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UN World Summit starts - will it end in chaos?

by canberra boy Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 03:15:30 AM EST

promoted and updated fromthe diaries ~ whataboutbob

UPDATED Today begins the largest-ever gathering of international leaders at the UN Headquarters in New York, the likely outcomes are still unclear and the world's media has hardly covered the event.

And the looming question is whether the US and Ambassador John Bolton in particular will stymy hopes for reform of the UN.

After months of discussions, a 38-page draft outcomes document was presented to the General Assembly in August.  Three weeks ago, Ambassador Bolton asked for some 750 changes, objecting to references to the International Criminal Court, action on global warming and increases in development aid.   At the same time, he insisted on greater commitment to tackling terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

The changes proposed by the US, and Bolton's personally combative approach to negotiations, have put even major US allies like the UK and Australia offside.  As Fran highlighted at European Tribune on Saturday, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made calls to foreign ministers around the world over the weekend.  This followed a personal plea to Condoleezza Rice for the US to withdraw opposition to plans for reform of the UN, during which he asked Ms Rice to rein in Bolton.  I understand that Australian diplomatic reporting from New York, normally not critical of the US given the sensibilities of our Government, has been openly disparaging of Bolton's approach.

According to The Guardian, "Ambassadors from more than dozen key countries also met yesterday to try to break the deadlock on plans for UN reform but appeared to make little progress".

Officially the High Level Plenary Meeting of the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly , the 2005 World Summit has been convened for 14-16 September to discuss UN reform and the status of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to tackle a range of socio-economic issues.  The meeting is expected to be attended by some 180 heads of state or heads of government.

According to the independent website Global Issues:

The main purpose for this World Summit is to review progress since the Millennium Declaration, adopted by all Member States in 2000. This Declaration contained what became known as the Millennium Development Goals. These goals, which all 191 member states have pledged to meet, all for 2015, include:
  • A halving of hunger and poverty;
  • Attaining universal primary education;
  • Drastic reductions in child and maternal mortality;
  • Promoting gender equality;
  • Improved environmental sustainability;
  • A fairer global trading system; and
  • Reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases.
The above would form a major part of the Summit dubbed "Freedom from want." Other issues that the Summit would be addressing include:
*    Security (Freedom from fear)
*    Human rights (Freedom to live in dignity)
*    UN reform (Strengthening the United Nations)

Most readers will understand that trying to get agreement from 191 members and several major negotiating blocs about detailed proposals on these subjects is extremely hard.  Negotiations over many months have therefore needed to strike a balance between many developing nations' concern about strengthened human rights mechanisms and some rich countries' objections to prescriptive aid and development targets.  The security section of the earlier draft communiqué sought to discourage nuclear weapons proliferation while encouraging nuclear disarmament by existing nuclear powers.

Two areas of proposed UN reform are particularly interesting.  One is to reform the Security Council by either expanding the number of permanent members from the present (and original) five (US, UK, China, France & Russia), or creating new 'renewable' seats.  A series of draft General Assembly resolutions have been presented, mostly aiming to provide better representation of geography, economic and political power and population.

The second proposal is to abolish the Human Rights Commission, which according to the UN Secretariat is "now regarded by many as largely discredited".  In its place a new standing Geneva-based Human Rights Council would be created, elected directly by at least a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, rather than solely by nomination of regional groups.

Into all this stepped John Bolton with his 750 changes.  The Guardian noted at the time that there were differing theories about why such substantial disagreement had only emerged late in the process, but

The document reflects Mr Bolton's belief that the assertion of US interests should almost always take precedence over the search for compromise with an international community that includes despotic and corrupt regimes.

Of particular interest is the repeated deletion of the word "disarmament" in the section on nuclear arms. The Bush administration wants global counter-proliferation strategy to focus exclusively on preventing more countries acquiring nuclear weapons. It is seeking to play down the importance of reducing the stockpiles of the established nuclear powers, as it has plans to overhaul its own arsenal and develop new weapons, such as nuclear "bunker busters".

The removal of any mention of the Millennium development goal for rich countries to donate 0.7% of their gross national product to the developing world, marks a final break with the pledge agreed by the Clinton administration [this had been a UN target for over 30 years - cb]. US overseas development assistance is below 0.2% and near the bottom of the league.

The Washington Post said that Bolton's major changes would:

  • eliminate new pledges of foreign aid to impoverished nations;
  • scrap provisions that call for action to halt climate change and urge nuclear powers to make greater progress in dismantling their nuclear arms;
  • strengthen language on action against terrorism, promoting human rights and democracy, and halting the spread of the world's deadliest weapons;
  • strike any mention of the Millennium Development Goals and focus instead on the Monterrey Consensus, a 2002 summit in Mexico that focused on free-market reforms, and required governments to improve accountability in exchange for aid and debt relief; and
  • impose greater oversight of U.N. spending and eliminate any reference to the International Criminal Court.

One should never underestimate the ability of negotiators to reach agreement on the text of major communiqués such as this one. However, faced with a hardline approach from Washington, there is every chance that the agreed text will be anodyne.

Blair, Bush and Howard will likely proclaim the outcome a major step in the `War on Terror(ism)', but the Millenium Development Goals may well be neglected.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

It's 2.00am in Canberra, so I'm off to bed.

Anyone want to bet that the White House would like to have a fight at the UN this week to distract attention from Katrina?

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 11:57:48 AM EST
Posting about Bolton and then going to bed...hope you don't have bad dreams.

This is a very significant meeting, and I wonder if there will be a rebellion against Bolton on this? I don't know UN protocol at all, but can the other nations just reject the motions he has made? I suppose the threat is that Bush will just not pay the UN fees (which is the barrel the UN has always been over with the US...money).

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 12:29:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But hasn't the US been withholding the money anyway? I seem to remember something in that direction. What if the world would ignore and maybe even exclude the US. I know, I know... not very realistic, but it really could or should be an option. It would be interesting to see what the Bush would do. I mean the US depends just as much, or even more on the world, as the world does on the US. Well, I guess a girl might dream as sometimes dreams come true. :-)
by Fran on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 12:40:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, US has been withholding money.  The way these meetings work is that the negotiation occurs over an acceptable text for a communiqué.  Because it has to be agreed by every country, you get a lowest-common-denominator outcome.  As Bob pointed out, the threat is that the US would walk away if the rest of the world ganged up on them.  Most countries wouldn't want that.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 05:31:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
UN set for difficult development debate

The underlying deal in the negotiations is that richer countries will help poorer ones, and in exchange the UN will reform itself and will also be given greater powers to intervene in failed states.

A Convention against Terrorism, to be completed next year, is on the agenda. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair is also calling for a resolution opposing terrorism during the summit.

However, one key reform, the possible enlargement of the Security Council, has got bogged down and will not be settled at this session.

The clash of philosophies can be seen most clearly in the arguments about development.

Basically, the Bush administration believes that the free market will spread prosperity far more widely and quickly than UN and government-led targets. This happened, it argues, in the Asia-Pacific region with the growth of economies such as South Korea and Malaysia.

And there is this quote by Dr Claire Melamed of Christian Aid:

The point of this summit was to make a step forward. The United States want to take a step back
by Fran on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 01:05:28 PM EST
You can follow the progress of the summit via this UN resource page.  Follow link to News Centre.
by ask on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 02:02:16 PM EST
Thanks for this key link, ask.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 05:15:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure thing.
Already quite chaotic outside the Secretariat (I walked past this morning) where delegations and press are obtaining accreditation/IDs.  Lots of vehicles from the broadcast media with their dishes being positioned.  Security and traffic nightmare expected Wednesday and Thursday in large sections of Manhattan.
by ask on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 05:29:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I gather the UN has run an advertising campaign to prepare New Yorkers for the disruption, saying "every one's a delegate"!
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 05:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, you followed the link bottom left at the Summit-page?
Good to get stuff like that in perspective.
by ask on Mon Sep 12th, 2005 at 05:46:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Newt Gingrich on the US agende in the UN: A limited UN is best for America

And the world seems to give in to the US again: Major compromises may salvage UN summit


On terrorism, the draft deletes a definition that would describe deliberate killings of civilians as unjustified. But it also skips Arab proposals that would refer to the right to resist foreign occupation.

I don't know exactly how much the US fees to the UN are, but the EU seems to be a major donor - so why doesn't it use its position?

As head of the 25-member European Union, which collectively pays 38 percent of the U.N. dues, Britain drafted several compromise provisions that delegates accepted.
by Fran on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 03:00:48 AM EST
Thanks, Fran.  I hadn't checked progress myself, but as i suggested in the diary the natural tendency is to seek a compromise outcome that keeps everyone engaged.

I suspect we'll see lots of MSM coverage over the next two days as the leaders give speeches.

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 04:12:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From New York Times:
"What we can say now is that we will have a document that will reflect what is politically possible right now among 191 members," said Gunter Pleuger, the German ambassador.
"It may not be the great reform idea that Kofi Annan put into the world two years ago and might not meet with the excitement of all member states and of the press, but it will be an important step in the direction of a basic reform of the U.N.," he said.
(my emphasis)
by ask on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 03:42:29 PM EST
I heard a radio news report from NY this morning saying that agreement had been reached, with the final accommodation involving other countries agreeing to the US's definition of terrorism in exchange for the US committing to an aid target (although apparently less than the existing agreed target of 0.7% of GDP.  The US had earlier agreed to some sort of reference to the Millenium Development Goals after first opposing any mention at all.

It would appear that major structural change to the Security Council has been postponed at best.

A new BBC scene-setting analysis piece Poverty and the World Summit is worth reading.

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 08:07:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi CB,
I just posted this over at BT:
Well isn't that absolutely f*cking brilliant...
The goal of 0.7% of BNP for development aid has been long established:
    * The donor governments promised to spend 0.7% of GNI on ODA (Official Development Assistance) at the UN General Assembly in 1970 -- some 35 years ago as of writing
    * The deadline for reaching that target was the mid-1970s.
    * By 2015 (the year by when the Millenium Development Goals are hoped to be achieved) the target will be 45 years old.

This target was codifed in a United Nations General Assembly Resolution, and a key paragraph says:

Click the link to read the rest.

So Bolton got the other countries to accede to the US definitions on terrorism, while securing a reduction in the target for development aid.  A big thank you to those who negotiated on behalf of the sane world. </sn>

This was a bad outcome...

by ask on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 09:38:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did hear on a BBC news report that the terrorism difnintion had been watered down to a meaningless generality, but I can't find a link at the moment.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 03:07:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, BBC's Paul Reynolds:
The problem was the definition of terrorism.

There have been a number of UN resolutions against terrorism in general and against specific acts, such as hijackings and bombings, but a clear and agreed definition has been lacking.
In the end, no definition was agreed though terrorism "in all its forms" is condemned.

And here's the Guardian's analysis:

Campaigners and diplomats who favoured a bold approach put much of the blame for the failure on John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, who introduced hundreds of late changes to the original document.
by ask on Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 07:16:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An alphabetical listing of OECD countries and their contributions to ODA.
Only five countries surpass the 0.7% target:  Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden (curiously, all these countries also rank high on the Human Development Index). (pdf-doc)
by ask on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 09:58:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm tempted to say that their more enlightened attitude to ODA may be linked to a more enlightened set of domestic health, welfare and education policies.  This theory may be shot down, though, by observing that Australia, Canada, Ireland , Belgium, Japan and the US also appear at the top of the HDI table, but have low percentages of GNP for ODA.  Belgium and Ireland do better than the others, I should acknowledge.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Tue Sep 13th, 2005 at 10:49:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And it's actually a significant political issue in Ireland that we aren't going to make our aid target on time. The Taoiseach is announcing a new target date for us to get to 0.7% today. I'm assuming it will be well after the latest possible date for the election.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 03:27:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]

From an opinion piece in the FT by Anatol Lieven, "a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington and author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism "

For most Britons, Pakistan's current local elections could hardly be of less concern. But just as political developments in Algeria and Morocco now affect the Arab population of France, so, in a sense, do elections in Pakistan take place in Bradford, Leeds and Leicester.

As the first wave of London bombings in July so cruelly emphasised, developments in western Europe and parts of the Muslim world are intertwined. Instability and extremism in certain Muslim lands have the power to damage Europe badly. Therefore, just as France should lead a massive European Union programme to help the Maghreb, so Britain should lead the EU in creating a development strategy for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

This is not so much a question of more aid as of a strategic approach to aid. Given the security threat it presents to the west, this region should take precedence over non-Muslim Africa. The commitment by Tony Blair, British prime minister, to help Africa is honourable but in terms of British interests, Africa has to come second.


If anarchy and a Taliban restoration in Afghanistan are to be prevented, western forces will have to remain in the country for a generation. Britain's role there seems set to increase once UK troops leave Iraq. Any disasters in Afghanistan or Pakistan will undoubtedly be used by Islamist terrorists to recruit British Muslims. So in helping Lahore, we are also helping Leeds.

Here's an idea: stop pissing off and screwing everyone in the middle east the whole damn time and maybe all these oil and resource rich countries might have a chance to get their act together. Meanwhile, do mind if we try to do something about bloody Africa? Wanker.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 04:04:26 AM EST

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