World

The economic price of political pride

Peter Niesewand February 18 1980
World

The economic price of political pride

Peter Niesewand February 18 1980

The economic price of political pride

Had it followed the usual script, the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the developed nations and the Third World in New Delhi last week would have ended with a last-minute cave-in by someone. But no one backed down, although sessions were extended while the Indian hosts tried to push through compromise proposals, and the third international conference of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) ended as a demoralizing flop.

True a declaration and “plan of action” were overwhelmingly adopted, and will go before the UN General Assembly eventually; but that meant nothing. While the Third World can always muster the votes, it cannot supply the money, materials or technology. As one Western delegate put it, sourly: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him sign a cheque.”

The fiasco was a bitter disappointment, for the Third World and for Western diplomats and negotiators who have worked for years for the advancement of developing countries. Ambassador John McDonald, leader of the U.S. delegation, said it was probable Congress would not now ratify UNIDO’S new constitution, negotiated last year, which would turn it into a specialized UN agency.

The roots of this latest brawl between rich and poor nations lay in Cuba. In Havana last December, the Third World countries which form the Group of 77 (actually ■119 nations) agreed on a declaration which, in the eyes of the West, was heavily political and had little of practical value to say about industrial development. Said Ambassador McDonald: “It ignored the role of the OPEC countries completely, and it also ignored the East European nations. We alone were the bad boys.”

The declaration called for a new global fund of $300 billion (U.S.) by the year 2000

to be administered by UNIDO, but to be managed and controlled by the Group of 77. The West termed the plan “unreal.” For one thing, it argued, it would be a major task to turn UNIDO into a financial institution.

What happened at Delhi was that the Group of 77 resurrected the Havana declaration, and tried to have it adopted, complete with its attacks on “Zionism, imperialism and racism,” as the Delhi declaration. There was much lobbying by the rich nations to “depoliticize” the proceedings, while the Indians put forward their compromise, whose chief element was a reduction from $300 billion to $35 billion in the size of the fund.

But for both rich and poor nations important principles were at stake. Negotiations broke down late Saturday and the Indians withdrew their formula. The poor nations then went on to propose their own plan and deplore the “rigid and negative” attitude of the developed countries. But their chairman, Ahmed Ghezal of Tunisia, had the final and probably fairest word. The discussion had become, he said, “a dialogue of the deaf.” Peter Niesewand