An article on the model session of the simulated UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), from a viewpoint of the New York Post.

photo by Ivo Näpflin


U.N. council paralyzed by national self-interest

Not much is to be expected when a score of self-interested countries, reaching from democracies to rogue states, meet at the UN to discuss controversial topics of international concern.

Yesterday morning's session of the Economic and Social Council on the current food crisis was a case study for this. Two blocks of countries immediately crystallized:

The developed nations see the food crisis as a matter of underdevelopment. They believe in a solution of the problem at the ground, in developing countries. The ECOSOC's resolution should specifically tackle the food crisis. The UK delegate affirmed that the problem was not the lack of food, but the access to it, and he proposed lowering the price of oil as a specific means to tackle the food crisis.

The developing countries, on the other hand, blame the North's policy for the crisis. Developed nations' trade restrictions and especially subsidies make it nearly impossible for their companies to enter the European and the American markets. Furthermore, greenhouse gases, emitted mainly by the developed world, lead to climate change that particularly affects agriculture in developing countries. To tackle these problems, as suggested by developing countries, would be a more long-term approach.

Now, that's the talk. But what are the countries really trying to achieve? Both sides' hidden agendas are not always very clear. Sure, the UK, since 2006 a net oil importer, is interested in lower oil prices not mainly because of the food crisis, but rather because of its own demand. But why do many developing countries support including climate change in a resolution dealing with the food crisis? Numerous reasons are imaginable.

Many, like Sudan, might want to distract from their own failing in dealing with the food crisis and shift the attention back to developed countries. One can even imagine an outright evil reason, namely creating disadvantages for the North, whom some neo-communist states see as an enemy.

Only the obvious advantage, saving the planet, doesn't seem like a probable objective. Clauses on environmental protection are usually addressed from developing countries to developed countries only. This again reveals the self-interest of governments. They're happy to sacrifice some common welfare to benefit on their own.

Accordingly, the UN, and the ECOSOC in particular, has become the South's favorite begging platform. UN aid programs are easy to abuse, as there is less coordination and less control than in most national programs. Also, poor countries have more decisional power than they have financial duties to the organization.

Even if, for once, the different self-interests converge and the UN committee reaches a conclusion, the question remains if all countries keep their promises. When even legally binding international law is regularly violated, imagine the value of a non-binding ECOSOC recommendation.

That's why an issue like the food crisis is unlikely to be solved by the UN. Rather, unilateral efforts, especially by a superpower like the US, could make a difference. The US should therefore seriously rethink counterproductive regulations like its ethanol subsidies, even more so because they often deprive American households of a not-so-marginal part of their income.

Ivo Näpflin (New York Post), ZagiNews, October 21, 2008