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The UN and the Principle of Sharing
By Mohammed Mesbahi and Dr Angela Paine
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human rights. All the world’s nations agreed that every human being in the world had the right to adequate food, water, housing, healthcare, education, political participation and employment. Almost sixty years later, a global economic system based on competition and profit has failed to provide these essentials for the majority of the world. 800 million people are still starving to death in a world of plenty and the gap between the rich minority and the poor majority has increased and continues to increase.
The global economy needs to be reformed or replaced, and the United Nations is currently the only international body through which such fundamental economic change can be facilitated. The only way the UN can address gross poverty and inequality is by sharing the world’s resources.
The UN was set up by the victors of the Second World War: America, Britain, France, Russia, China, with the primary objective of maintaining peace and security in the world. Since the 1960s the UN has held a series of international conferences as they realised that poverty in the south was as big a challenge as world peace-keeping. These conferences have addressed many issues, including the environment, population, food, women, human settlements, employment, water and desertification. Unfortunately it is impossible to enforce agreements from these conferences because member states are not accountable to a higher international authority. There is only moral pressure to deliver on commitments. The only force that can make governments implement what they have agreed to is the force of popular disapproval.
The World Bank, IMF and WTO
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both established immediately after the Second World War, are technically part of the UN. The IMF was originally set up to lend money to governments in order to stabilize the international monetary system. But Edward Holloway, British economist at the time, already predicted that it would lead to un-payable indebtedness between nations.
By 1971, the IMF had re-written its articles of association in order to grant itself permission to interfere in almost any aspect of a country’s governance. Instead of facilitating stable exchange rates and helping countries protect themselves against financial fluctuations, it began pushing aside any and all obstacles to capital flow and unfettered profit. This was virtually the opposite of its original mandate. At the same time, the un-payable indebtedness of the poorest countries was becoming apparent.
By the 1980s, Wall Street and the United States Treasury Department were inextricably linked with and able to influence the World Bank. Instead of facilitating investment on behalf of the local poor economies, the World Bank began providing and withholding loans in order to facilitate corporate access to these countries. They financed more and more projects that would benefit major corporations.
The World Bank began to impose stringent conditions, known as ‘Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs)’, on recipient countries, forcing them to adopt reforms. Conditions for the majority of the third world worsened as a result.
As long as developing countries continue to be dominated by debt repayments as part of a ‘debt sustainability’ framework, the World Bank and IMF cannot honestly claim that they are working for poverty reduction or financing development. Debt relief comes with conditions which undermine the sovereignty of the people of the countries affected, and keeps the economies of the south tied to the interests of global corporate profit.
In 1995 the WTO was formed to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It’s apparently democratic aims were to lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers in order to increase international trade. However, although 149 countries are members of the WTO, it does not function democratically. The majority of the world’s poor countries are not permitted to influence the WTO’s predetermined trade talk agendas.
This has resulted in global trade rules which favour the economically dominant countries. The trade agreements have stripped away trade barriers previously imposed by third world countries in order to protect their fragile home-grown industries, their environment and their social institutions. At the same time the rich countries pay out huge subsidies to protect their own industries.
Over the years the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO have gained more and more power and, rather than serving the interests of the UN, seek to dictate UN policies in a completely undemocratic fashion.
Creating a Renewed and Effective United Nations
The UN needs to become more democratic, more efficient and above all, more powerful. It needs to change in order to meet the urgent needs of those living in poverty. Democratic change must not be dictated by the neoconservative administration of the US or corporate interests. The UN was created in order to promote peace and human rights for every member of the human race. Sharing the world’s resources will greatly facilitate this process by creating a fairer economy and fostering peaceful relations between nations.
Change to the structure and funding of the UN is most likely to come about as a result of pressure from member countries and the global public. Civil society groups are plentiful, growing in number and size, and forming alliances. Below are outlined the major changes that need to be implemented if the UN system is to be effective in achieving its crucial humanitarian mandate.
1. Dissolve the Security Council
The UN must be freed from the constraints of the Security Council Veto. The Security Council is a relic of the Second World War and should not hold the powerful position within the UN that it does today. A truly democratic United Nations should not have to concede to the veto of the victors of a war which took place sixty years ago.
The Security Council must be dissolved and the General Assembly must take its place as a democratic world council, without veto powers. In this way, matters of security, economy and human rights can be dealt with in a democratic fashion, to the benefit the majority of the world.
2. Implement Global Taxation to fund the UN
Clearly the current system of funding doesn’t work. The current level of funding wouldn’t provide enough money to run the UN properly even if every member state paid their dues on time. A United Nations dependent on the meagre alms meted out to it by reluctant nations can never carry out the work needed to protect human rights. Global taxes would produce far greater and more reliable revenue and result in a properly funded UN, able to carry out its policies.
If the UN was funded by global taxation, it would be freed from the constraints of its members. It would be able to carry out the reforms needed to transform itself into the democratic, effective organisation that the world needs. It would be in a position to enforce international legislation and to overhaul global economic structures making them subservient to its needs. It would be able to curb the power of corporations making them subservient to human rights.
Several forms of global taxation have been put forward- even by the UN itself, before the US forced it to withdraw these proposals by threatening to continue its non-payment of dues in 1997. These include taxes on the arms trade, the trading of currencies, air transport and pollution.
The adoption of any number of such taxes would provide the UN with adequate resources to carry out the millennium goals. International taxation would rid the poorer countries of the burden of payment (always in dollars) of UN dues. International taxation would prevent any one country from having undue influence on UN policies.
3. Adopt the Principle of Sharing
In order to fulfil its humanitarian mandate and secure basic human needs across the world, a new economic system based on sharing essential resources, such as land, food, water and medicine, must be implemented. A system of sharing would be based on cooperation, not competition. It would replace existing aid and development structures and would exist alongside an overhauled market-based economy that can continue to supply non essential goods.
4. Restore the UN’s democratic control over the Global Economy
The UN was originally intended to oversee all aspects of the global economy, including the decisions and practices of the international trade and finance institutions. In order for the UN to create a democratic and fair global economy, it needs to be freed from the constraints imposed on it by the World Bank, IMF and WTO. Given the inherent bias of these three institutions, it is essential that they are progressively decommissioned. Their mandates must be transferred back to the United Nations agencies which have all the necessary experience to regulate and support international trade, finance and development.
Through global cooperation and sharing resources for development purposes, the World Bank would be rendered largely redundant and any remaining development funding requirements could be administered through the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Under a system of sharing, a significant proportion of commercial goods would be cooperatively owned and distributed by the global public under the auspices of the United Nations. This would dramatically reduce dependence upon foreign exchange reserves in developing countries. All remaining trade could be regulated through the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), allowing the WTO to be progressively dismantled. The remaining trading system should utilise an inherently balanced mechanism such as an International Clearing Union, as initially proposed by John Maynard Keynes.
All multilateral debt must also be completely forgiven. Balanced trading between nations and the removal of debt burdens would mean less chance of countries experiencing major balance of payment deficits. The IMF too could then be progressively dismantled. When there is a need for short term emergency foreign exchange loans, a new UN based Finance Organisation could lend money and provide the necessary expertise in a pro-development manner and without corporate influence.
The neo-liberal, US-based global economic system must come to an end and the economic power and political influence of corporations must be curbed. Corporations must be made subservient to social needs and human rights.
The UN must also push forward international legislation to put a stop to currency speculation. And there must be an end to the profligate waste of money and resources on the production of arms. International legislation, as agreed by the UN, regarding arms limitation, must be respected.
Sharing the World’s Land
Land is the world’s most important resource; it is the provider and sustainer of life. Each and every one of us has an equal birth-right to the earth. In his essay “The Problem of the Modern World” John Mohawk states, “When land became a ‘commodity’ and lost its status, Western civilization began its history of subjugation and exploitation of the earth and earth based cultures.”
All over the world land ownership has gradually been eroded away, leaving the world majority landless. The United Nations, who recently carried out a survey of land ownership in 83 countries, found that three quarters of the land was owned by less than 5% of the population. For example, in Brazil 183,397 square miles belongs to 342 land owners, while the white minority in South Africa still own 86% of the land, and in El Salvador 2% of the population own 60% of the land.
At the present time the distribution of land worldwide has deteriorated to the worst level ever as a result of land and property speculation, resulting in a modernised feudal system, where a tiny minority control most of the world’s land and the majority pay exorbitant rents or interest on mortgages.
The World Health Organisation stated in 2002 that: “The Human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.”
According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water, while 2.4 billion lack proper sanitary provision. Water privatization exacerbates the situation since people living in the poorest parts of the world cannot afford to pay for water.
Yet in recent years the concept of the right to water has been eroded by water privatization. In 1997 the World Water Council held its first World Water Forum in Morocco. CEOs from some of the world’s largest water corporations, together with representatives from the World Bank and the United Nations met together to discuss the deregulation and privatization of water. In 2000 the World Water Council held their second World Water Forum in Holland to consider how they could accelerate this process.
With the backing of the World Bank and their structural adjustment programs, the water corporations were able to overcome all objections to the removal of the universal right to water, reclassifying it as an economic good, rather than a human right.
Access to Medicine and Basic Healthcare
Every member of the world should be provided with free health care. In the past in the third world, public health and sanitation measures have, to a limited extent, kept certain diseases under control. But third world debt payments and structural adjustments, imposed by the World Bank, have caused a breakdown of these already meagre public health measures.
600 million people, most of them children living in sub-Saharan Africa, face the daily threat of death from malaria. Economic upheaval, armed conflict, structural adjustment programs and third world debt have caused the breakdown of anti-malarial control programs and the collapse of local primary health services in the third world.
An estimated 38.6 million people are infected with HIV, compared to a phenomenal 350-500 million who suffer from malaria each year. Yet funding for the treatment of HIV worldwide at $8.3 billion dwarfs the $600 million funding for malaria control.
1.8 million people, 90% of whom are under five, die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, mostly in the third world. These children could be saved by the provision of health education for their parents together with affordable clean drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities.
We the People…
There has been much talk in recent years about the need for a ‘global shift’ in consciousnesses. This shift has, in fact, already occurred. But it is the entrenched global economic system which prevents humanity from moving forward in line with this shift. Our minds are heavily conditioned, and it is only through our complacency that politicians have been allowed to construct an economy which is based on competition and ruthless self interest.
We must acknowledge our role in creating the conditions of injustice that condemn so many to absolute poverty. Most importantly, we must participate in the creation of a just world, which benefits the majority. The United Nations has the potential to assist greatly in establishing a true global democracy which can allow the individual to evolve socially, economically and above all spiritually. We must give the UN our full support.
In order for global participation to become a reality, it is essential that people understand more about the UN. The aims and activities of the UN and its agencies should be taught in schools around the world in an effort to raise awareness of its vital role for humanity. Society at large, must recognize the important historical role the UN has played with respect to governance, and consider how the UN can be renewed for the future benefit of the global public.
Central to the work of the United Nations is the conviction that lasting international peace and security are only possible if the economic and social well-being of people everywhere is assured. The only way this can be secured is through a new economic system, based on the principle of sharing.
An effective UN, acting in the interests of the majority, can ensure that resources which are essential for meeting basic human needs are universally provided. This provision must be free from the self interest of national governments, and political thinking must be free from divisive ‘isms’- such as communism, socialism and capitalism.
The measures set out above can progressively eliminate poverty and rapidly accelerate international development efforts far beyond their current potential. At the present rate of overseas development assistance, the Millennium Development Goals will not be reached by 2015, but by 2050. And even if the goals were met in time, there would still be 900 million people living on less than US$1 a day in 2015. Sending financial aid is not enough. A system of sharing essential resources should replace all existing aid and development efforts, as they are simply too slow and ineffective.
A reformed UN system can provide the necessary framework for a new global economy based on cooperation and not competition. In order to initiate economic reform, a new agency should be created, such as a UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS). The first activity the UNCRS should undertake is to initiate an UN emergency redistribution program (UNERP) to re-distribute food and other essential resources to those living in extreme poverty.
Sharing the world’s resources is the most efficient way to eliminate poverty and create social and economic justice. It has the potential for uniting nations through cooperative action and establishing peaceful international relations.
Mohammed Mesbahi is the Chair and Founder of Share The World's Resources (www.stwr.net) and Dr Angela Paine is STWR's chief researcher.
This is an edited version of the longer article which can be found here
© Copyright 2006 Share The World's Resources (www.stwr.net)