlights came from the more modest side events on the periphery. Thus the “Lula Group”—meanwhile including Chile, Spain, Algeria and Germany along with its initiators, Brazil and France—used the Summit to present the newest initiatives of its “Action against Hunger and Poverty”. The most important is the introduction of an airline ticket tax by France and Chile already to take effect starting 1 January 2006.

* Financing à la carte
The airline ticket tax is to be a practical proof that “innovative financing mechanisms” are not only desired in development cooperation but are also practicable. In accordance with the will of the participating countries (it is expected that more will have joined by the start date), the funds raised in this manner will flow into the pilot project Mini-IFF for Immunization (IFFIm). This IFFIm should soon demonstrate that even the comprehensively conceived International Finance Facility (IFF) offers a realistic means of quickly mobilizing resources ("Front-loading ODA"), thereby giving the necessary push to efforts to realize the Millennium Development Goals, e.g. cutting absolute poverty in half or child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

Both initiatives—just like the EU's plan to gradually increase official development aid to 0.7% of gross national income by 2015 or the G-8 summit resolutions from Gleneagles—have received favorable mention in the final resolution of the New York Summit, albeit more in the form of an à la carte menu from which each industrialized country can choose a dish of its liking. A joint financing initiative by the community of states to realize the often-promised new partnership between North and South, as intended in Millennium Goal number 8, extending beyond the past commitments is no where to be found in the 35-page outcome document.

* It could have been much worse
It was this missing value-added that led most NGOs to talk about “deep disappointment” and “missed opportunities”. Realistically, there were certainly no longer any high expectations once the Bush government sent its new UN ambassador, John Bolton, into the race so as to dilute the draft outcome document beyond recognition with several hundred amendments (see >>> here), a practice applied until saturation since the Monterrey conference on development financing in 2002. US politicians distanced themselves even from the notion Millennium Goals to which they had elsewhere at least paid lip service, e.g. in Monterrey and recently at Gleneagles. Thus, it could have been much worse. Against that background, the fact that President Bush acknowledged just these goals and found strangely conciliatory words counts for many, for example Jeffrey Sachs whom Kofi Annan had appointed to head the UN Millennium Project, as a success of the mobilized global public opinion.

In fact the results of the New York Summit represent pretty exactly the spectrum of the conceivable in today’s development policy, although the realization of these measures would require an enormous amount of public political pressure, given existing power relationships. For example, trade: The resolutions are weak simply due to the fact that the UN is denied any authority in trade policy. For example, debt relief: Here the document goes just a bit beyond the Gleneagles resolutions by emphasizing that debt relief is not to be financed at the expense of current aid budgets and that even beyond the group of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), there is an urgent need to cancel debt. However, it is by no means certain that the necessary provisions will be adopted at the coming annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank to implement the G-8’s debt relief resolutions.

* Annan: A glass half-full
As much as the Summit made the Millennium Goals the permanent defining concept for international development policy for the next stage (by which everyone, even the IMF and World Bank, will be measured in future), the Summit cannot be judged by its development policy resolutions alone. Rather the decisive question was whether the package approach of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be accepted. This package combines the review of the Millennium Goals with a large scale reform of the United Nations and the implementation of a new multilateralism. Obviously this strategy has been unsuccessful.

The vision of a new world order with better representation of the South in international decision-making processes, with greater efficiency in the world organization, with new steps toward nuclear disarmament and limits to the proliferation of nuclear weapons was either only partially accepted or even totally rejected. Nonetheless there is reason to accept the interpretation of EU commissioner for development Louis Michel which meanwhile has also been adopted by Kofi Annan: a half-full glass is better than an empty one (see >>> here). Above all the joint resolution regarding the new responsibility of the member states to protect against genocide, ethnic cleansing and massive human rights violations could introduce a new chapter in the development of international law.

As far as other questions are concerned, such as the strengthening of the United Nations in peace keeping, peace making and peace building or the newly adopted UN Human Rights Council, improvements are required by the General Assembly. With respect to Security Council reform, the approach of appointing individual countries to permanent seats should be abandoned entirely and replaced by a regional approach.

(Posted: 23 September 2005)

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