The Multinational Monitor


N E W S   M O N I T O R

General Assembly Issues:

Economic Policy, UN Survival

by Josh Martin

Peace. Economic recovery. International trade. Human rights. The arms race. No, these aren't points for debate in the presidential elections; they are subjects that are scheduled to come up for discussion, and in some cases action, at the United Nations 39th General Assembly which opened in September.

There are a number of economic matters before the U.N. this year, including proposed legislation to govern corporate activities in the Third World, laws on co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space, guidelines on consumer protection, and a proposed exchange of information on banned hazardous chemicals and unsafe pharmaceutical products.

The General Assembly is also expected to debate the effectiveness of the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, proclaimed in 1974, continue work on the proposed "Law of the Sea" (which contains provisions affecting seabed mining), and consider guidelines to protect the rights of migrant workers.

In addition to such specific items, there are the on-going economic activities of the United Nations system - re-ports from the Trade and Development Board, the Industrial Development Board, and other international agencies.

There are also several items on the agenda, which if not primarily economic in nature, have obvious economic implications. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debates over Namibia and South Africa; there is expected to be a renewed call for U.N. member states and international agencies to refrain from lending to or trading with the apartheid regimes.

A less well-known subject that fits into this category is the agenda item on Antarctica. For several years, the U.N. has been moving towards developing legislation to govern development in that uninhabited land. This year, the Secretary General is expected to issue a "comprehensive, factual and objective" study on Antarctica. It is sure to raise a storm from the super powers, particularly the Soviet Union which has been moving towards economic exploitation of that continent, which is said to have some of the world's largest reserves of coal and other vital materials.

All this activity is in jeopardy.

As the General Assembly delegates gather there is widespread criticism of the U.N., both from the United States and the industrial countries, and from the developing countries. The Reagan Administration has repeatedly charged that the U.N. has become a forum for left-wing radicalism; and that its programs waste money. Conversely, developing countries have advanced an increasingly radical agenda. The U.N. has been caught in the widening gulf between the rich and the poor countries.

Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, speaking on the eve of the opening of the General Assembly, warned that the "majestic vision" of the U.N. had been "clouded by the differences of the major powers."

A similar theme ran through the remarks of outgoing General Assembly President Jorge E. Illueca, who said that international tensions in the past year had created "a grim and discouraging atmosphere." However, Illueca rejected the "pessimistic view" that the U.N. is "irrelevant"; he stressed its usefulness as a means for international negotiations on economic, social and political issues. "Only global negotiations ..- carried out with a clear sense of the interrelationships between [trade, financing and the international monetary system, etc.] will make it possible for the world economy to emerge from its current crisis."

In a pointed reference to the U.S., Illueca warned that "to persist in refusing to launch global negotiations can mean nothing else but a rejection of international co-operation... with disastrous consequences for ... the economic and political independence of the developing nations."

The new General Assembly president, Paul Lusaka of Zambia, picked up this theme in his inaugural speech, noting that "a strong state can obstruct the machinery of international cooperation, but obstruction is no substitute for leadership."

Lusaka's presidency is sure to emphasize concerns of the African member states, such as economic and political relations with South Africa, economic aid policies, and debt restructuring. Indeed, a key passage of his inaugural speech contained a call for a meeting of debtor and creditor countries to work out a solution to the debt crisis ("debtor states cannot shoulder the burden alone").

However, even as delegates ponder agenda items, there are loud predictions of the organization's pending demise. Any accomplishments at this year's General Assembly may, in the end, be overshadowed by debates over the structure and substance of the U.N. itself. 

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