Noam Chomsky on World Summits and How They are Looked At
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
World Summits Yield Remarkable Contrast
This commentary by Noam Chomsky is being circulated by Z Magazine. You can find them on the WWW at http://www.zmag.org
by 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 so-called 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.
Noam Chomsky is a troublemaking observer and commentator on world events, and a professor in the Linguistics and Philosophy department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our thanks to Z Magazine for this article.
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