New Internationalist

Not only a Moral Obligation

April 1980

N.I. Issue No 82: December 1979

Shock tactics combined with naked self-interest is the Brandt Report’s new formula for getting more aid to the Third World. This formula was salvaged by former British Prime Minister, Ted Heath, and Commonwealth Secretary General, Shridath Ramphal, from the two and a half year long deliberations of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues. Political differences between its eighteen members - half from the North and half from the South, including both socialist politicians and conservative bankers - had threatened to fragment the Commission headed by former Chancellor, Willy Brandt.

The report, submitted to the United Nations in February, pulls few punches in its description of the inequalities between ‘North and South’ (the broad distinction which it makes between the industrialised and developing worlds). The North has only a quarter of the world’s population but 80 per cent of its income, consumes 85 per cent of its oil, and produces 90 per cent of its manufactured goods. With the North not half-way to its aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP, but still hotting-up the arms race, the report gives a sensational balance sheet of military versus development spending. The cost of one tank would buy 1,000 classrooms; for the price of one jet fighter 40,000 village pharmacies could be built.

But shock tactics alone are not enough. The main impetus behind the report entitled ‘North-South: A Programme for Survival’ is economic self-interest. It argues that ‘the rich cannot prosper without progress from the poor’. Economic recovery in the North is inextricably linked with development in the South. Third World countries not only supply the industrialised world with vital commodities, but also become customers for credit, technology, and manufactured goods. This economic reality does away with the need for any humanitarian or moral commitment to world development. The North needs the South.

‘Mutuality of interests’ is the report’s main slogan. Inspiration for the Commission, however, came after the 1974 oil scare when an alliance of OPEC and Third World states against the North was first threatened. The need to maintain oil supplies brought the interests of the industrialised world sharply to the fore. Discovering Third World interests and establishing their ‘mutuality’ became the job of the Commission after the Conference on International Development - the so called ‘North-South Dialogue’ - broke down in 1977.

Oil is the given central place in the report’s Emergency Programme for the next five years. Not surprisingly, the North wants guaranteed oil supplies and the prohibition of sudden price increases. In return it offers to control its own extravagant consumption, and to concede automatic oil price rises in line with world inflation. A fair deal? Maybe not. The benefits to the Third World in this proposed bargain are mainly in increased aid. This means stepping up conventional financial and technical assistance by $30 billion a year. Behind plans for increasing food self-sufficiency amongst the hungry there is the hidden goal of making such people more reliable producers and consumers for the industrialised world.

The report makes the seemingly radical proposal for a ‘World Devel¬opment Fund’ to counter the Western domination of the World Bank and IMF by giving equal representation to Third World and socialist countries. The Commission claims to advocate ‘wider participation in the development process’, but can it offer more than twice-yearly outings to Geneva and New York for yet another cohort of international bureaucrats?

The concept of ‘world unity’ outlined in the Brandt report is based solely on economic interdependence. It does not question the economic forces and social structures, either in the North or South, which create and perpetuate poverty. Without such questioning the Commission’s proposals, like those for a ‘New International Order’, are of dubious value. As they stand they. are more than likely to benefit the rich in poor countries at the expense of the poor in rich countries.

This column was published in the April 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 086

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