The UN Millennium Review: what will be discussed and what is at stake?

11 August 2005
Ruth Barnett
Comment
In September, heads of state will meet in New York to evaluate the progress made towards the UN Millennium Development Goals and to appraise how best to face the security and development challenges of the 21st century. There are many central questions for us spectators: Can we reach the ambitious – but essential – development goals by 2015? What count as ‘threats to security’ today and how are they best tackled? How can so many states reach any sort of consensus? The tentative answers to these questions will emerge in September. But picking our way through the documents that will form the basis of the UN deliberations provides some early clues as to what the issues are.

The two most fundamental documents are the High Level Panel report on Threats, Challenges and Change: “A more secure world: our shared responsibility” and “Investing in Development”, the report offering practical steps towards the Millennium Development Goals, written by Dr Jeffrey Sachs. The former argues for a “Peacebuilding Commission” and a wider definition of threats to security, including extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS along with terrorism and civil war. But what will the implications be for our understanding of “security” and “development” if the Security Council’s remit is extended so widely?

The Sachs report includes ten steps to achieving the MDGs, including fast-tracked funding for a dozen states based on good governance and absorptive capacity; much-publicised “quick wins” such as anti-malarial bed nets; and transparent and inclusive poverty reduction strategies. Sachs’ approach has certainly garnered an impressive array of showbiz fans (Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie et al) and essential press coverage, but can – and should – development be reduced to a ten point plan?

Other key documents to take a look at include Kofi Annan’s report, “In Larger Freedom: Toward Security, Development and Human Rights for All” which combines and endorses the conclusions reached by the High Level Panel and Sachs. Plus, the President of the General Assembly, Jean Ping, has drawn up three successive draft documents for the summit, initially based on the guidelines in Annex 1 of Annan’s report. All three drafts can be found here.

It is interesting to note how the documents develop. All three draft declarations fail to include Annan’s request that a consensus be established prior to September on exactly how the Security Council should be reformed. This is not surprising for such a highly contested topic, despite the best efforts of the High Level Panel and the Secretary-General to force progress on the issue. This is a blow to Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and the African Union, as they are all clamouring for permanent representation. The later declaration drafts show the impact of lobbying from NGOs and pressure groups. For example, many more references to human rights and gender equality are included in the later drafts. Many of the concerns raised by various organizations won’t be addressed until the summit itself or perhaps years later. For instance, some are warning that plans to frontload ODA through an International Finance Facility (IFF) must be matched by a commitment that there won’t be a significant drop in resources after 2015. Whether such a commitment emerges – and is honoured – remains to be seen.

But just as the individual concerns of NGOs, pressure groups, and civil society organizations are too numerous to list here, so are the catalogue of opposing views between states. The biggest challenge at the summit will be rallying support for the now lengthy declaration, as sometimes the more words in a declaration, the more potential obstacles to consensus. That said, only specific and firm commitments will reassure critics that the UN can take decisive action. It will be a tough balancing act, but the fact the world is gathering to debate these pivotal issues suggests 2005 could continue to be a breakthrough year for international development.

Ruth Barnett