Economic and Social Development - The 1994 agenda for development

The 47th General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to consult with member states and prepare an "agenda for development." After obtaining submissions from member states, agencies of the UN system and public and private sources worldwide, he presented his report to the 49th General Assembly in 1994. Entitled Development and International Economic Cooperation: An Agenda for Development , this wide-ranging document summarized the basic tenets of the experience gained during the UN's 50 years of development work. The agenda was intended to offer guidelines for thought and action by member states.

One reason put forward for creating such a document was that with the end of the cold war, funding development projects as a mechanism for establishing spheres of influence also had ended. The fundamental social, political, and economic changes that had altered the map of Europe and provided a new atmosphere of consensus at the United Nations, also threatened to bewilder and exhaust the potential donors to UN programs for development. Some quarters had even suggested that the UN was expending more for its many new peacekeeping operations than for development. The Secretary-General produced statistics in an annex to the agenda that demonstrated that this was not the case, even exempting the funds expended by the specialized agencies.

Several major themes of the agenda set forth a new underlying philosophy regarding international development programs.

  1. National governments bear the major responsibility for development. However, the United Nations' vast experience and global reach made it a unique resource for the developing nations. The United Nations could act as facilitator and communicator, but it could not substitute for the commitment of individual states and their domestic and international partners.
  2. However, national governments could no longer be assumed to be paramount economic agents. The internationalization of trade and the ascendance of the market system worldwide meant that governments must, however, provide a regulatory framework for effective operation of a competitive market system. They must also invest in human capital by ensuring that social safety nets are in place.
  3. Economic growth should promote full employment and poverty reduction, not just economic growth as an end in itself. If, despite national economic improvement, great poverty continued in a nation, no development effort could be sustainable.
  4. No mechanism exists by which the major economies could be induced to make globally beneficial structural change in their own economies, or to adopt more globally responsible economic, fiscal, and monetary policies. This single point represents a sea change in philosophy from the "new international economic order" of the 1970s.
  5. UNCED's historic Agenda 21 demonstrated that the environment had finally been recognized by the international community as a resource for development that must be nurtured and protected. Governments had the responsibility to provide the leadership and regulatory structure to protect their natural environment. Successful development required policies that incorporate environmental considerations. The Secretary-General pointed out that pioneering efforts were being made to make local inhabitants incentive partners rather than simply collateral beneficiaries of sustainable development programs. As the keyword and rallying cry of the Earth Summit, "sustainability" must be the guiding principle of development, to be achieved by a true partnership of governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations; a true partnership between humanity and nature.
  6. No development could be considered sustainable in the presence of poverty, disease, illiteracy, great unemployment, discrimination against women, armed conflict, or lack of social integration; the manifestations of social integration being discrimination, fanaticism, intolerance, and persecution.
  7. Democracy and development are processes (not events) that are fundamentally linked because people's participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives gives legitimacy to governments and their development programs.

In his conclusions, the Secretary-General admitted that, over the years, absence of clear policy guidance from the General Assembly and the lack of effective policy coordination by ECOSOC had resulted in an overall lack of focus in the UN development system. The fundamental changes under way included the restructuring of development efforts to be channeled through UNDP resident coordinators, by means of the development of one comprehensive "country strategy note." This alone would bring about better (if not perfect) coordination and more rational use of available funds.

However, the Secretary-General also noted the growth of other obstructions to the urgent need for social and economic development in the developing countries: "At present the UN mechanism is caught in a confining cycle. There is a resistance to multilateralism from those who fear a loss of national control. There is a reluctance to provide financial means to achieve agreed ends from those who lack conviction that assessments will benefit their own interests. And there is an unwillingness to engage in difficult operations by those who seek guarantees of perfect clarity and limited duration. Without a new and compelling collective vision, the international community will be unable to break out of this cycle."

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