Start creating a new world order

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THE name Willy Brandt probably doesn’t mean a lot to people of my generation, but it should. As the author of North-South - a Programme for Survival published in 1980, he completely redefined the debate on international relations between the rich and poor nations of the world.

Revisiting the Brandt Report in the current climate of international uncertainty is fascinating. A world which enters 2004 weighing up the relative threats of rogue nations and the remnants of the "axis of evil" is a world which needs a new order. The systematic undermining of the UN by the only remaining superpower on the planet - the United States - leaves a dangerous void which needs to be filled with a radical overhaul of our international institutions.

What is remarkable is that none of this is new. It is exactly the agenda proposed by Brandt all those years ago. He saw the need for reform of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF even if he underestimated the reluctance of those in control of those institutions to embrace change.

The tragedy of the uncertain times we live in is not that we have been taken unawares - rather, it is that all of this was predicted and we resolved to do nothing.

But maybe now we have a chance to make good that failing. As we enter a new year, I choose to be positive. In a post-war Iraq there is at least the possibility of peace in the longer term. Libya appears certain to re-enter the international community after an historic decision to abandon a weapons of mass destruction programme, while the Iranian tragedy of recent days may allow a flood of western aid and expertise to illustrate that there is more to the West than rampant imperial expansion.

In other words, if ever there was a time to embark on creating a new, fairer world order, this may be it.

THE central thrust of Brandt remains of piercing relevance. An acknowledgment of the mutual interest in bridging the gap between rich and poor for the purposes of global peace, stability and prosperity is precisely what has been lacking in recent times. The short-sighted doctrine of the assertion of one western mode of government and one western economic system over all others needs to be challenged. Diverse cultures, religions and traditions require different models of government, and demand the tolerance of a western world which must learn humility.

The policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are driven by the larger donor countries which makes it entirely unsurprising that the central criticism of them is that their actions reflect the foreign policy objectives of the largest economies. Consensual decision-making this is not. Resentment caused by that approach is unsurprising.

Economically, there is an equally urgent need for a rethink. Simply opening nations to global trade and to the ebb and flow of international markets without the necessary development of infrastructure has not worked. In any event, what is described as "free trade" is nothing of the sort. Subsidies and trade barriers ensure that genuine trading equality is an impossibility.

Aid giving can only ever be part of the answer. Simply throwing money at the problem will not work given the problems of bureaucracy and corruption. But that cannot be used as an excuse for inaction. Brandt called for 1 per cent of GNP from developed nations - at the turn of the millennium that figure stood at 0.21 per cent.

Unbelievably, the US gives 0.1 per cent. One tenth of one percent from the richest nation on earth is simply offensive. But those resources need to be pooled and co-ordinated in a way which simply has not happened.

Ensuring that resources are not wasted and that they do indeed aid development rather than prop up corrupt or inefficient practice is a key leadership challenge for the coming decade.

MOST of the estimated $57 billion development aid given every year is tied aid - seeking commercial or political advantage for the donor nation. A central, neutral administration of aid funding is an absolute priority. And before we get smug about that large amount of money - consider the enormous sums of money in interest payments on debt which flow back from the developing world to our coffers.

President Mbeki spoke to the Scottish Parliament a few years ago of inequality citing the fact that 80 countries in the world today have a lower per capita income than a decade ago. Moreover, half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. The need for change is obvious.

I do not for one second underestimate the difficulty of this reform agenda. Changing the UN, the World Bank and IMF while multiplying aid giving, ensuring international co-operation, abandoning tied aid and removing barriers to trade may seem a remarkable aspiration.

But if 2003 was about "winning" the war on terror, is it too much to hope that 2004 can see a declaration of intent to end world poverty? Real global leadership is precisely about setting such seemingly impossible goals, and then achieving them.

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