by Martin Khor

Havana, 11 April 2000 -- Foreign Ministers of several developing countries today spoke up against the negative effects of globalisation, the domination of the United Nations by a few developed countries, and the dangerous trend of military intervention by powerful nations in the name of humanitarian assistance.

These themes dominated a meeting of Foreign Ministers at the second day of the South Summit of the Group of 77 held here today. They were taking part in an "interactive dialogue" on the role of the United Nations in the 21st century.

The Summit begins Wednesday (12 April) with an opening speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Opening the discussion at the interactive dialogue session of foreign ministers, the chairman of the G77, the Nigerian Foreign Minister Alhaji Sule Lamido, described it as a "bitter reality" that globalisation constitutes a "serious threat to development" and called on the UN to tackle the challenges.

Cuba's Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, listed seven key issues that had to be resolved regarding the UN and international relations. And Ministers of several other countries also spoke on the need for democratising the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions and decision-making on global affairs generally.

The G77 chairman, Mr Alhaji, said the UN's task of encouraging development in a just world society "has been frustrated in many ways of which globalisation is but the latest example."

He added: "When considering the relationship between globalisation and development, how can we ignore the bitter reality that now more than ever, globalisation constitutes a serious threat to development? Indeed the marginalisation of countries, especially LDCs, and their difficulty in integrating into the global economy that is more knowledge-based are issues that need to be addressed. The UN has the potential to tackle the challenges."

In his address, Cuban Foreign Minister Roque outlined seven issues:

* First, the need to reform the UN and democratise its work methods. The Security Council should be expanded with additional permanent members from Third World regions. The veto power should be removed, or else it should be extended to all permanent members. There should also be more transparent and participatory work methods in the Security Council, which in 1999 held 121 formal meetings but also 239 private consultations. The role and rights of the General Assembly should also be restored.

* Second, there should be respect of international law as reflected in the UN Charter. The South is the greatest loser if the trend continues of non-adherence to the Charter principles and international law.

* Third, countries of the South should strongly oppose attempts to legitimise "humanitarian interventions" in countries although this is not allowed for in the UN Charter.

* Fourth, in the financing of the UN, 41 countries are in arrears in their dues, of which 36 are developing countries that are unable to pay and thus cannot exercise their right to vote. However, other countries are also not paying, but use the payment issue to exert pressure on the UN. Although it is in an economic boom, the US owes the UN $1.7 billion and this is used to put pressure on the UN.

* Fifth, it is "essential for the G77 to oppose models and patterns imposed on others to follow. These are put up as universal or standardised models, thus ignoring and not recognising the diversity of conditions of different countries."

* Sixth, the UN should have a major developmental role but in the 1990s primacy had been given to security.

* Seventh, a dangerous trend to impose double edged rhetoric on disarmament, with a few countries wanting to maintain their nuclear monopoly whilst extending disarmament to small arms for other countries to follow.

Several of these themes were also taken up by other Ministers.

The South African Foreign Minister said there was no need to bring in a new concept in the UN with regard to humanitarian intervention. She also said although the UN could talk about good governance, she agreed with Cuba that there is no single model of democracy. Democracy must be adapted to each country's conditions.

"Each country must grapple with its own realities. Taking the approach of 'one size fit all' will be a dangerous thing in relation to democracy." She also called for reforms in the Bretton Woods institutions as the conditions they set are "unachievable."

Vietnam's Foreign Minister criticised big countries which were seeking military supremacy, making policies based on strength, and interfering with the internal affairs of other countries. The UN's task is to ensure respect for the UN Charter, especially respect for independence of countries, non-resort to threats and economic sanctions. In promoting development, the UN faces challenges like globalisation which was widening the rich-poor gap and promoting exclusion of developing countries. The Security Council should be reformed to be more representative and the veto power should be limited and eventually abolished.

Algeria's Foreign Minister said that the focus on trade liberalisation increased the risk that the North would strengthen its advantageous position whilst the South's chances in the world economy would weaken, thus worsening the imbalances. "Globalisation without solidarity would be tantamount to injustice and lead to greater marginalisation or even total exclusion of developing countries in the world economy."

India's Foreign Minister said the UN must foster North-South partnership not only on economic issues but also in security. The UN should strengthen cooperation to combat terrorism and the related problems of drug peddling and money laundering. He added that developing countries are being counselled to undertake liberalisation and adhere to transparency and good governance, but the same should apply to the North and multilateral fora.

Guyana's Foreign Minister said a major problem was finance for development. Without finance, the plans adopted in the UN-organised world conferences could not be implemented. The prosperity in the North cannot be at the expense of poverty in the South. "Our countries are providing commodities at very low prices to the North, and the concept of the level playing field is a myth. Liberalisation is not a panacea and cannot be a substitute for aid."

The Foreign Minister of Ghana said that for far too long "decisions have been made by a few rich countries for the rest of us. When we raise our economic difficulties they offer prescriptions that leave them holding the ropes of the money bag, so we have to abide by their decision. Our situation has not improved but has gone worse when we agreed with them.

"Globalisation makes us arrange our affairs in a way that the North benefits. Liberalisation will be for us an arrangement whereby our markets are made accessible to them, whilst we become the dumping ground for their goods and they continue to have barriers against our goods."

He also characterised the Security Council as a place where decisions are made through "raw power". Unless the Security Council is restructured and the veto power taken away, "we won't be beneficiaries of decisions in the United Nations," he added.

The Ghanian Minister also said the issue of humanitarian intervention had now become so vexed. Until recently this had been understood to mean actions providing relief to countries having disaster or conflict. "Now there is an added and ominous meaning, redefined as the power of the international community to intervene against governments on the basis of criteria defined by a few.

This definition is dangerous and must be corrected immediately, and it cannot be accepted by the South." Humanitarian assistance should again mean what the term implies, he declared.

The rich countries are so stingy when it comes to helping the South's humanitarian needs, yet they use the term in order to intervene in the South.

He also said that for the South to progress, financing for the UN and for development is needed. However some countries hold on to their cheques and are asking the UN to go in certain directions before they would release money they owe to the UN, which is then released in driblets and under some conditions. The UN can't progress unless its financing is based on a fair basis.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister said there was an urgent need to comprehensively reform the UN, which "must not become an appendage of the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO in economic issues." The voting methods of the Security Council should be more transparent and the veto should be eliminated or limited to uses that are just and fair.

He added that developing countries must have a say in the formulation and interpretation of globalisation. The world trading regime must give flexibility to developing countries so that they can deal with the complexities of development and nation building.(SUNS4647)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

[c] 2000, SUNS - All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service without specific permission from SUNS. This limitation includes incorporation into a database, distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media or broadcast. For information about reproduction or multi-user subscriptions please contact < >