Where has resistance in developing countries gone?
The ease with which developed countries appoint heads of international and multinational organisations — sometimes in the guise of an election — is not their achievement alone; it is also the fault of developing countries who let them.
Appointing heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has traditionally been accepted as the exclusive domain of governments of European countries. Similarly, choosing the head of the World Bank has been regarded as the preserve of the United States (US) Government. But, while these are the most blatant examples, powerful governments have used every means at their disposal to ensure that heads of every other international and multinational organisation are people who serve their purpose.
At the United Nations, the so-called election of the secretary general is entirely in the hands of the five countries with veto powers, namely the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China. Developing countries have no say. Any candidate whose career has shown any sign of independence, of fidelity to principle, of commitment to a world vision has been vetoed. The Swedish diplomat, Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld, who served as UN Secretary General from 1953 until he was killed in a plane crash in 1961, was arguably the last truly independent secretary general. His personal ethos, “The principles of [the Charter of the United Nations] are, by far, greater than the organisation in which they are embodied, and the aims which they are to safeguard are holier than the policies of any single nation or people,” reflected his commitment to all nations, and made him unpopular with those who would have had him bend his knee to their will.
Hence, in the present shenanigans to select a new secretary general to replace the incumbent Ban Ki-Moon, whose term expires at the end of this year, only the five veto powers really matter. Two straw polls have been held by the 15 member states of the Security Council, so far, to reduce the number of 10 aspirants. What is not known is which of the candidates have been ‘discouraged’ by one of five veto nations. In any event, the UN will end up with a secretary general upon whom the five can agree — and that person, by definition, will be more a “secretary”, than a “general”; someone content to do as little as possible to lead the reform of the organisation that it desperately needs. The rest of the world will have no real say, and there is no vigorous movement by developing countries to demand an end to this byzantine process.
But, even in multinational organisations in which no country has a formal veto, developing countries have allowed their own interests to be expropriated by voluntarily participating in a new imperialist system in which industrialised nations procure their support — or their silence — through offers of aid or threats of sanctions. This phenomenon was particularly evident in the willing fragmentation of the single African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States into six regions to negotiate economic partnership agreements with the European Union. Seventy-nine countries lost the strength of their unity, and they have paid a price.
The lack of resistance to the inequitable power structure in the world, more than the exercise of influence by a few, accounts for why developing countries are marginalised. The solidarity and strength of the 115 member nations of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a thing of the past, although on July 20, 2016, in a very little reported statement to the UN Security Council, it said: “As we approach the process to appoint a new secretary general for the organisation, NAM underlines its position as elaborated in the Algiers ministerial declaration of May 2014, along with the central role of the General Assembly in the process of selecting and appointing the secretary general, and expresses its support for efforts aimed at reinforcing and strengthening the role of the Assembly in that regard.” Having made the statement, matters ended there.
Similarly, the 79-nation ACP Group, which has potential as an economic bargaining agent for developing countries, is weakened by lack of financial support and the absence of strong political direction by the leaders who have not once had a summit meeting to try to define the place of their nations in the world.
It is as if there is a self-imposed policy among developing countries of ‘going along to get along’ — a general acceptance that they are too disparate, too weak, and too locked into the consortium of industrialised countries through their international financial institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, to fight against the injustices of what amounts to economic imperialism. And there is no effort to change it.
Meanwhile, the developed countries march on in advancement of their interests through control and direction of the IMF and World Bank by imposing rules on the rest of the world through their own organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Financial Action Task Force; and in ensuring that heads of international and multinational organisations serve their purposes best, rather than the interests of the membership as a whole.
Incidentally, also up for selection next year is the head of the World Bank. The present US appointee, Jim Yong Kim, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2012, is seeking a new term. There will be no serious election — the US president will decide whether he stays or is replaced by another American. If the US president choosing the World Bank head is Donald Trump, the bank will become a very different institution; less likely to serve “as a link between great powers and small ones, between economics and aid work”, which Jim Yong Kim says is his ambition. In any event, the developing world will have no say, and the sign over the entrance of the bank, “Our dream is a world free of poverty”, may well remain a dream and not a plan.
A doctrine of an international community based on the principle that self-interest and mutual interest are interwoven continues to elude the world. And, in all this, with very few exceptions, the leaders of developing countries are not working together; not raising their voices in harmony, and not voting in unison. The industrialised nations have free rein, by default.
Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and Organisation of American States; an international affairs consultant; as well as senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London. He previously served as ambassador to the European Union and the World Trade Organisation and as high commissioner to the UK. The views expressed are his own. For responses and to view previous commentaries: