Letter: Development of ideas at the UN

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The Independent Online
From Professor Sir Hans Singer

Sir: Hamish McRae dislikes the UN and prefers the World Bank ("The UN's poverty of ideas", 9 March). He is, of course, fully entitled to his views; but his readers are also entitled to know that the proposal for a UN Economic Security Council, which he derides, has quite recently been put forward again and supported by detailed arguments in the Report of the Commission on Global Governance.

This commission was chaired by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Ingvar Carlsson, and Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Members of the commission included a former President of the World Bank (Barber Conable of the United States), Lord Judd, and Sir Brian Urquhart, the most senior former British UN staff member. One should have thought that with such respectable sponsorship the proposal deserves to be taken seriously. Would Hamish McRae deny that there are economic and social as well as political and military causes of conflict and crisis?

As for "the UN's poverty of ideas", I think the record speaks for itself. Deprived of resources and political support as it is, the UN has nevertheless produced a series of new initiatives which have had a number of results, ranging from the establishment of a soft aid facility within the World Bank (IDA) and the Compensatory Financing Facility in the IMF to a rethinking of the structural adjustment programmes as a result of the Unicef report on "Adjustment with a Human Face".

Alas, without resources and support, the UN can do little more than produce ideas to be taken up by others. The 20/20 proposal presently discussed in Copenhagen is the most recent example of such an idea.

Yours faithfully,


Institute of Development Studies

University of Sussex