Global Policy Forum

New War of Words in UN's North-South Battle


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
June 8, 2006

Click here to view the NGO letter to Secretary Rice

The growing North-South battle between the politically powerful nations in the industrial world and the economically weak countries in the developing world is threatening to escalate in a new war of words.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has remained supportive of his deputy Mark Malloch Brown for his critical remarks about the United States and Western powers, told reporters Thursday that the United Nations is suffering from a shortage of democracy in its own backyard. "I myself have had the chance to say that the U.N., in terms of power structure, is too narrowly based, where most member states believe that five countries call the shots," he said referring to the five veto-wielding, permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

And some adjustments will have to be made, Annan said. "In fact, in the past, I've even referred to a democracy deficit in the way we govern the United Nations." The United States, Japan, Canada, and the 25-member European Union -- which collectively pay over 82 percent of the U.N.'s proposed 3.8 billion dollar regular budget for 2006-2007 -- are demanding that unless there are far-reaching changes in the management of the world body, they will continue to impose spending caps on the organisation.

Using their financial clout, they have forced a six-month spending limit that ends Jun. 30. And if no budget is approved before that deadline, the world body could be forced to shut down. "Quite frankly, I think we are all too excited and nervous about this budget issue," Annan told reporters. "I do not see a major budget crisis at the end of this month. The (191) member states ought to be able to work it out. They all have interests in this organisation, and I think it is an issue."

The 132-member Group of 77 (G77), the largest single coalition of developing countries, has refused to knuckle under Western threats. Last month, it outvoted the Western industrial nations on a disputed resolution aimed at transferring budgetary power to a small group of rich countries. "We thank them for paying 82 percent of the budget, but we are saying that doing so does not entitle them to have a larger voice and to then decide for the rest of the membership, because that goes against the Charter (which lays down the principle of one country, one vote)," the G77 chairman, Ambassador Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo of South Africa, told reporters last month.

In an interview with IPS last month, Malloch Brown described the ongoing North-South conflict as "numbers versus pocketbooks". But then again, he said, "In a way it is a breakdown of legitimate governance in the organisation: a sense that developing countries have been marginalised in decision-making which has led us to where we are." "So for countries to sort of bring the big boot to bear -- 'that we control 82 percent of the budget' -- merely exacerbates a sense of exclusion which is already there," he added. "I am with the G-77 on this one. I think it is a very imprudent tactic by donor countries to threaten that crude financial power," he said.

In a speech Wednesday, Malloch Brown raised this issue once again, triggering a strong protest from Bolton. "You will lose the U.N. one way or the other," Malloch Brown warned. He also said that in recent years, "The enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage."

Responding to Malloch Brown's remarks, Bolton told reporters Wednesday: "I am concerned at this point at the very wounding effect that this criticism of the United States will have in our efforts to achieve reform." "And this isn't the first time the deputy secretary-general has done this." Bolton said Malloch Brown "gave an interview a few weeks ago that criticised the United States and the other major contributors. This is very serious. This is very serious."

In a statement issued Wednesday, John D. Podesta, chief executive officer of the Centre for American Progress and Richard C. Leone, president of the Century Foundation, said that Malloch Brown delivered "remarkably candid remarks before a conference sponsored by our two organisations, in which he called for greater U.S. leadership in strengthening the United Nations leadership which is clearly lacking."

In their joint statement they also said that the deputy secretary-general's address revealed an understandable frustration with the current lack of U.S. support for the world's premier international organisation. The statement said that Bolton reacted to the speech by calling it "the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen". In typical fashion, Bolton responded with a threat: To have the deputy secretary general criticise the United States in such a manner can only do harm to the United Nations. "The unfortunate truth is that there has been an absence of constructive leadership by this administration in supporting and guiding the premier multilateral institution: an institution the United States helped create in order to achieve greater international peace and security," the statement added.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 42 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has written to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging Washington "to eschew brinksmanship and articulate its priorities for U.N. reform and to initiate diplomatic efforts to resolve differences so that United Nations can continue its life-saving work." The coalition -- which includes Citizens for Global Solutions, United Nations Association of the USA, Oxfam America, Refugees International, CARE-USA and American Friends Service Committee -- said that "mistrust at the United Nations is at an all-time high". In its letter, the coalition told Rice: "A concrete and specific listing of U.S. reform priorities could do much to help convince other nations that we aim to improve, not undercut, the U.N." "If we rely only on ultimatums and U.S.-imposed timelines -- tactics that have failed to yield results so far -- we risk exacerbating tensions and undermining the chances of reform."

And strategies that threaten to disrupt or delay continued funding for the United Nations will further isolate the U.S. and undermine the U.N.'s ability to carry out ongoing, critical activities, such as peacekeeping, nuclear inspections, support for democratic processes in the Middle East, and humanitarian relief missions. This is particularly so "at a time when the U.S. is calling for the U.N. and other nations to do more to confront the difficult challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Darfur," the coalition warned.

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