|THE UNITED NATIONS
This paper on the future role of the United Nations system is a preliminary study to identify the main areas of current global concerns relevant to global governance for the future. Included are changes considered necessary for the UN to play a key role in working towards universal human security - in particular, maintaining the integrity of the biosphere in continuing to provide for human needs and sustainable human development.
Following a period to allow for submissions and comments, it will be revised, and paragraphs will be added containing specific recommendations for changes to the UN system.
After 50 years, no one denies the need to adapt the UN system to meet changes in a world now very different from that of the post-World War II years. But there are two very different agendas attempting to influence the direction of this change. On the one hand is the group of G7 governments dominated by the U.S., which is strongly influenced by those holding economic power and influence. On the other hand, are those who have a genuine desire to make the UN more effective in meeting human needs in the light of the massive social and environmental issues besetting this planet.
The forces gaining control of the world economy have an agenda to weaken the UN by downgrading its functions, reducing its budget, discrediting its operations and value, and maintaining pressure to ensure international economic policy is kept out of UN control.
These forces tend to put emphasis on the domestic development policies of developing countries and then only on a particular kind of development policy. They insist that a restructured United Nations system should be geared to promoting a market-oriented development strategy. They believe that the emphasis on resource transfers is misplaced - they also underplay the role of the external economic environment for development. They recommend the scaling down of the role and function of the United Nations in the "hard core" areas of trade, money, finance and technology, and their transfer to the IMF, World Bank and WTO.
If this view is accepted, critical policy issues will remain outside the United Nations which will be reduced to following a highly truncated and fragmented approach contrary to its mandate and the spirit of the Charter.
Some of these proposals are clearly designed to control the system, and are in violation of the Charter principles of universality, democracy and sovereign equality of states. The developing countries clearly have to make a choice here: a choice between a promise of the availability of resources, which will most likely prove illusory, and upholding the basic principles of the Charter. The choice is obvious: to uphold the basic principles of the Charter, because so much more is at stake than the mere promise of resource availability.
A major thrust of the restructuring and reform exercise should be to bring about a decentralisation of the operational activities of the UN system to the regional and country levels. To be relevant and effective, UN operational activities have to be country specific. Each recipient country has its own geographical compulsions and structures inherited from history. It is very difficult to apply global objectives and priorities to individual countries without taking into account the level and stage of their development, their social and economic structures, and their geographical locations.
To whom should collective Third Sector advocacy be directed? The UN consists of its member governments. Each has one vote. The G7 have only seven votes in the General Assembly. So should not tactics be to hold individual governments responsible for passively voting with the G7, and, more importantly, for failing to give support to the Secretary-General and others working to make the Charter provisions come alive?
Bringing global policy formulation and implementation under UN control is the single most important reform facing the world community of nations.
The United Nations was founded at a time of post-World War II euphoria seeking a better world free from the scourge of war. The UN Charter reflected this universal idealism, and provides a democratic basis for international cooperation for its full realisation.
This general objective was to be attained by economic growth, the agents of which were the World Bank, the IMF and the GATT - the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI), together with the programmes of UN multilateral agencies and private donors and governments through aid programmes. By far the largest spenders have been the BWIs, that have also made the greatest impact, though in many cases, a negative one.
The BWIs ignored their UN mandate to operate within the UN system, and became instead, the agents for capital investment from the North. The World Bank and IMF have become notorious for using loan conditions to require financially weak nations to undertake structural adjustments programmes to open up their economies to allow TNCs and global financial institutions to move in and benefit from deregulated markets.
Those who drew up the UN Charter understood the need for global economic formulation to be a prime responsibility of the United Nations. For this reason, the Charter assigns to the United Nations the central role in the UN system for global macro-economic policy and strategy formulation and guidance. The UN is recognised in the Charter as the world forum for dialogue and decision on global macro-economic problems. This broad mandate is given mainly in Articles 1(3), 1(4), 13(1.b), 55, 60 and 62.
The approach should be an holistic one with emphasis on international economic and social problems and hence on international measures as much as on national problems and measures. Article 1(3) includes among the purposes of the United Nations, achievement of "international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character..." Article 1(4) makes the UN "a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations" in the attainment of the "common ends in the economic, social, cultural, educational and health fields..." Article 55 provides for the promotion of "solutions of international economic, social, health and related problems..."
There is no warrant in the mandate to assign to UN only a "complementary role" in the economic and social field. In macro-economic policy formulation, the UNs role should be and was intended to be supreme and paramount. This includes such "hard core" economic issues as money, finance, trade, technology and development strategy. In order to play this role effectively, the United Nations would need to retain, strengthen and build its own research and analysis capability and its own data base.
The convening of UNCTAD in 1964, among other things, reflected a strong desire to fill this institutional vacuum. The General Assembly resolution 1965 (XIX) establishing UNCTAD, "Takes note of the widespread desire among developing countries for a comprehensive trade organisation", and in its last operative paragraph (31) stipulates that "the Conference will study all relevant subjects, including matters relating to the establishment of a comprehensive organisation based on the entire membership of the UN system of organisations, to deal with trade in relation to development".
If the urge to equip the United Nations fully to discharge its mandate under the Charter was so strong at the time of the establishment of the United Nations and of UNCTAD, then it is even stronger and more compelling now, when nations have become more interdependent and development issues more interrelated and complex. Therefore, to confer upon the UN a "complementary" role or to talk about its "comparative advantage" or to reduce it to an operational and welfare and humanitarian agency, is not consistent with its mandate under the Charter.
An attempt to assign to the UN a "complementary" role in the economic and social field and treat it for this purpose just as a part of the so-called "polycentric" structure of the UN system is contrary to the effort to put policy for formulation, decision and implementation in the security and humanitarian field in the hub of the United Nations. This asymmetry of treatment of economic and social issues, on the one hand, and political, security and humanitarian issues, on the other, is contrary to the repeated advocacy of an integrated approach to deal with the problem of peace, security, development and social justice in the documents on this subject submitted by the Secretary-General.
With global economic policy determination effectively outside UN jurisdiction and security issues under an undemocratically elected Security Council, dominated by the major industrial nations, the needs of people and their habitat stands little chance of adequate consideration. Tinkering at the edges of the problem will achieve little of substance. Complete structural reform is needed.
All UN activities are important in their own right and must continue, but reorganisation and reallocation of priorities need to be subject to periodic scrutiny. This report concentrates on the issues of human development and ecological security, critical related subjects not being adequately addressed. An integral part of human and environmental concerns is the operations of the global human economy in relation to the economy of the biosphere on which it is dependent.
Human development is dependent on adequate finance to implement programmes. The current situation whereby Agenda 21 programmes are dependent on national programmes and World Bank and IMF funding is disastrous. Agenda 21 programmes are not moving, and significant World Bank Funding is not allocated to the implementation of Agenda 21. Socially and environmentally destructive development projects that are adding to the problem rather than providing answers, are being supported by the World Bank and regional development banks, in direct contravention of the findings of the 1992 Earth Summit.
The new World Trade Organisation (WTO) is set to function outside UN jurisdiction and may join with the World Bank and IMF to form a global trade triumvirate to determine global trade policy.
The need for a coordinated macro-economic policy response at the global level to restore the balance of the world economy has long been felt. This is both in the interests of the stability of the economies of developed countries as well as for redressing the chronic economic weaknesses of developing countries. The Secretary-General in his report in document E/1992/82 has stated: "A critical issue is the appropriate mix of fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies, particularly of the major industrial nations...". As the Secretary-General has pointed out: "progress towards this goal in the context of the G-7 has been limited". This is mainly because the Governments of the major industrialised countries have failed to transcend their domestic political constraints for the purpose of achieving the objective of higher growth and prosperity of the world economy. In fact, in the recent summits, the leaders of the G-7 have relegated to the background their original and primary objective of coordination of macro-economic policies in their preoccupation with political issues. The exclusion of other countries, particularly developing countries, from the arrangement for such coordination under the G-7 is one of the key manifestations of the highly undemocratic character of present international economic relations. It also amounts to a non-fulfillment of the provision in Article 1 (4) of the UN Charter according to which the UN is "to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends".
The Executive Director of the IMF in one of his recent statements has emphasised that, in the context of the prevailing situation in the world economy, adjustment must become universal. The Secretary-General in his report has said that "the more integrated and market-oriented world economy that is emerging reinforces the need for a strengthened surveillance by IMF of both deficit and surplus countries towards better functioning of the world economy." The Secretary-General has further pointed out that "it is particularly relevant at this juncture that surveillance pays increasing attention to large economies". Unfortunately, the IMF is not able to carry out symmetrical surveillance of both deficit and surplus countries.
The UN, as the only universal and democratic intergovernmental organisation, is in a particularly advantageous position to undertake such a task.
Ideas and views emanating from the IMF, World Bank, GATT and think tanks outside the United Nations are designed to silence criticism of the working of the dominant world system and to convert the United Nations into an instrument for protecting the status quo. The proposal for transferring the issues of money, finance and trade from UN organisations - particularly UNCTAD - to the IMF, World Bank and WTO, on the basis of so-called comparative advantage and for avoiding duplication, falls in this category. For the last few years, the countries making these proposals have systematically worked, through the denial of funds, and forcing changes in priorities and orientation, to whittle down the function and role assigned to these UN organisations in their original mandates. At the same time, they have bestowed unlimited resources on the IMF, World Bank and GATT to develop their capacity to undertake research and analysis in these areas. And now they claim that these latter organisations have a comparative advantage in these areas over the UN organisations.
This document includes just a few of the institutions that the world is likely to need in the 21st century. Some people may consider them overly ambitious, but others may consider them timid. Jan Tinbergen, 1969 winner of the first Nobel Prize for Economics, believes that we need nothing less than a world government. This may appear to be totally utopian today. But he points out: "The idealists of today often turn out to be the realists of tomorrow."
Member states have not been sitting idle when confronted with the imperative of change after the end of the cold war. During the last few years, they have taken a number of initiatives to restructure the economic and social sector of the UN system. At its 44th session, the General Assembly recommended a decisive shift of the operational programmes towards government/national execution and laid down detailed guidelines and made specific provisions on how to achieve this. The Third Committee of the General Assembly undertook a major exercise to restructure its agenda. Also, a review of ways and means of enhancing the complementary between the work of the General Assembly and that of ECOSOC is on the agenda.
The numerous proposals that have been put forward recently are intended to achieve the goals of an efficient institution - rationalisation; coordination; avoiding duplication; modernising management; improvement of competence and efficiency; reducing cost and reaping of comparative advantage. However, in many instances, underlying these lofty goals are conflicting national and group objectives to be pursued and interests to be served through these institutions.
Often the real purpose is to:
It is also important to bear in mind that no amount of restructuring and reform can substitute for the lack of political will of the industrialised countries to undertake commitments in good faith and adopt measures to implement them. A large part of the current confusion and disarray in dispensing technical assistance is due to failure of donor countries to implement resolutions already adopted by ECOSOC and the General Assembly, e.g., paying their dues to the United Nations.
Any reform proposal, to be acceptable, must meet the following tests:
a) It must be situated within the mandate of the United Nations given in the Charter.
b) It must be in conformity with the basic principles of the Charter, particularly the following:
c) It should be designed to achieve the agreed objective to be pursued through the activities of the UN.
d) It should be consistent with the democratic character of the UN and not seek to undermine or discourage contending views, plurality of thinking and diversity of approaches and strategies.
Decision-making in the United Nations is firmly based on the one-nation-one-vote rule. The Charter nowhere talks about decision by consensus. The consensus process of decision making has implicit in it the notion of only one or a handful of countries being able to block a decision, which amounts to excising a kind of a veto. Subsequently, it was realised that in UN forums other than the Security Council acting under Chapter VII, where nations assumed only moral obligations by virtue of being a party to resolutions or decisions on reluctant parties, by majority voting, did not serve any purpose. Therefore, in UN forums, and particularly in the Second Committee of the General Assembly and in UNCTAD, where resolutions imposed specific obligations like transferring resources, making trade concessions, etc., decisions were almost invariably taken by consensus or "without dissent". However, the consensus method of decision-making was never formalised, because it was regarded as a violation of Article 2(1). In resolution 1995 (XIX) establishing UNCTAD, a conciliation procedure was incorporated whereby a formal arrangement was made to allow time for conciliation on all issues "substantially affecting the economic and financial interest of particular countries" before resorting to voting. But the option of applying the usual UN procedure for voting was retained for taking decisions in cases where the conciliation procedure ended in a failure. The word "consensus" was nowhere used in this resolution. The first time the consensus procedure for taking decisions was explicitly provided for was in the General Assembly resolution 41/213 relating to decision-making by the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC). This resolution in paragraph 5 reaffirms that the decision-making process will be governed by the provisions of the Charter and the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly. Then in the next paragraph, it provides that "without prejudice to paragraph 5 above, the CPC should continue its existing practice of reaching decisions by consensus". There are three major qualifications. The Charter provision of decision-making will ultimately prevail; the word "should" (recommendatory) issued rather than the words "would" or will"; and it has been clarified that what is being provided for is nothing new but merely a continuation of the past practice.
Recently, however, these precautions have been cast to the wind and specific provisions are being made for consensus-making or consensus procedure of decision-making. Some of the reform proposals specifically provide for the consensus procedure of decision-making and also stipulate the requirement of "double majority" which could amount to a veto by either the group of recipient countries or donor countries. This is inconsistent with one of the fundamental principles of the Charter, the sovereign equality of States.
The approaching collapse of biospheric life-supporting systems and the clash between human demands and resource availability, together with growing social disintegration, point to the need for a new consensus amongst nations, communities and their people.
A lead in this direction from those driving the economic and political process can be ruled out. The second (private profit) sector largely supports the free-market uncontrolled economy, leaving responsibility with the third (private non-profit) sector whose voice must be more strongly heard at the level of global governance. Its tactics need to be carefully considered and coordinated and strongly represented at UN fora.
The essential element in achieving the turnaround from the present money, profit-centred society representing the interests of a small rich and powerful elite, to a people-centred society based on the continued needs of all world citizens is a vibrant, competent and issues driven United Nations. A range of key changes to the organisation are identified in this document. Their priorities need to be determined.
One of the most comprehensive and informed studies of UN systems reform is "Reviewing the United Nations System" by Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart. Both are recognised world authorities on the issue. While they support radical restructuring, Childers and Urquhart consider this would not be a practical alternative in the present political climate. So, instead, they recommend a wide range of measures that can be put in place without major upheavals and that could be implemented in a number of stages.
In their chapters "In a Time Beyond Warnings" that precedes the section on recommendations they state:
Other studies also of value, are the Stockholm Initiative, findings of the Interaction-Council, CAMDUN, the South Centre and the Secretary-General himself. None have been acted on. The present system suits many.
This report does not cover detailed changes, but concentrates on those parts of the system directly concerned with human, economic and ecological issues at macro-policy level.
All reports studied fail to give adequate attention to the issues of resource management and distributive equity. There remains, even amongst proponents of structural change, a lack of full appreciation of the concept of physical limits to growth and relationship to the scale of human activity.
Childers and Urquharts study identifies major problems of the UN system:
Criticism of the UN operations, mainly from the US corporate sector, is largely unfounded. UN staffing levels and administration costs are modest and small-scale compared to other government structures and commercial operations. For example, the Sunday edition of the New York Times uses more paper for one issue, that the UN uses in a year.
In 1992, it spent only 0.0005 per cent of CDP of the industrial countries, or $1.90 per person. This compares to $150 per person on military expenditures.
The proportion of the US financial payments is too great in proportion to the whole, giving the US excessive leverage, such as in the appointment of senior staff.
The UN staff are too far removed from peoples movements, as is the whole system. A wider support base is needed, as governments are mostly represented by civil servants. It is very dependent on how a small number of officials and media commentators interpret it.
The UN is in need of the adoption of a number of new paradigms:
a. World Governance and International Cooperation
The time is overdue for the United Nations to reorganise on the basis of the three major areas of responsibility. All are closely connected. A clear overview is required that recognises the most pressing need to deal with them effectively as a single major operation.
A more democratic and adequately funded United Nations is needed to deal effectively with these issues.
World governance is now necessary to match new global institutions of civil society with global reach. In addition, the new responsibilities of the UN for sustainability covered by Agenda 21, must be facilitated. Until a World Citizens Assembly is in operation, a close working relationship between organisations of the Third Sector, NGOs and CBOs in particular, building on the success of NGO contributions to UNCED and recognised in Chapter 27 of Agenda 21, should be established.
The best scientific and technological knowledge and expertise available within the Third Sector, must contribute to this challenge.
b. Understanding the Biosphere
To achieve such actions, decision-makers and their advisers must become aware of the physical constitution and functioning of the biosphere and so come to understand that it is a finite system under great stress from human activity; that its operations constitute a closed economic system in its own right; and that the global human economy, being entirely dependent on the biosphere, is a sub-set of the global economy. (See paper...).
c. Key moves
(i) The UN Charter
As the principal change needed is to recognise that sustainable development is dependent on achieving a permanent balance between the finite resources of the planet on the one hand, and the needs of human and animal populations, both currently existing and expected future populations, the UN Charter needs to spell out the following principles to guide all decision-making.
(ii) The Rio Declaration
This should be reviewed and strengthened. The concept of eco-crime could be introduced and the issue of responsibility for cross-border pollution and other ecological disturbances clarified in this or other documents.
(iii) Adoption of a Peoples Charter
(iv) Corporate Controls
The following structures should be applied to all profit-seeking corporations and institutions, including the BWIs:
Specific issues requiring top priority action are:
(d) Structural Changes - Priority 1
To reflect the three prime functions of the UN the following is recommended:
This would involve:
Other proposals for reform that justify further study are:
"Reviewing the UN System" recommends reform of the Bretton Woods Institutions be handled by a panel of eminent international experts to prepare a paper analysing the present deterioration of the world economy, and the instruments of multi-lateral management urgently needed to avert a North-South crisis that could lead to major instability.
The report also recommends that the Secretary-General calls for such a team of experts to include recommendations for the reform of the three agencies within the UN system; a low-interest capital lending facility; and a governed monetary fund, working closely with a similarly governed universal trade organisation.
Other recommendations are for the Secretary-General to mobilise support for a high-level UN monetary, financial and trade conference to bring about the changes recommended to the three Bretton Woods agencies.
Provision of finance and control of world monetary policy, global taxation measures, trade and macro-economic policy are discussed in a separate section of this report.
Global economic policy determination and implementation currently controlled predominantly by the BWIs must be brought under UN control as required by the Charter. Moves in this direction have been successfully resisted within the UN. It is therefore necessary to bring to public and national government attention, more forcibly than in the past, the human and environmental costs of allowing the agents of macro-business to determine policy in its favour.
The emergence of a global economy made possible by advances in communication technology has had major repercussions for both human welfare and the natural environment. Lack of any control system at global level has allowed the movement of capital to operate freely across national borders, so denying national governments control over their own economies. It has also allowed the acceleration of wealth accumulation with consequential lowering of incomes at the lower end of the income and wealth scales.
Bringing global economic policy under UN jurisdiction is, then, the most urgent of the issues facing the world community.
The framers of the UN Charter foresaw the need for a body to determine economic policy. It is a sad commentary on its members that they failed to understand the importance of these Charter provisions in allowing the BWIs to be operated outside the UN system.
The various matters that fall within global economic policy provisions include: