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Long Live the UN?

The G8 is Dead

by NICHOLAS DEARDEN

The next fortnight will witness two summits of world leaders which will give radically different directions for recovery and reform of the global economy.

While one – the G8 – harks back to the days when a handful of rich countries could happily control the world economy without interference, the other – the UN Summit on the Economic Crisis – has been fought for tooth and nail by developing countries desperate to have a say on the direction of a new global economic order. 

While G8 leaders will keep the agenda in their comfort zone, patting each other on the back for maintaining aid commitments, the UN will discuss a series of proposals for transformation of the global economy.

Unfortunately, while Obama, Brown and co will be beaming alongside the great and the good at the G8, the UN will be lucky if it gets a handful of civil servants to show up from rich countries.

As so often, the idea of 192 countries daring to air their views on matters of global importance causes Western delegates a touch of indigestion.

As such, a programme to discredit the UN process is already up and running – taking particular aim at the President of the UN General Assembly Rev. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. D’Escoto, a leftist priest from Nicaragua, has enraged rich countries by prosing a radical paper for nations to debate which declares “[g]lobalization without effective global or regional institutions is leading the world into chaos”.

Against claims that his report lacked ‘inclusivity’, d’Escoto has claimed that “it must speak to the hundreds of millions across the globe who have no other forum in which they can express their unique and often divergent perspectives.”

Although the paper has been modified, rich country diplomats recently told Reuters that the UN Summit was a "joke," a "tragedy" and a "waste of time", accusing d’Escoto of hijacking the conference in order to put capitalism on trial and threatening to boycott the summit. 

The attitude is consistent with attempts by Western leaders to marginalise the UN throughout the economic crisis. Despite repeated offers by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to host crisis talks, rich countries have preferred their own company, adding major developing countries to their talks in the form of the G20 as a way of galvanising their huge financial reserves. At the London Summit in April, the G20 made clear their vision for the UN’s role was merely to “monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable”.   

The G8 – which should by rights be dead and buried – will meet for its annual photo shoot in Italy just two weeks later. With climate change and energy security high on the agenda, activists and developing world governments fear that the G8 will pre-empt a UN agreement on climate change in December, just as the G20 has pre-empted a global discussion of economic reform.

This should come as no surprise. The G6, forerunner to the G8, first met in Rambouillet in 1975, amidst another economic crisis and with the aim, once again, of excluding the majority of the world from decision-making. For in 1974 the troublesome General Assembly had again passed a far-reaching proposal for economic reform – the New International Economic Order – that outraged the West.

Had the world listened to the calls for change in the 1970s – for corporate regulation, fair prices for raw materials and just trade rules – we would not have embarked upon three decades of free market fundamentalism which have brought economy and environment to breaking point. 

It is vital that the world learns its lesson this time. The G20’s proposals in London were more of the same: the centrepiece being resuscitation of the International Monetary Fund, which seems to have learnt little in the 10 years since its policy impositions turned a disaster into a crisis in South-East Asia. A recent report by European network EuroDad shows that, of ten recent IMF loans to low income countries: all required spending cuts, five mandate wage bill freezes or cuts, five force governments to pass on food or fuel price rises to citizens and, while some improvements have been made, all include some sort of structural reforms such as privatisation, increases in indirect taxation or trade liberalisation.

Far more positive ideas for structural reform are presented by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz who chairs a Commission set-up by d’Escoto to offer solutions to the crisis. Clear that “the international trade and financial system needs to be profoundly reformed” the Stiglitz Commission recommends a powerful Global Economic Coordination Council at the UN to bring the World Bank and IMF to heel, an end to the practice of forcing economic policies on developing countries, an international debt work-out process which would allow for far greater and fairer debt cancellation, and a new reserve currency to replace the dollar.

Like many developing countries, Stiglitz is clear that “[w]ithout a truly inclusive response, recognizing the importance of all countries in the reform process, global economic stability cannot be restored”. D’Escoto himself has warned countries not to turn the UN Summit into an “international charade” adding “I earnestly believe that this is an opportunity the world cannot afford not to take advantage of.”

But the signs so far are not good. It is no surprise that the UN fails to play an effective role in international governance when the richest countries prevent it from doing so. Our leaders may scoff at D’Escoto words, but many hundreds of millions of ordinary people across the world would surely agree with them:

“The anti-values of greed, individualism, and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity should not be the limitless, endless, mindless accumulation of wealth in a profit centered economy but rather a people centered economy that guarantees human needs, human rights, and human security, as well as conserves life on earth. These should be universal values that underpin our ethical and moral responsibility.”

Nick Dearden is director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is part of the Put People First platform.