UN-sponsored world conferences
in the 1990s
Michael G. Schechter
Global ad hoc conferences are not new. They have existed as long as has the UN; indeed, there were some widely publicized and well-attended ones convened by its predecessor organization, the League of Nations. 1 Jacques Fomerand has put together a useful listing of the UN's conferences (reproduced as Table 1.1 below). 2 Debbi Schaubman has provided us with a chronology of meetings associated with some of the most important recent conferences, including all of those described in depth in this volume (see Appendix A).
While global ad hoc conferences may not be new, the size, number, and publicity of such conferences have grown, both in the 1970s and again in the early to mid 1990s. 30,000 attended Habitat II in Istanbul; 47,000 convened in Rio for the Earth Summit and nearly 50,000 went to Beijing to discuss women's rights. Moreover, beginning with the 1990 World Summit for Children, presidents, prime ministers and other heads of states have been counted among those present. Conferences were fewer, smaller, and more narrowly defined in the 1980s. This was during the so-called crisis of multilateralism, that is, when the US especially chose to rely on the UN and its specialized agencies as little as possible, as the US government sought to meet its domestic budgetary challenges and as a consequence its increasingly neo-liberal public policies. Reitano provides a straightforward explanation for their resurgence in the early 1990s: “The number of conferences has increased because it is clear