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'the North Has The Power'

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BRANDT REPORT [image, unknown] Behind the scenes

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'The North has the power'
Edward Heath has had a varied career as former British Prime Minister, leader of the Conservative Party, longtime MP and an avid sailor. A staunch free-enterpriser, Mr. Heath identifies strongly with the reformist and humanitarian strains in British Conservatism. He recently emerged from back-bench obscurity as an outspoken critic of his successor Margaret Thatcher's hard-line monetarist policies. Mr. Heath was also a key member of the Brandt Commission and has campaigned tirelessly in support of the Report's recommendations. Third World First spoke to him about the aims and assumptions of the Report in this exclusive interview.

From Southampton on England’s south-west coast to the Isle of Wight takes 20 minutes by hydrofoil. Cowes harbour is jammed with a flotilla of sailing boats of all sizes — from dinghies to ocean-going yachts. It is the biggest event on the yachting calendar and where one might expect to find former British Prime Minister and sailing enthusiast Edward Heath. He has finished sailing for the day and settles himself in a canvas chair while an aide sits attentively on one side.

The concerns of the Third World seem light years away but Mr Heath slips easily into a discussion of one of his favourite topics. ‘All international problems now have become intertwined,’ he begins. ‘It’s impossible to separate them because they all have an impact on each other.’ Significantly, the first example given is East-West relations, with anti-communism a major motive for paying heed to the Third World.

‘If the West is not prepared to play its full part as the North in helping the developing world and recreating the world economy then we can’t expect the developing countries not to look towards the Eastem bloc for salvation.’

He is also concemed about Palestine. Arab members of OPEC are deeply involved in the Palestinian question. It is their financial surpluses which the Brandt Report seeks to ‘re-cycle’ into investment in the South. The North will only gain OPEC’s co-operation if it is more sympathetic to Arab opinion about Palestine.

The Brandt Report also calls for reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank which Western nations now control with 60 per cent of the voting power. ‘This is not an insuperable difficulty, but it is one which only the North can resolve because the North at the moment has the power’, he states flatly.

But why give up this power? As Mr. Heath admits the obstacles so far have come from the unwillingness of the North to make any further changes. What’s the incentive? According to Mr Heath and the other Brandt commissioners it’s overwhelmingly a question of self-interest. ‘Unless we find a meaningful use for these surpluses we shall go on in a world recession.’ It is in the West’s interest to make an arrangement with OPEC to see their surpluses are redistributed for proper investment.

One tangible outcome of the Brandt Commission is the summit of world leaders this October at Cancun, near Mexico City. Will such international tete-a-tetes really make any difference? And is it the kind of summit the Commissioners hoped for? ‘It’s very important’, Mr Heath replies adamantly. ‘There’s absolutely no doubt about that. It will bring together a group of 22 countries which are accepted as representatives of both North and South.’

Heath sees two possible outcomes of the summit — if the leaders reach agreement.

Their own governments can make unilateral agreements and hope that others will follow. Or they can recommence the Global Negotiations in the United Nations which stalled earlier this year.

In other ways however, the summit is a disappointment. ‘For heads of government to meet for only two days is grossly inadequate in the present world situation. We have the gravest recession since 1929-31 — 25 million unemployed in the North alone — and the only time they can set aside to deal with this mass of problems is two days.’ The criticism is heartfelt, but seems at odds with his view that the Brandt Report has managed ‘to bring home to heads of government that they just can’t solve these problems on their own.’

Urgent progress must be made, Heath warns, on key areas of mutual concern between the West and the developing nations — especially energy and debt. Mr Heath is acutely sensitive to the demands of the oil-producing nations.

‘OPEC feels we haven’t done enough in the past to find energy for ourselves. We’ve been prepared to mop up their oil supplies and leave them to whatever fate exists afterwards.’ The North must find new sources of energy and we need more conservation measures. But we also need to step up our search for conventional petroleum reserves especially in non-oil producing countries. The Brandt Report suggests a partnership between the big oil companies and a new World Bank energy affiliate to get the ball rolling. Moreover, Mr Heath stresses, ‘None of the Brandt Commissioners had in mind that these new efforts should be nationalised or publicly-owned.’

‘Some critics say,"well, all of this can be done by the great oil companies, by private enterprise". Maybe so. But the fact is they are not doing it at the moment’. That is because they are worried about ‘political instability’ in many Third World countries. Partnership with the World Bank would overcome these problems, ‘because they know perfectly well that a developing country won’t interfere with operations in which the World Bank has a part’.

The massive debts of Third World countries like Brazil, Zaire, Indonesia and Chile are another major concern. And again, Mr Heath is quick to counter criticism from the political Right.

‘The critics say, “well, they should never have got into debt”. But no one could predict the rise in oil prices and interest rates. Besides, nothing is achieved by just assigning blame. We have to recognise there’s also a joint interest here. Because the Northern banking system is intimately involved in the indebtedness which lies very heavily on the developing countries.’

But not only on developing countries: 'It’s ironic the Northern banking system has had to rush to the aid of Poland which is neither friendly, like the Commonwealth countries, nor non-aligned. So they’ve raised $23 billion in order to try and save Poland — or their own interests and investment in Poland.’

What about the more fundamental criticisms of the Brandt Report? Multinational corporations for example. How can small Third World countries tap multinationals for their national development when such companies operate across borders — often with more economic power than the countries themselves? According to Mr Heath multinationals are the main engines of development ‘They’ve got the resources, they’ve got the expertise and they’ve got the personnel.’

But can a company whose driving force is profit really benefit the poorest people in Third World countries? Are the two goalls compatible? ‘Absolutely no doubt about it,’ Mr Heath states. 'Some of the great British companies have done an enormous amount to improve our standard of living.’

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Bombay squatters: Most Third World governments represent only the wealthy.

Australia is presented as another example. ‘It’s British multinationals which helped develop mining and coal and the rest of it, which have given Australians their higher standard of living. Yes, there’s no doubt about that.’

The Brandt Report pins its hopes for the world’s poor on negotiations between governments. But the majority of Third World governments represent only the interests of a wealthy elite, with too much to lose to allow redistribution of wealth. So how can they permit aid to really advance the poor?

‘This is probably the most difficult general question with which we had to deal in the Commission.’ Then, for the first time in the interview, there is a lengthy and eloquent pause. Mr Heath tacitly accepts this criticism which a more dogmatic Conservative might vehemently reject.

‘The question of how you ensure the whole community benefits from development is a very difficult one indeed.’ For political reasons the Brandt Commission could not interfere in countries’ ‘intemal organisation’. The most it could do was include a chapter on the ‘Task of the South’ which mentions land reform and other structural changes. But says Heath ‘these issues remain a perpetual problem.’

Whatever happens in the coming months the Brandt Report has gone one better than its predecessors by instigating a meeting of 22 world leaders. Edward Heath played a crucial role in writing the report and in trying to persuade leaders and decision-makers to accept its recommendations — recommendations which are touted as authoritative, rational and impartial.

What comes from Mr Heath, however, is not a viewpoint which stands above politics, but rather a clear and unambiguous political line. It is a view which is very concerned about debt and default, deferential to OPEC and as committed to capitalist ‘free enterprise’ as it is opposed to socialist alternatives. It’s a view which can combine genuine concem about poverty with an untroubled certainty that multinational companies positively benefit the world’s poor and promote development. That’s one perspective on the world’s problems, but it’s a ‘consensus’ which for many people experience has made hard to swallow.

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New Internationalist issue 104 magazine cover This article is from the October 1981 issue of New Internationalist.
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