Western U.N. reform proposals undermine Third World interests

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) — A Third World ambassador captured the prevailing Western political mood when he complained last month that the proposed reform of the United Nations seems to be heavily weighted against developing nations.

The growing Western demands for cuts and elimination of U.N. bodies and agencies are focused— not on peacekeeping, human rights or political affairs— but on social and economic activities, he said.

The complaint clearly has merit judging by the rising chorus of Western voices against U.N. bodies serving Third World interests.
The North wants to dismantle the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), weaken the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), downsize the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and gradually eliminate all U.N. regional economic commissions based in Third World capitals: Santiago, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Beirut.

‘’The North has in fact chosen to spread multilateralism only through institutions that they fully control,’’ argues Ambassador Razali Ismail of Malaysia, President of the General Assembly.

Razali says that contrary to what many believe, the North understands the importance of multilateralism.

‘’That is why, multilateral bodies outside the United Nations are being strengthened, not weakened,’’ he adds.

This, he says, is true of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The United States last year urged the downsizing of eight U.N. departments to five: political affairs, peacekeeping, international economic cooperation and sustainable development, humanitarian affairs, and administration and conference services.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently decided to merge three departments— the Department of Development Support and Management Services (DDSMS), the Department of Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis (DESIPA), and the Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD)— into a single entity. All three departments dealt with social, economic and environmental activities.

But Dr. Gamani Corea, a former Secretary-General of UNCTAD thinks that Western nations want to dilute the U.N.’s leadership role in development issues on the ground, that there are other actors such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to deal with economic, financial, and trade issues.

‘’I think this whole idea of reform does not bode well for the United Nations,’’ Corea said. ‘’It may be necessary to keep the big powers and the public in these countries happy. But with that kind of motivation, you are not going to get a very virile United Nations.’’
Corea said that two Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO form the new triumvirate. ‘’And most of the economic issues are being taken over by them.’’

Western donors are also increasingly taking over the traditionally U.N. role of deciding who gets what. These decisions by industrial nations are now being made, not on economic grounds, but mostly on political grounds.

UNDP resources, for example, fall into two categories: core and non-core resources-- all of them coming as voluntary contributions. Core resources are not earmarked for any specific projects giving UNDP leeway in how to spend the monies. But non-core resources binds the UNDP into earmarked projects.

Nearly 90 percent of all unrestricted core funds go to the very poor countries where 90 percent of absolute poverty is. Any cuts in core funds, therefore, threatens UNDP’s ability to allocate funds to where it is in the greatest need.

But Western donors are gradually reducing their core resources while increasing their contributions to non-core resources.
This leverage, obviously, gives them room not only to play politics with their shrinking resources but also to twist arms.