Millennium Development Goals

by Kenneth Anderson

As President Obama prepares to head up to New York for the UN General Assembly meetings, which this year are focused around the 10 year anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), some stories are starting to appear in the papers about the UN and US relations.  Colum Lynch, for example, the Washington Post’s UN beat reporter, has an article asking about the relevance (or not)of the UN.   Former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has a very interesting article in the National Review running down the various ways in which the Obama administration’s reflexive policy of “always engage” with the UN and its institutions and processes is damaging the US on matters ranging from Iran to nuclear weapons, in his view.  Eileen Donahoe, US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, has a piece in last week’s New York Times/International Herald Tribune defending the administration’s controversial policies in sticking it out with the HRC.  There’s a lot to be evaluated in all those pieces, which range across the full US-UN relationship.  But that for another time.

Rather, I was most interested to see in today’s Wall Street Journal, a news story discussing specifically the MDGs and the administration’s response to calls that the US step up and fund the .7% of GDP that countries supposedly agreed to provide in development assistance – or at least start moving toward it or ponying up more money for the MDGs in accordance with various time tables that Professor Jeffrey Sachs’ team worked out at the UN.  The position of the Bush administration, in the person of John Bolton during the 2005 UN reform summit (the equivalent of this week’s meeting in 2005), was that while the US had agreed to the “goals” of the MDGs, it had never agreed to a whole long, long list of targets, timetables, schedules, contributions, monetary funding, and so on as set out in the five year plans emanating from Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his UN team.  For which Bolton and the Bush administration were excoriated by many in the world community.

So, I was interested to see the WSJ news story quoting US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, when pressed on funding for the MDGs, declare that … while the US had agreed to the “goals” of the MDGs, it had never agreed to the specific targets, timetables, schedules, contributions, etc.  (The exact quote is behnd the sub wall, on my other computer, but I’ll try to pull it up later.)  Ambassador Rice’s language is so close to what Ambassador Bolton said five years ago it seems unlikely to me it was by accident; it seems more like a diplomatic-legal signal that the US position is that it never did commit itself to what Ambassador Bolton’s critics said the US had committed itself to do.

There is a bigger issue here, which I won’t try to get into now, except to say that ten years on, the MDGs are dead. I’m not sure that a grand global meeting to discuss what amounts to development zombies is such a great idea.  Whatever they might have meant back in 2000, that is another era entirely, and it is not as if there is a lot of progress around them in the meantime that warrants a global review.  They never got going, for a lot of reasons, and it seems to me somewhat beside the point to have a ten year review based around them.

2 Responses

  1. But if there’s no review of these never-gotten-around-to goals, then how can they keep asking for money.  On a side note, it is interesting that the Obama administration is using nearly the exact phrase that was so badly criticized from the Bush administration.

  2. Well – isn’t the point to assess what progress has been made.  I have heard that there are some significant developments in some countries.  For example, compare Liberia in 2000 with Liberia today.  Or China or India in 2000 vs. 2010. That it does not get on the radar screen of the papers of record here does not mean that it is not happening and worth looking at.

    That Rice and Bolton use the same words – a wonderful further example of not giving away something unless one has to in the political dynamic of the UN system.  It also works for domestic purposes in a tight budget time.  You can always be more open, harder to get more tight once one opens the way.  Just US/UN politics.

    The important thing is that if there is evidence of progress on MDG goals, then funding be done to keep the momentum going.  If there is little or no progress, then reflection on what needs to change to reach the poorest billion.


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