Global Trends by Martin Khor

Tuesday 20 September 2005

UN Summit an “anti-climax”

The hopes that last week’s United Nations Summit of 149 political heads would reform the UN and give a boost to development were mainly unfulfilled.  There were a few advances, but too few to offset what was omitted.


The United Nations Summit last week turned out to be an anti-climax, although it gathered heads of government and state of 149 countries to its headquarters in New York.

The two ambitious goals set for it – reform of the UN, and new commitments by rich countries to assist developing countries – were mainly unmet.

As the political leaders addressed the Summit, the fact could not be hidden that the Declaration they adopted last Friday was sorely lacking in new substance, and far below the level of ambition set by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The main blame was placed on the United States, which put a spanner in the works by asking for 750 changes to the draft just three weeks before the Summit.

At the last minute, the diplomats agreed to a final text. Whole sections were deleted, and broad statements of principle replaced specific commitments.

"Obviously we didn't get everything we wanted", said Annan, citing on the plus side items on development, a peace-building commission, a new Human Rights Council, terrorism and the establishment of a democracy fund. "The big item missing is non-proliferation and disarmament. This is a real disgrace," he said.

Asked if he saw the draft document as a failure, he said: "I would have wanted more. There were governments not willing to make concessions.  There were spoilers also in the group. Let's be quite honest about that. In the last weeks, some delegations focused on the trees and missed the forest."

The shortcomings points in the final Declaration (including comparing it with the previous draft):

* The sections on development are weak, with no value added to the issues of aid and debt, and the references to trade are particularly empty, as most points in the earlier draft were removed.

* The entire section on disarmament and non-proliferation has been deleted. So too was the section on impunity (which referred to the International Criminal Court, which the US objected to).

* The section on the Security Council merely commits to continue efforts at reform, This reflects the deep divisions on whether and how to expand the Security Council and its permanent membership.

* It was agreed to create a Human Rights Council but the details (mandate, membership and procedures) are to be worked out later.  

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are mentioned quite frequently. The US
had attempted to delete references to it at a late stage. It is a mark of the low level to which the draft had sunk that salvaging the mention of the MDGs was seen as a victory.

While acknowledging major omissions, Kofi Annan pointed to a “breakthrough” in several areas.   In a media release, the UN described the following as positive points in the Declaration.

Development:  Commitment to achieve the MDGs by 2015; to pledges that would raise an additional $50 billion a year by 2010 for fighting poverty; agreement to consider additional measures to ensure long-term debt sustainability through increased grant-based financing, cancellation of 100%  of the official multilateral and bilateral debt of heavily indebted poor countries.

Terrorism: Condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes;" strong political push for a comprehensive convention against terrorism within a year. Support for early entry into force of the Nuclear Terrorism Convention.

Peacebuilding:  Creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to help countries in transition from war to peace.

Responsibility to Protect:  Acceptance of the international responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; willingness to take timely and decisive collective action for this purpose, through the Security Council, when peaceful means prove inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to do it.

While some political leaders hailed the Declaration, many registered their unhappiness. 

"This decision reminds us that the threats and challenges in our world require collective responses," said President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who co-chaired the Summit.   "The UN is the bedrock for building a system which is multilateral and effective."

Goran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the other co-chair, said the document takes decisive steps in strengthening the UN, but the Summit's failure to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "leaves us with a crucial task ahead."

South African President Thabo Mbeki said there had not been progress on UN reform, with decisions having to be postponed.   Also, the approach to getting resources for the realization of the MDGs has been half-hearted, timid and tepid.

Ali Rodriguez Araque of Venezuela said the document was "conceived in darkness" and regretted  there had not been time for discussion. "The analysis of the documents was confined to a small group - 32 persons - and then to an even smaller group of 15 persons," he said, adding that the views of many were then eliminated by a yet smaller group.

"The procedure followed was grotesque. Nor was there the possibility for the majority of delegations to express opinions."  He decried the document's omissions, including its lack of a reference to the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

Cuba’s representative said there had been "gross irregularities in the negotiation process" that were compounded by the flaws in the document, which did not address nuclear disarmament. The representative of Belarus, Sergei Martynov, said the document had not really brought all nations together, and questioned its value.

Many NGOs criticised the Summit outcome for falling far short of expectations.  Jim Paul of Global Policy Forum said the outcome is "weak and full of platitudes and generalities."  Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam said: "We wanted a bold agenda to tackle poverty, but instead we have a brochure showcasing past commitments.”

"Leaders have dashed hopes and squandered opportunities," said Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. "And empty promises cost lives." He said that millions of campaigners around the world have expressed "disappointment and dismay" at the UN summit.

Bill Pace of the World Federalist Movement, criticised the closed-door negotiations where a few governments were allowed to exercise a veto over the will of the overwhelming majority of member states.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times blamed the US for the failure of the summit., accusing its Ambassador John Bolton of insisting on a very long list of unilateral demands. "The predictable effect was to transform what had been a painful and difficult search for workable diplomatic compromises into a competitive exercise in political posturing."

As a result, said the Times editorial, the most tragic loss is a genuine opportunity to help the one billion people around the world who each live on less than a dollar a day.