Global Policy Forum

UN Millennium Summit in Danger of


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
August 2, 2005

The 60-year-old United Nations, criticised for its inherent structural political flaws, is so preoccupied with restructuring itself that the upcoming Millennium Summit is in danger of losing sight of one of its primary goals: a plan of action to primarily eradicate extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.

"Development was being moved to the back burner -- mostly by spreading the perception that issues surrounding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed upon and that there was nothing to negotiate," said Saradha Iyer of the Malaysian-based Third World Network, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that closely monitors the world body. The mandate of the summit was largely to take stock of the success and failures of implementing the MDGs adopted in October 2000.

But judging by current trends, says Iyer, the summit may end up focusing on peacekeeping, terrorism, human rights and reform of the Security Council. "The United Nations ought to focus on humanitarian/emergency crises and leave the security/terrorism issues to the big powers who know best," she told IPS. Iyer said that outlook is not very optimistic, "but let us not kid ourselves." The recent London and Egypt terror attacks, she said, will only strengthen the resolve of the United States to intensify its war "against all of us in the name of terrorism." Meanwhile, she said, "where things can and should work in favour of developing countries" i.e. in the trade arena, and in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on market access, appear headed for failure.

Described by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as potentially "the largest gathering of world leaders ever," the Millennium Summit is scheduled to take place Sep. 14-16 and is expected to be attended by 122 heads of state, 55 heads of governments and over 13 foreign ministers and senior officials.

At a press conference Tuesday, Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam International told reporters her organisation fears that the U.N. summit will fail to deliver real progress for the poorest and most vulnerable if it does not agree on "minimum commitments." She listed these commitments in four areas: meeting MDGSs; protection of civilians in armed conflicts; an arms trade treaty; and new responses to humanitarian disasters. "We are far off the target in meeting the MDGs by 2015," she said. At the summit, "we have to have a far more ambitious commitment to meet MDGs."

Reindorp said that world leaders meeting in September should also commit themselves first, to increase aid within a specific time table; second, to permit duty-free and quota-free access to exports from developing countries; and third, debt relief to the world's poorest nations. "This is the moment," she said, of the upcoming summit. "We have only 10 years left" for the 2015 deadline.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; promotion of gender equality; reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and a North-South global partnership for development. A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015. But their implementation has depended primarily on increased development aid by Western donors. The upcoming summit will not only review the progress made so far but also set the world's development agenda for the next decade.

"At the current rate of progress," Oxfam International said in a statement released last month, "many of the MDGs will be missed in many parts of the world." "Tragically, the target to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education has already been missed," it added.

Since last month, the 191-member General Assembly has been preoccupied with the proposed restructuring of the Security Council. The plan is to push through the proposal for approval by world leaders in September. "The formal introduction by Brazil, Germany, Japan, and India of a proposal to change the composition of the Security Council overshadows the MDGs that were expected to be the focus of the international community at the Millennium Summit," says an Asian diplomat. He pointed out that U.N. resolution 58/291 by which the General Assembly decided to convene a high level plenary session in September emphasised "the outcomes of the major U.N. conferences and summits in the economics and social fields."

These development-oriented themes were further highlighted when Annan initiated the 'Millennium Project' to develop "action points" for achieving the MDGs. "All those engaged directly or indirectly in development assumed that the September summit would review pursuit of the MDGs, and propose what more needs to be done so that the MDGs are achieved," he said.

But somewhere along the way, the MDGs have receded and the focus has instead been on political issues such as the composition of the Security Council, a new human rights body, anti-terrorism activities, and so on, the diplomat added. "These are all important issues," he noted. "Resolving all or some of them might help to buff Annan's legacy, and win him some friends when he sorely needs them. Their resolution will not, however, bring solace to the world's poor, hungry, and disconnected."

Meanwhile, the United States, which has expressed strong opposition to a proposed plan to expand the U.N. Security Council on the ground that there is no "broad consensus" for such a restructuring, has already warned about the potential failure of the upcoming summit. But it has its own hidden agenda.

"As we prepare for what will be a very busy September," said Shirin Tahir-Kheli, the U.S. State Department's senior adviser on U.N. reform, "I would like to reiterate our position that the high-level event to be held on the margins of the 60th session of the General Assembly should not become the focal point for United Nations reform." "We continue to believe," Tahir-Kheli told a General Assembly meeting as early as April this year, "that its principal focus should be on the implementation of the goals of the Millennium Declaration."

Ambassador Gunter Pleuger of Germany, who is one of the co-sponsors of a proposal calling for an expansion of the Security Council, told delegates last month that the General Assembly should come to a decision early enough "to leave the September summit free to deal with the development agenda and the MDGs." "If, however, we fail to make progress on this issue (of expanding the Security Council) before September, the success of the summit may be compromised and the repercussions of failed Security Council reform may hamper the implementation of the development goals for years to come," he warned.

Ambassador Michel Duclos of France told the General Assembly meeting in April that there are two important issues before the summit: first, the attainment of the MDGs, in particular, the need for development efforts to be stepped up; and secondly, the restructuring of multilateral institutions. "In this instance, we should ask ourselves what the cost of failure would be. We must have no illusions: let there be no mistake about the serious consequences of failure in September," he said. Duclos said the impetus to attain the MDGs "would be greatly weakened, and the credibility of our organisation would be damaged." Moreover, he said, Africa, whose special economic needs must be recognised during the summit, "would also suffer as a result of such a failure."

Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, whose country is opposed to an increase in permanent members in the Security Council, told the General Assembly last month that what is at stake is the success or failure of the September summit. "At stake is whether we can achieve important decisions on development and genuine U.N. reform, or squander our political energies on a selfish and ultimately fruitless demand of a few ambitious states for unequal privileges."

More Information on UN Reform
More Articles and Papers on the Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up
More Information on the Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up


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