Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Voice of the Majority: The Role of the Group of 77 in the UN General Sssembly

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Voice of the Majority: The Role of the Group of 77 in the UN General Sssembly

Article excerpt

The staying power of the United Nations is remarkable. For nearly 70 years, UN membership has grown rapidly after newly independent countries joined its ranks. It is encouraging too that no country has felt a strong enough urge to leave the organization in spite of its democratic deficiencies. The composition and working methods of the Security Council, in particular, are sources of discontent for many, as is the failure of the UN to implement certain General Assembly resolutions. Nevertheless, international decision-making has never been as inclusive as it has been in the last few decades, especially in the Assembly, thanks in no small part to the commanding role played by the Group of 77 (G-77), the largest bloc at the UN.

Hovering around 130 members for the last decade, the G-77 comprises a sizable majority of the United Nations 193 Member States. Founded 50 years ago--initially with 77 members, which gave the group its name--the numerical strength of this bloc of developing countries has functioned as a counterpoint to the influence of developed countries which, due to their far greater financial resources and ability to fund international organizations, enjoy significant clout as well. Regretfully, the tensions between those who hold the "power of the majority" versus those with the "power of the purse" regularly prevents timely and meaningful consensus on critical issues.

While some seasoned diplomats contend that lack of agreement between developed and developing countries is often more about power than actual ideological differences, it is nevertheless easy to identify opposing perspectives on substances that divide positions taken by the South and the North. United Nations Member States bring different priorities to the table. Developing countries clearly want the General Assembly to be much more involved in development and global financial issues, while developed countries see the UN in New York mostly as a place to deal with peace, security and urgent humanitarian issues, arguing that the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were specifically established to deal with development. The South tends to counter this argument by observing that these bodies are far too influenced by their biggest donors. For instance, by means of voluntary and earmarked contributions, developed countries have a much stronger say in the functioning of UNDP.

Interestingly, the North-South divide is much less pronounced in the area of human rights, because many countries from the South as well as the North regard respect for human rights as a key condition for a nation's capacity to flourish politically and economically.

Caught in between blocs of Member States with opposing priorities, the UN Secretariat typically will argue that peace and security, development and human rights are all interlinked, and that each is an equally important pillar of the UN system.

Because of stark and intense differences in North/South priorities, much heralded victories for either side are often short-lived, end up unimplemented, or fall far short of their intended goals. Some early successes of the G-77 were never fully realized. A notable example is the 1970 resolution that resolved that "each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official development assistance to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7 per cent of its gross national product."

The United States indicated its resistance from the onset and never intended to reach this goal. And even the small group of countries which have met this target for decades have recently reduced their assistance, or are increasingly including costs related to peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and even trade missions in their aid calculations. The ongoing global recession is undoubtedly contributing to an overall reduction in development assistance, hitting the most vulnerable developing countries and those that face a reduced demand and price for their commodities twice as hard. …

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