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Q&A: U.N.’s Enormous Potential Being Marginalised

Thalif Deen interviews MIGUEL D'ESCOTO BROCKMANN, President of the General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2009 (IPS) - An international conference on the global financial crisis – hosted by the United Nations – is being marginalised by Western countries which have refused to send any of their political leaders to the meeting.

Fr. Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Fr. Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Of the 126 countries participating in the three-day conference, scheduled to take place Jun. 24-26, there will be two heads of state, four vice presidents, 10 heads of government, three deputy prime ministers and 32 ministers.

But an overwhelming majority of the top level attendees are from the developing world, including Ecuador, Venezuela, Philippines, Brazil, Iran, Gambia, Laos, India, Bangladesh, Honduras, Zimbabwe, China, Russia, Barbados, Malaysia, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The only relatively high level Western representation is a deputy prime minister from Luxembourg and six ministers from Finland, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Britain.

Asked whether this is an attempt undermine the conference and marginalise the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann said: “There are countries and institutions that are against this global conversation for obvious reasons.”

Speaking on the eve of the conference, he said: “They have wanted this meeting to be another donors’ conference and have characterised the U.N. process as one in which the developing countries line up, bowl in hand.”


Their attitude continues to be: ‘We know best; trust us’.

“In light of all that has happened in the world economy, this claim is no longer convincing,” D Escoto said in an interview with U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen.

“They marginalise and denigrate the enormous potential of the United Nations at their own risk. I sincerely hope that, as a result of elections taking place across the globe, new leadership will bring new support and energy to the United Nations.”

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: When the international conference on financing for development in Qatar last November unanimously mandated you to hold a summit meeting of world leaders under the auspices of the 192-member General Assembly, what role was envisaged for the United Nations in battling the global financial crisis? Is the U.N. geared to meet this challenge? Miguel D’ Escoto Brockmann: The United Nation should be central to the world’s response to the crisis. Unlike the G20, the G8 and all the other G’s, the U.N. General Assembly, or G192, alone has the legal Charter – the Charter of the United Nations – to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian nature and to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

It is not that other groupings are illegitimate – the G20 has been an important, if only partially effective, forum for coordinating action among the rich and emerging nations. But there are 172 nations that are not members of the G20. It is increasingly clear that, even among the G20 nations, there is deep disagreement about the path forward.

More to the point, the G20 is an informal, ad hoc group, in which the states do not have the power to bind themselves, or the ability to hold each other legally accountable. Where legitimacy is weak, so is effectiveness.

But we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Sixty-five years ago, the founders had a pretty clear idea that the United Nations should not only be concerned with military security, but also with economic, social, and cultural security. And the Charter is quite explicit and extensive in mandating the role of the U.N. The strong economic role of the U.N. was sacrificed to Cold War rivalries.

But today the world needs the U.N. more than ever, and this conference is set become the first major step in the revitalisation and reinvigoration of the U.N.’s far-reaching mandate. In short, the fundamental framework exists. We need the political will make it work.

IPS: The proposal for the reform of the World Bank and the IMF has been kicked around in the U.N. system for over a decade now, but strongly resisted by the Western powers who have a stranglehold on the two international financial institutions. How confident are you that this reform will ever take place? MDB: We are, indeed, trapped in institutional and legal frameworks, reflected most notably in the Bretton Woods institutions, which were devised in another era with different needs.

This framework of institutions, rules, and allocation of authority – the “architecture” of the global economic and financial system – continues to be the preserve of a small group of countries whose decisions or, more often, failures to take timely and effective action impact the vast majority of the world’s people.

The “incumbent” countries show no indication that they are will to surrender their extraordinary privileges, or allow themselves to be held accountable in any meaningful way. But in the long run, everyone will see that it is to our mutual benefit to construct a more representative and accountable system if we are to save humanity and this abused Planet, Mother Earth, from a slow, agonizing death. Our hope is that this crisis may speed up the process of change, like it or not.

IPS: How best can the crisis be resolved? Increased Development Aid? New and Innovative Sources of Funding? A radical restructuring of the international economic system? Greater opportunities for the world’s poorer nations in terms of trade? MDB: All of the above and more. We are experiencing a huge breakdown and failure of the dominant economic model with long-term ramifications for global economic welfare and, indeed, for survival itself. There are at least two major thrusts of the response being proposed at the United Nations: First it is necessary to do all possible to give developing countries the tools they need to protect their citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable, against the ravages of the crisis. In part, it is a matter of money.

The developed countries have spent many trillions of dollars already to save large banks, and the bankers and their shareholders, but still comparatively little for developing countries that have had no responsibility for causing the crisis, but also limited ability to contain its effects.

Of the 1.1 trillion dollars pledged at the G20 London summit, only 50 billion dollars was specifically earmarked for development and social protection needs. That’s not much help when the World Bank is reporting financing shortfalls on the order of a 1-2 trillion dollars over the first three to four years of the crisis. And that’s only the beginning of the story.

Losses from shrinking world trade, declining prices for many developing country exports, lost remittances from migrant workers, falling exchange rates, and evaporating hard currency reserves all place a growing number of developing countries in a very precarious position.

IPS: What is most needed in the current context? MDB: We need money, and so far, even in the boom years of the last decade, the world has had trouble meeting its aid commitments. So there are calls for immediate access to credit, broader stimulus measures, fair trade as well as measures to address the fluctuating food and energy prices that exacerbate the instability and uncertainty.

Most countries will not be able to borrow their way out of the crisis, much less print money. It is very important that developing countries not be saddled with unsustainable debt – which would sacrifice long-term development for short-term crisis relief. Therefore it is absolutely vital that we pursue innovative sources of financing, and that we leave no stone unturned in our search for additional resources for developing countries.

IPS: Any new ideas or innovative sources of financing? MDB: One idea that has emerged, or perhaps re-emerged in the last few months, in large part due to the discussions at the U.N. and through the Commission of Experts I convened, has been to issue additional Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) under international authority. In the view of a growing number of economists and experts, this is an idea whose time has come.

Apart from finding new financial resources for developing countries, it is also important that we recognise the right of governments to take extraordinary measures, such as debt service moratoriums and imposition of capital controls, to prevent the flight of limited foreign exchange need to support priority human needs.

Second, it is also crucial that developing countries, which had little to do with provoking the crisis, have a say in resolving it. But in the longer term, we do need a radical restructuring and democratization of the international financial and trade architecture.

What was unthinkable a year ago has now become policy. We do not want to see this crisis deepen, but I am afraid it will be with us for a long time. We must take this opportunity to set up mechanisms that ensure it does not happen again.

 
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