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Summits


Noam Chomsky

The

United Nations Summit in New York in September was the second major gathering of

government leaders marking the millennium. The first was the South Summit in

Havana in April. The UN Summit received considerable national publicity, while

the South Summit was barely reported, a reflection of the "imbalance"

in the global system that it deplored.

The

South Summit brought together heads of state of the "Group of 77"

(G77), now 133 countries, accounting for 80% of the world’s population. The name

G77 is carried over from the founding meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and

Development (UNCTAD) in 1964, attended by 77 of the "developing

countries." The April 2000 Summit was of unusual importance. The first

meeting ever at the level of heads of state, the Summit focused on the concern

that the South is "collectively endangered" by the global economic

system that has been instituted by the rich countries.

A

leading third world journal described the Summit as "a defining moment in

G77 history," ending on "a note of confidence and determination from

the leaders to work together to bring about a new world order based on equity

and fairness," with South-South cooperation as a centerpiece and a plan of

action seeking significant changes in the global system (Third World Economics,

Penang).

In

the New York Times Week in Review, UN correspondent Barbara Crossette reported

that the Summit "denounced the global economy and its symbols" (the

World Bank, IMF, and WTO), dismissing it as insignificant because "slogans

and oratory do little to illuminate the profound complexity of human development

in the new economic order." According to "development experts,"

for the poor "nothing could be more irrelevant than global theories or

rants against multinational corporations." "The experts," who

recognize the "profound complexities," prefer serious measures to deal

with them: for example, persuading multinationals to "help workers improve

their lives" and inducing "big international institutions" to

adopt policies that "work for all levels of society."

The

experts are also bemused by the "irony" that the World Bank is moving

"dramatically into social programs…just as protestors operating on

outdated images single it out for attack." Translating to the real world,

the World Bank is reacting to protestors who have been operating for years on

quite accurate images, as the experts now tacitly concede; whether the reaction

will pass beyond rhetoric depends substantially on the dedication of the critics

who are largely responsible for bringing it about.

Each

Summit produced a Declaration. The Declaration of the UN Summit consisted

largely of pieties, though at least one resolution had a certain bite: "to

encourage the pharmaceutical industry to make essential drugs more widely

available and affordable by all who need them in developing countries."

There is little need to elaborate on the extraordinary human catastrophes to

which the resolution alludes, and it is clear enough who bears the primary

responsibility to address them.

One

central topic, much discussed in commentary, was what Secretary-General Kofi

Annan described in his call to the Summit as "the dilemma of

intervention": "national sovereignty must not be used as a shield for

those who wantonly violate the rights and lives of their fellow human

beings." That much is generally agreed, at least at the rhetorical level.

But a rift appears with Annan’s next sentence: "In the face of mass murder,

armed intervention authorized by the Security Council is an option that cannot

be relinquished." The US and its allies, which monopolize military power,

adopt a very different stance: they insist on their unique right of armed

intervention without such authorization. Annan is relatively popular in the West

because of his efforts to accommodate the interests of the rich and powerful,

but in this case he sided with the South Summit, which rejects what it calls

"the so-called `right’ of humanitarian intervention" by the powerful

in violation of the UN Charter and "the general principles of international

law."

The

Declaration of the South Summit also "firmly reject[s] the imposition of

laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact and all other forms of

coercive economic measures, including unilateral sanctions against developing

countries." The Declaration calls on "the international community

neither to recognize these measures nor apply them," alluding obliquely to

US initiatives, primarily. The Declaration insists on "the right of

developing countries, in exercise of their sovereignty and without any

interference in their internal affairs, to choose the path of development in

accordance with their national priorities and objectives." It views

"with alarm the recent unilateral moves by some developed countries to

question the use of fiscal policy as a development tool," reiterates

"the fundamental right of each State to determine its own fiscal

policies," and reaffirms "that every State has the inalienable right

to choose political, economic, social and cultural systems of its own, without

interference in any form by other States." It calls for "reformulation

of policies and options on globalization from a development perspective,"

and is sharply critical of the specific forms of international integration that

have been imposed by concentrated political and economic power — what is called

"globalization" in Western rhetoric, often depicted as a neutral force

to which "there is no alternative," in Thatcher’s famous slogan.

These

calls are directed primarily to Washington. The same is true of the call to

"promote respect for all universally recognized human rights and

fundamental freedoms, including the right to development." The first part

is ritual incantation: the right to development the US has forcefully rejected.

For

the South Summit, "our highest priority is to overcome underdevelopment,

which implies the eradication of hunger, illiteracy, disease and poverty."

The UN Summit adopted similar wording. "Although this is primarily our

responsibility," the South Summit declares, "we urge the international

community to adopt urgent and resolute actions, with a comprehensive and

multidimensional approach, to assist in overcoming these scourges, and to

establish international economic relations based on justice and equity." It

goes on to deplore "Asymmetries and imbalances that have intensified in

international economic relations" to the severe detriment of the South, and

calls for reform of "international economic governance" and

"international financial architecture" to make them "more

democratic, more transparent and better attuned to solving the problems of

development," reviewing current problems in some detail.

The

Declaration also warns that "the prevailing modes of production and

consumption in the industrialized countries are unsustainable and should be

changed, for they threaten the very survival of the planet." Furthermore,

"technological innovations should be systematically evaluated in terms of

their economic, social and environmental impact, with the participation of all

the social sectors involved," including "groups that have not

traditionally been part of this process" — almost everyone. It calls on

"the developed countries to fulfil their commitment to provide developing

countries with financial resources and environmentally sound technologies on a

preferential basis." Further provisions, also elaborated in some detail,

will not be unfamiliar to the ranting protestors with their outdated images.

Annan’s

recommendations to the UN Summit included implementation of the Kyoto Protocol

on greenhouse gases; providing "the necessary resources" for the UN

"to carry out its mandates," specifically its "peacekeeping

operations"; debt relief; and "more generous [overseas] development

assistance" (ODA). In all of these categories, the US has a special

responsibility, though it is not alone.

The

US has been evading the Kyoto protocol, and has one of the worst records for

violating it: emissions have in fact considerably increased. The US is notorious

for its refusal to meet its funding obligations for the UN, including

peacekeeping operations. In July, the House and Senate Appropriations committees

again rejected an administration request for a miserly $107 million for

peacekeeping expenses in Kosovo and East Timor, while cutting the small request

for peacekeeping by almost 50%, to $500 million. Debt relief remains words, tied

to strict conditionalities ("reforms"). ODA has declined sharply in

the past 10 years, most radically in the US, which by now provides virtually

nothing, far less than other industrial countries as a proportion of GNP; by far

the leading beneficiary of the minuscule ODA budget is a rich country, Israel,

with Egypt second by virtue of its relations with Israel.

When

the Cold War ended, the conventional self-applause held that at last Western

elites could now act in accord with their ideals and treasured values. So they

did, expressing their ideals and values with great clarity as soon as there was

no longer any need for even cynical gestures to the poor, the space for

nonalignment having disappeared.

The

standard version holds that the end of the Cold War coincided with the discovery

that trade is more helpful to the poor than aid. Accordingly, Annan called on

the rich countries to open their markets to goods produced in the South. On that

they have been dragging their feet, while demanding free access for their own

products and services and using a variety of methods to impose their will. Among

these are trade barriers and subsidies that are direct or hidden "under the

rubric of `defense’," as remarked by then-World Bank chief economist Joseph

Stiglitz, deploring the mixture of liberalization and protectionism in the

mislabelled "free trade" regime, geared to the wishes of the masters

of the economy. Just as the South Summit was gathering the Clinton

Administration announced its opposition to a World Bank proposal to allow poor

countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to export to the US without tariffs

or quotas; that would provide "a huge economic advantage for those

developing countries," the New York Times reported, "going

significantly beyond the administration’s efforts to get Congress to forgive

their debts as they undergo economic reforms" — that is, facilitate the

takeover of their economies by Western firms. The World Bank and IMF endorse the

complaint of the South "that the United States and other rich nations are

using their enormous prosperity and technology to grow rapidly at the expense of

countries being left far behind by economic globalization" — to which we

should add that a similar process continues internally.

While

the Declaration of the UN Summit is more muted than that of the South, behind

the scenes the mood seems to have been similar. A good report in the Boston

Globe by John Donnelly is headlined "African leaders lash out,"

accusing the UN and the West of "keeping [the] continent in poverty."

The "overriding theme" of the African heads of state, Donnelly

reports, is that "the forces of globalization are enriching the West anew

while sentencing them to even more misery," essentially the message of the

South Summit. "They said the Western powers talked a good game about the

benefits of globalization to Africa, but then stood by as corporations plundered

riches from the continent," following the classic pattern, sometimes

assisted by World Bank programs: for example, the Bank’s demand for

privatization in Gambia, leading to elimination of the peanut industry by a

foreign buyer that shifted processing abroad so that the country now imports its

own product.

African

leaders pointed out that the "voices in the street" in the West are

repeating what "the developing countries have been saying for many years in

various international fora with little success." Several suggested that

"an alliance was possible." That has been taking shape at the

grass-roots level, an impressive development, rich in opportunity and promise,

and surely causing no little concern in high places.  

 

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