The Values of the G-77 Are More Actual Than Ever

As the founder of Inter Press Service, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, let me share some reflections, which are of course my personal views, as I do not belong to the intergovernmental system.  If I look at the enthusiasm and hope that marked 1964, where we all hoped to build a more balanced and just system of international relations, where solidarity was a key word, and at the sense of gloom and stagnation that marks international relations today, I cannot but reflect on what went wrong.  The fact that millions of citizens today in various Gallup polls worldwide look to the world not as an element of stability, but as a serious factor of incertitude, must be an important consideration.  I will, therefore, present my personal opinion on what went wrong, and why we are in the present global incertitude.

At the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, everybody applauded the end of the cold war, and to the unfreezing of a world divided into two blocs, the east and the west.  Many wrote about the peace dividends: reduction in armament would go to international cooperation.  The only dissenting voice was Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser of United States’ President Carter, who wrote that the unfreezing would open a number of unresolved issues, and a long period of instability would open.  He specifically alluded to the fact that, without two blocs, the Non Aligned Movement would lose its identity, and the North South divide would disappear.  Professor Francis Fukuyama went further: he wrote that with the collapse of the so called “socialist bloc” ,we had reached the end of history, because with the collapse of communism, no more debate was possible, and the world would be unified by capitalism.

We all know that the peace dividends never materialized.  They were just absorbed into national budgets.  The end of the cold war did unleash a number of complex conflicts of adjustment, and the recent annexing of Crimea to Russia is just the latest case.  States found it very convenient to use reduction of costs in armament to shore up their budgets, and international cooperation allocations in the North have been progressively diminishing to go back now to the levels of 1973.  The North-South dialogue has changed into a multi-polar dialogue, and the world is in a quest for a global governability.  This is exasperated by the fact that with the passage from productive capitalism to financial capitalism, even the traditional powers have entered in a period of uncertainty.  Finance is the only sector of society and economy that has no institutional control.  Trade, for good or bad, has a regulating body out of the United Nations.  Finance has no such counterpart.  In a day, when total production of good and services is estimated to be slightly under $1 trillion dollars, while that same day, financial transactions amount to $40 trillion dollars, largely out of control by the national and international system.  In other words, for every dollar of productive capitals, we have 40 times its volume in financial transactions, many in a split second, and generated by machines, in a split second.

The data from the international institutions clearly shows that there is a decline of living standards in the industrialized countries, with an increase of unemployment, especially among young people.  Social inequality is on the rise. The last statistics show that there is a decline of the middle class in the North, while there is an increase in the South.  Military power does not translate any longer in wealth and growth.  This trend to social inequality has the same strength in the countries of NATO as well as in those parts of the Russian bloc.  In the two former blocs of East and West, unforeseen by Brzezinski, politicians have become discredited, populist and nationalistic parties are on the rise, and young people are becoming more and more disenchanted.  The lament for the lack of a global governability is becoming stronger, and citizens feel more and more powerless and not in control of their lives.

What is important to stress is that in the ongoing vast debate of the present crisis, it is ignored by the young generations, and forgotten by all, that the world did reach an agreement for global governance.  In 1974, as the coronation of the negotiating process of the G-77 in the United Nations, the General Assembly approved a call to create a New International Economic Order (NIEO).  The NIEO advocated a New Deal to improve the terms of trade for raw materials and build up agricultural and industrial self-sufficiency so as to avoid trade dependency and the foreign debt trap.  This programme was based on the paradigm of development, international cooperation, international law, and the United Nations System as its forum for debate, consensus and implementation.  This historical landmark was the first time in history when all nations engaged in a global programme for rebalancing the different parts of the world to achieve international social justice and harmonious development.  It is important to note that this landmark came just after ten years of the creation of the G-77, in 1964, at Geneva.  This is concrete proof of the vitality and dynamism of the G-77, and the fact that it was a key player in the international community.

The event in Geneva was part of a moment of hope for a stable and peaceful world, free from the threat of nuclear war, and the will to escape from the East-West antagonism, which was threatening to engulf the world in a cataclysm of unprecedented dimensions.  The meeting that gave life to the G-77 was a concrete step in that search for a world based on peace and international cooperation.

It was in the same spirit that in 1964 I organized a non-profit international cooperative of journalists, where those from the North could not work in the South, and never be more that 20 per cent of the members-owners of the cooperative.  We created Inter Press Service (IPS), whose function and reason for being was to give voice to the voiceless.  At that time 98 per cent of the world’s flow of information was handled by five agencies: Reuters, AFP, AP, UPI and Tass, all from the North.  We would, during our life, support and enhance the work of the G-77, and many protagonists of the group became chairmen of the IPS Board:  Hernan Santa Cruz, Manuel Perez Guerrero and Juan Somavia, just to name a few.  IPS was very active in covering the efforts of Algerian President Houari Boumediene and Mexican President Luis Echevarria, whom in concert with all the countries members of the G-77, were leading the negotiations to get the Declaration and the Plan of Action of the NIEO approved.

IPS supported the work of the G-77, launching a campaign of information, amidst the more pronounced silence of the other international news agencies, Tass included. But the agreement for a New International Economic Order went ahead, with the acceptance of basically all the countries of the North, albeit with different levels of enthusiasm.  The consensus for an international agreement on how to work together was strong, and it created a strong debate worldwide, that IPS did cover and enhance.  We were invited as part of the press secretariat, on invitation of Mexico, to the North-South Summit in Cancun, where in 1981, the 22 most important head of states met, to hammer a more detailed implementation of the NIEO.  The summit was chaired by Mexican President Josè Lopez Portillo, and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  United States President Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and it was his first foreign trip.  An ideological union flourished immediately between the American president and United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Reagan announced that he intended to end international cooperation (“Trade, not aid”), that he considered the multilateral system a brake to the real weight of the United States, and the United Nations was not an acceptable system: a system where Monte Carlo (!) had the same voting rights as the United States.  From Cancun, things went swiftly. The engagement for a global governance based on law and cooperation, was substituted by an American realpolitik, where the G-77 and the South were considered not compatible with American interests.

Then the marginalization of the United Nations started.  The original idea was to start withdrawing the United States from several agencies, like the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Trade Unions protected ILO; IFAD President Idriss Jazairy made a successful tour in the United States mobilizing civil society, but the US withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 (together with United Kingdom and Singapore).  It was ironic to see the International Program on Development of Communication (IPDC), created on a US proposal, suddenly becoming with the new American administration an enemy of press freedom.  In 1989 the Washington Consensus established by the Bretton Wood institutions, and the US Treasury, swept the ground for a neo-liberal globalization, which was then helping the developed countries use the world for profits: the NIEO inversed.  United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger famously declared: Globalization is the new world for American expansion.  Then, in 1995, the World Trade Organization was established, talking outside of the UN trade.  The two engines of globalization are trade and finance, and both are out of the UN (finance, let us repeat, has no regulating body at all).  From Cancun, a slow decline in multilateralism and international cooperation has been the permanent reality, with a strong acceleration during the period of the United States President George W. Bush and Europe has by and large followed American way and views.  Today the European Union is still living in the philosophy of Washington Consensus: austerity as a fundamental principle over growth has brought millions of people in dramatic conditions: the statistics of young unemployment in Europe are known to everybody.

In the post Berlin Wall world, what is impressive and unprecedented is how concentration of wealth has taken speed.  In 2013, the 100 richest people of the world accrued their wealth as much as the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada.  And in the same year, the 300 richest people of the world had the same wealth than 43 billion people (Oxfam statistics).  The 10 richest had five times the total budget of the United Nations.  The acceleration is simply breathtaking.  The 400 richest people of the world, last year have enlarged their wealth by 35 per cent, or just close to $600 billion dollars.  They live in a separate world, where the concerns of the large majority of humankind does not interest them.  The debate on climate change is far from their concerns, as well all the debate on atomic disarmament, or any other international debate.  They have achieved world governance, with their control over politics and production.  They cultivate the fiscal paradise, where possibly $6 trillion dollars sit, out of the reach of their countries fiscal systems.  They finance elections, buy media, and lobby for laws of their interest.  It is by now becoming accepted that rich people should pay fewer taxes than poor people, because they are more productive.  For them, the UN is just a forum for debate, which has nothing to do with their lives.  In a sense, they are just the present day version of President Reagan’s view, that the United States as a rich superpower cannot be bound by the votes of countries that, all together, have a smaller PIB/GDP than the American one.  Is the value of the power the only acceptable criteria?  The world is no longer based on the idea that cooperation requires everybody to share a same vision: it is very simply, the strong are stronger, and the weaker can follow, and, if they do not do so, it is irrelevant.

The only problem, with this set of values, is that the system is not viable, as the strong are becoming fewer and fewer, and the weaker more and more.  By now many studies have been published, and as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has denounced, social inequality is a political choice, not an economic inescapable law.  This, at a time when Latin America and Africa are making concrete progress to reduce social inequality.  After decades of criticism about social inequality on the South of the world, it is now the North who is going back in history.  The crisis is not only economic and social.  Let us look where global governance has gone.  On all global issues, where agreements would be urgent, beginning from climate control to nuclear disarmament, from weapons control to trade agreements, or on whatever issue, the process of negotiations has become a tapestry of failures, of frustrated hopes, and endless futile exercises, and it is evident that the system is not going anywhere.  The problem, in fact, is very simple.  Without some shared values as the basis for international relations, the law of the strongest is the basis for international relations.  History gives us ample evidence that this system is the basis for instability and conflicts.

This brings us to the fact that the G-77, contrary to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s view, is far from being obsolete.  On the contrary, it is more alive than ever.  In fact, since the time in which the G-77 was able to establish through dialogue and consensus, a set of values for global governability, the world has lost the ability to find a viable solution.  And by now, it is clear to all that multilateralism, and not bilateralism, peace and not conflicts, law as the basis for international relations, trade and finance at the service of the humankind, and not for a powerful minority, are values on which we must find again a consensus if we want to reach viability and stability.  We possess all the data to reach this obvious conclusion.  And it is a fact that hundreds of thousands of citizens, everywhere, in different forums and in the streets, are requesting that peace and cooperation become again the basis for the governance of globalization.

In this sense, the G-77 is a very valid deposit of knowledge.  The Secretariat, with which has established a fruitful cooperation, has 50 years of accumulative knowledge, and it is an unparalleled institution in reach and legitimacy.  It is time to start new alliances, with the new actors of international relations: institutions of research, organizations of advocacy on development and peace, global civil society, all of which share G-77 values and history.  The 50 years of celebrations should be the starting point for a new phase, in which the G-77 plays a public role for the good of man and woman all over the world.