The West Votes against Development at UN
In the face of the present international situation, cooperation is essential to meet unprecedented challenges.
Western countries, joined by South Korea and Japan, voted this month against economic development and poverty reduction resolutions considered by the United Nations General Assembly. The stance of the Western countries and partners reflects the power of finance capitalism and its longstanding support for neoliberal economic policy to the detriment of developing nations.
The United Nations General Assembly Second Committee (Economic and Financial) recently adopted 38 of 41 resolutions. The West and partners voted against two resolutions of special importance. The first vote was 123 for to 51 against on the resolution “Eradicating Rural Poverty to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The second vote was 123 for to 50 against by the West and partners (Turkey abstained) the perennial resolution “Towards a New International Economic Order (NIEO).”
Clearly there is a stark division between the West and its partners and all of the “Rest”. Put in another way, the votes reflect the increasingly sharp contradiction between the developed “North” and the developing “Global South”. Two major powers, China and Russia, align with the Global South.
Failure of the Bretton Woods System
The international financial architecture erected in 1944 to serve the devastated post-World War II international community did not live up to its promises. Instead, it became machinery to impose finance capitalism around the world and to oppose alternate development models.
The International Monetary Fund was supposed to help states with balance of payment and debt problems. The International Bank for Reconstruction (IRBD), later called the World Bank (WB), was supposed to focus long term on development following a post-war reconstruction. Over the years, both institutions failed in their purpose owing to a variety of factors.
At the Bretton Woods conference, delegations from China, India, and Latin American countries voiced their concerns for development. But the IRBD/WB gave its primary attention to reconstruction rather than to development.
Developing countries also expressed a desire for an international financial system that would be friendly to developing countries. This meant that states exporting commodities be given attention and that alternate development models be supported. Alternate development models included state-led industrialization.
The prospects for a development focus were dashed by the Cold War and the “East versus West” bloc confrontation. This bloc confrontation was framed not only in political terms but also in economic terms. Thus, the antipathy of the West to various socialist models of development sharpened.
State-led industrial development was rejected. Significantly, the issue of financing development over the long term led to sharp debate over the degree of public and private financing.
Decolonization, Development, and UNCTAD
During the 1950s and 1960s, the process of decolonization brought many newly independent states into the international community. Naturally, economic development was at the forefront for them. To address the issue of development, 36 developing countries in 1962 joined together to create the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The first meeting occurred in 1964 in Cairo. The key issues addressed were: terms of trade by primary commodity exporters, development financing, and export-oriented strategies. At the conclusion of the conference, UNCTAD was made a permanent body within the UN system.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of UNCTAD during the 1960s and 1970s, there were no major results for the developing countries. It is not surprising that the developing countries then banned together as the “Group of 77” (G77) to call for a “new and just world economic order”. As a result, in 1974, a special session of the UN convened to promote negotiations and new initiatives to promote economic development.
The negotiations were inspired by recommendations of UNCTAD and aimed to promote cooperation among developing countries. The international context at the time included global economic and monetary instability owing to the disintegration of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates as well as other factors such as the 1973 oil crisis.
The Brandt Commission
In 1977, the “Independent Commission for International Developmental Issues” was established to research and make re commendations. The former German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, was nominated by Robert McNamara, then head of the World Bank, as chair. The report of the commission was released in 1980 and was called the “Brandt Report”.
The Brandt Report focused on the North-South divide and called for measures to overcome it. Issues such as poverty, health, housing, and education were considered. Additional issues included women in development, hunger and food, disarmament, energy, monetary reform, industrialization, and development finance.
“A new century nears, and with it the prospects of a new civilization”, Brandt said in 1983. “Could we not begin to lay the basis for that new community with reasonable relations among all people and nations, and to build a world in which sharing, justice, freedom and peace might prevail?”
The Washington Consensus
In the face of the progressive Brandt Report, international finance capital mounted a campaign against it. One result was what came to be called the “Washington Consensus,” so-called “free market” policy prescriptions proposed during the 1980s and 1990s. This consensus was associated with the imposition of neoliberal economic policies globally. Such policy prescriptions include: austerity, reduction of government spending, privatization, deregulation, free trade, and monetarism.
The decline in the West of a Keynesian consensus in the 1970s coupled with the end of the Cold War in 1988-89 and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave triumphalist proponents of “market fundamentalism” major play.
Today, the Washington Consensus forms the basis of the international economic policy of the United States and the West, critics say.
The recent votes in the United Nations General Assembly underscore the North-South divide. The West appears to insist on the Washington Consensus and opposes alternate development models.
“New Bretton Woods”
The international community faces a severe recession beginning in 2023, according to some experts. A combination of factors is leading to such an international economic crisis. The economic slowdown in Europe began in 2018-19 and then was followed by the Trump Trade and Tech wars and by the Covid crisis. To these factors, an energy crisis, a supply chain crisis, and a food crisis has been added compounding the problems facing the international community.
In the face of the present international situation, cooperation is essential to meet unprecedented challenges. Various mechanisms, platforms, and processes have been created in recent years to address development. The Belt and Road process, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Eurasian Economic Union, and BRICS are important initiatives.
Today, a “New Bretton Woods” conference with an emphasis on development as well as on the update and stabilization of the international monetary system must be considered.
The article reflects the author’s opinions, and not necessarily the views of China Focus.