Uncommon Opportunities – Executive summary

Home » Vredesprojecten » Uncommon Opportunities » Uncommon Opportunities – Executive summary

The report examines the global issues of international security, employment, food and transition in Eastern Europe and identifies a range of `uncommon opportunities’ that have arisen since the end of the Cold War to evolve lasting solutions to these problems. It brings out the linkage between peace, democratization, development and the environment; calls for a restructuring of the UN on democratic lines; proposes a shift from a state-centred, competitive approach to national security to a global cooperative security system supported by a standing world army; calls for acceptance of employment as a fundamental human right; traces the positive contribution of technological development and trade to job creation; sets forth the basic elements of a world employment programme to generate one billion new jobs in industrial and developing countries; views the Third World as a driving force for expansion of the world economy; argues that agriculture can be a powerful engine for employment generation and economic growth in the developing world; presents an alternative approach to transition in Eastern Europe; and stresses the fundamental role of education, information and organization in development. The report challenges the view that external factors are the main determinants of social progress. It approaches development as a human process by which individuals and societies acquire and express greater awareness, knowledge, skills, values and institutional capabilities to promote their material, social and psychological progress and views diversity and pluralism in human societies as a potential force for integration. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the UN is the time to act on all these opportunities, and to establish a global convention on human diversity and a global trust fund for a world without poverty.

The astonishing events of the past few years, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain, make this a time of uncommon opportunities for accelerated progress on issues of concern to all humankind. These events removed the physical barriers to freedom for hundreds of millions of people and the physical threat of nuclear war that loomed over the whole world. But they have also shattered decades-old ideas, beliefs, attitudes and conceptions, leaving us without a clear vision either of our past or our future. Without an understanding of the forces and processes that have brought us to the present, and without an intellectual map to the opportunities and challenges of the future, there is a real danger that the remaining fragments of out-moded ideas, attitudes and structures will lead us backwards rather than forwards or, at the very least, prevent us from seeing, seizing and fully benefiting from this unprecedented occasion.

International commissions set up by governments, or international agencies, such as the UN, which study pressing issues of global concern are bound by the views and policies of the governments that constitute them. Thus, Robert McNamara proposed the establishment of the Brandt Commission as an independent initiative nearly 20 years ago to look beyond the horizons fixed by government policy and priorities, which resulted in a new vision and perception of an interdependent world. The International Commission on Peace and Food is such an independent initiative to seek a fresh perspective that extends beyond the present purview of governments. Like the world in general, the Commission has been overtaken by events. Originally conceived to utilize the growing international consensus on the need to abolish hunger as a lever to promote disarmament, recent progress on disarmament has outpaced our highest expectations. Eradication of poverty has emerged as the most essential condition for building a stable peace.

Several factors make this an auspicious time for breaking new ground and seeking higher accomplishments. The peaceful termination of the confrontation between East and West has lowered the mental barriers that divided the world into opposing ideological camps and prevented either side from critically evaluating their own and opposing viewpoints. This provides us with an opportunity to experiment boldly with new ways to reconcile and synthesize the forces of individual freedom and social responsibility. This is evidenced already by the movement of economic liberalism spreading throughout the developing world and the revolution of democratization that began in Latin America during the early 1980s, then exploded into prominence to sweep away authoritarianism in Eastern Europe, and is now washing away three decades of post-colonial authoritarian rule in Africa, where it has already raised 15 new democratic states in four years. South Africa is the most recent and inspiring example of this new freedom movement.

The aftermath of the Cold War has also given greater impetus to another powerful current that is stirring the world from below a revolution of rising expectations that gained prominence among the Western middle-class after the Second World War, but has now acquired global proportions among the masses on every continent reaching peak intensity in the great cities of Asia, Latin America and to a lesser extent Eastern Europe and Africa unleashing an unprecedented burst of human initiative, a clamour and striving for more comforts and better lives, and a growing impatience and assertiveness, as reflected in the growing incidence of urban and ethnic violence and mini-wars. No longer are the poor satisfied or resigned to their condition, or willing to wait indefinitely for improvement.

These powerful currents, triggered and supported by the onset of the Information Age, are quietly sweeping through the world at the present time, awakening aspirations and stirring energies to action. They bear with them great potentials and grave challenges. A global community of democratic nations is the greatest safeguard against war, for history confirms that liberal democracies do not wage war against one another. So too, is it the greatest safeguard against famine, for no democratic nation with a free press has suffered from famine in the past five decades. The climate of freedom which democracy generates is highly conducive to the market economy and rapid economic development. Rising expectations are a product of growing political and social freedom, and more education translating into higher economic aspirations. They move people to cast off the shackles of inertia, complacency and resignation, which are the handmaidens of poverty, and rise up to fulfil their own economic destiny. The energy and aspirations released by these two movements, if properly harnessed and directed, are enough to rebuild the world in a brighter image; if left blocked from constructive expression and frustrated in their seeking, they are enough to destroy the fragile peace and limited prosperity we now enjoy. Both the potentials and the challenges unleashed by these two great forces urge us, indeed compel us, to a more far-sighted vision and to bolder enterprises.

The new international political climate has also created the possibility of a massive redirection of resources from defence to development. Already military spending has declined by one-third from a peak of $1200 billion in 1987. The hoped-for windfall peace dividend has not met expectations, primarily because a large portion of the cuts were absorbed by the decline in economic activity in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and by efforts to control the US budget deficit. However, an additional $400 billion a year in savings is practicable and could generate substantial cash resources for deployment to address pressing problems. Combined with a conscious and creative effort to utilize for development purposes other resources possessed by the military personnel, R & D capacities, training facilities and teaching staff, organization and management, logistics, transport and communication, engineering and technical facilities we have the material capacity to generate prosperity and a safe environment for all in the coming decade.

The perspective the world seeks must be based on a greater understanding of the inextricable linkages between peace, democratization, development, equity and the environment. None of these great goals can be achieved without corresponding progress towards the others. Today, the greatest security threats are social in origin and cannot be mitigated or controlled by greater defence preparedness. Partial solutions will lead, at best, to temporary achievements fraught with unwanted side-effects that perpetuate the problems we seek to solve or generate new problems in their wake, such as the environmental pollution generated by application of industrial technologies, the population explosion resulting from improved public health, and the economic collapse generated by a uni-dimensional approach to a complex political, social and economic transition in Eastern Europe. Viewing famine in narrow terms as shortage of food ignores the important role of democratic institutions, a free press and employment opportunities in eliminating famine. Comprehensive, integrated solutions alone can unravel the knots that make it impossible to establish peace when more than a billion people remain hungry and impoverished, while at the same time making peace an essential precondition for the eradication of hunger and poverty. ICPF has approached major problems by viewing them as parts of an integrated whole that can only be addressed by concerted action on multiple fronts. The report emphasizes that human attitudes, values, awareness, energy and skill are prime movers of the development process.

What are the foundations of this new intellectual perspective and what sort of strategies, actions and results will it lead to? It requires a change in the way we look at and think of familiar things like war, weaponry, security, the role of the military, developing countries, democracy, agriculture, industrialization. First, we have to awaken from the millennia-old nightmare that war is a natural and inevitable part of human existence, which can perhaps be mitigated or kept far from our shores, but never really mastered or eliminated. In a world now free from major opposing military blocs fighting proxy wars in the developing world to maintain their perceived security interests, there is no insurmountable material or technical or political obstacle to the complete abolition of war as an instrument of national policy and of the incidence of war in international affairs. It requires a determined will and the fashioning of effective institutional arrangements for enforcement. The complete abolition of the production, possession or use of nuclear weapons is a first essential step toward this most desirable goal.

Second, in the interests of human rights, global peace and prosperity, the movement of democratization must be carried to its logical conclusion. The sovereignty of nations, derived as it is from the sovereignty of their people, has to be based on a form of government that grants self-determination to those people. Whatever its inadequacies, representative democracy is the only proven system for extending these rights to all citizens. A representative, democratic form of government should become the norm and standard in international relations and the minimum requirement for participation in the institutions of the UN system. Furthermore, this principle that is so essential to achieving peace and prosperity at the national level is also vitally important to the creation of truly viable and effective institutions for global governance. The rule of law, democracy and universal human rights are incompatible with an international system that is still governed by the principle of rule by might. The world fast approaching is a multi-polar world with many centres of economic growth and political influence. An expansion of the Security Council and abolition of the veto power are necessary but not sufficient steps in this direction. If our aspiration is for the establishment of a settled and secure peace and prosperity for all people, and not merely a precariously unstable and temporary absence of war, then nothing short of a complete restructuring of the UN system along democratic lines will suffice.

Third, there must be a shift from the egocentric, state-centred competitive security system that has governed relations between nations over the past century. This system is founded on the premise that each nation should strive to arm itself militarily against possible sources of aggression, which in turn creates a greater sense of insecurity in other countries, thus leading them similarly to arm themselves. This inherently destabilizing approach to international security was a natural outgrowth of the security arrangements put in place after the two world wars, resulting in the arms race and the confrontation between East and West. It must give way to a new cooperative security paradigm based on the principle that the security of each nation can be enhanced by measures that provide greater security for all nations through lower, rather than higher, levels of defence expenditure and armaments, and by the establishment of a permanent standing military force, a world army, that guarantees the security of all member nations against external aggression.

A fourth new perspective is a change in the way the industrial and developing nations perceive their mutual interests. The old view of a Third World of politically and economically weak, aid-dependent countries is a vestige of the past that blinds us to immense opportunity. While growth is slow or stagnating in much of the West, it is gaining momentum in one developing country after another. The phenomenal progress of the East Asian `Tigers’ is now being outdone in speed and sheer magnitude by China. India and other nations are destined to follow these examples within the decade. In the coming years, the so-called Third World will be the major engine driving the growth of the world economy and, as a result, the greatest potential source of economic growth and job creation for the industrial nations. The measures presented in this report to accelerate development and employment generation in developing countries can be a highly effective strategy for ensuring growth and prosperity for all in the next century.

Fifth, nowhere are we in greater need of fresh thinking than when it comes to the issue of employment. So much have we come to accept the inviolability of the economic rules and systems fashioned haphazardly, and often unthinkingly, for our convenience that we now feel helpless to improve or alter the structures we have created. The very notion of an economic system that provides security and wealth for some while denying it to others regardless of whether that denial is on the basis of heredity, first discovery or superior capacity  is an idea unworthy of a world that speaks of reason and justice, in the same way that slavery and colonialism are now considered unacceptable. Furthermore, it is unsustainable in an increasingly democratic world, where political leaders cannot resort to force to suppress the outrage of a rapidly growing minority of the economically disenfranchised unemployed. In a world where people are responsible for their own livelihoods and economic well-being, employment is not a privilege, it is an absolute necessity. The system that fails to offer job opportunities to all is a failed system. Nor can we cast blame on some inevitable flaw in the market system. Like all others, it has been fashioned from our ideas and values. If we change the priorities, we can make it work differently. The change that is needed is first of all a recognition that employment is a fundamental human right that must be guaranteed to all.

Full employment would seem more appealing if it were not so widely believed to be impossible. The Western world has come to accept the myth that technology is inevitably eliminating jobs. Again, it is intellectual limitations that stand in the way of progress more than material constraints. Although it is certainly true that technology eliminates jobs, at the same time it creates them, and on balance it creates many more than it destroys. Otherwise, how can we account for the 400 per cent increase in employment in the technology-intensive United States during this century, or the projected 21 per cent increase expected over the next 15 years? While the total percentage of the workforce employed is near to historical peak levels, unemployment has risen in the West due to historically high labour force participation rates coupled with a number of temporary factors that will subside during the decade. The notion that the amount of work available in society is fixed has to give way to the realization that society can create real demand for more employment. This report presents a series of practical strategies to stimulate greater demand for labour in industrial and developing nations and provide a viable basis for full employment economies.

Out-dated thinking about food and agriculture conceals a vast hidden potential. For too long, food has been considered primarily as a means to abolish hunger and meet people’s minimum needs, leading the governments and people of many developing countries to overlook its greater role in the process of economic development. Historically, it was rising agricultural productivity and surpluses that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. In this century a strategy based on increasing productivity in agriculture has been a driving force for industrialization, job creation, and rising incomes in the fastest-growing nations of East Asia. Accelerating agricultural development, with the emphasis on value-added commercial crops, is a highly effective strategy for employment generation and industrial growth in developing countries today. Coupled with the elimination of subsidies and protectionist policies for agriculture by industrial countries, ICPF’s country-level research indicates that this strategy may be sufficient to stimulate the creation of the billion jobs needed to abolish poverty and unemployment throughout the developing world. Whatever loss this may entail to the four per cent of the workforce engaged in agriculture in industrial nations will be compensated for many times over by the surging demand for imports of industrial goods and services in developing countries. A structural adjustment is needed in industrial as well as developing countries to abandon anachronistic policies that benefit a few, but curtail the progress of the entire world community, including the nations that employ them.

The need for fresh perspectives and comprehensive strategies is graphically illustrated by the economic decline and social upheaval that has rocked the transition states of Eastern and Central Europe. The courageous initiative of these people to abandon dead rhetoric, reverse narrow attitudes, cast off decrepit structures to embrace new ideas, accept new attitudes and adopt new systems marks the greatest peaceful revolution in history. Yet our common inability to look beyond the mental dichotomy of two out-moded systems a statist communism that stifled the vitality of its people and a rampant free market capitalism that lives on in Western thought long after it has been abandoned in practice in favour of a more humane system has led to untold human suffering and a wasteful squandering of the economic potentials of these countries. The temporary supremacy of economic doctrine in human affairs has blinded us to the need for solutions that are at once politically, economically and socially viable. Efforts to guide a multi-dimensional social, political and economic transition through reliance on uni-dimensional strategies, particularly those focused on manipulation of macro-economic policy, are bound to fail. An alternative approach is needed for the transition in Eastern Europe that builds political and social consensus for rapid change, introduces all the essential elements of a market economy in a balanced manner, gives priority to developing the essential micro-level institutions and skills, recognizes the essential role of government regulation and the special status of agriculture, and reduces reliance on external assistance.

The most difficult mental shift of all involves our conception and attitudes about ourselves. Humanity has become so creative and prolific in its external accomplishments that we have lost sight of the greatest of all resources the human being. It is from within ourselves that have sprung all the ideas, technologies, innovations, organizations and activities we regard with such admiration and anxiety. Most of all, the new perspective the world seeks should be based on a recognition that humankind is the master of its own destiny, that the external limits are not binding on us if we tap the unlimited creative potential of our own inner human resourcefulness. Educating every human being to see the opportunities beyond the present limits and to discover the potentials within themselves is our most important task, for true education is leadership in thought. This education should help us shift from our present preoccupation with problems to a grasping of opportunities and an insistence on actions to exploit them; from an emphasis on meeting minimum needs to a commitment to achieve the maximum which our inner resources and outer potentials make possible.

This leadership in thought necessitates that we first come to understand fully the process by which humankind has evolved to the present level of development, the forces that have propelled or compelled that growth, and the stages and levels of that ascension. Our achievements have been the result of the initiatives and contributions of countless individuals and communities, an unconscious, or at best semi-conscious, process of haphazard trial and error experimentation. In order to proceed more surely and rapidly than in the past, this unconscious process of growth has to be converted into a conscious process of human self-development. We must become conscious of our past achievements so as to hasten and multiply our future accomplishments. The cumulative experience of many countries over the past five decades needs to be freshly examined to evolve a comprehensive theory and model of development which will clarify the process of human self-discovery and development and serve as an instrument for evolving more effective development strategies to meet the challenges that still confront us.

These perspectives have been applied in the report to generate specific strategies for accelerating progress on peace, food security, poverty eradication, full employment, social transition and human development. Although the number and range of recommendations is too great to be briefly summarized, the following fifteen strategies represent the central thrust of the Commission’s proposals.

Summary of Key Recommendations

Restructuring the UN: The opportunity provided by the Fiftieth Anniversary of the UN should be utilized to examine the restructuring of the UN to make it a more representative and democratically functioning system of international governance, by increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council, abolition of the veto power, a redefinition of the respective roles and powers of the Security Council and the General Assembly, enhancing the status and powers of the UN Secretary General, and the establishment of democratic guidelines for membership and participation of states in the UN system.

  1. Global cooperative security system:
    The present state-centred competitive security framework must be replaced by a cooperative security system that unconditionally guarantees the security of member nations against acts of external aggression by means of a standing world army, similar in constitution to NATO but open to all countries that practise democratic principles of national governance, contribute financial and defence resources to a common armed force, accept ceilings on national defence expenditure and eschew possession of nuclear weapons.
  2. Peace dividend:
    A detailed plan should be drawn up by the Security Council for a further 50 per cent reduction in global defence spending before the end of the decade, to a maximum of $400 billion. In addition, all states should conduct studies of the opportunities to re-deploy resources manpower, educational, scientific and technological, productive and organizational controlled by the military to combat rural and urban poverty as well as national and global environmental degradation.
  3. Nuclear weapons:
    The use of nuclear weapons should be declared by the UN a crime against humanity. Based on the precedent of the Chemical Weapons Treaty, the proposal for a universal ban on the possession of nuclear weapons by any nation should be placed before the Security Council. The five permanent members should agree to the suspension of their veto power on this issue so crucial to the future of humanity.
  4. Full employment: Partial or incremental measures will not solve the growing problem of unemployment in industrial nations. A radical change in values, priorities and policies a structural adjustment is required, based on the recognition that employment is a fundamental right of every human being. Comprehensive strategies coordinated among OECD countries should be implemented to increase public investment to spur economic growth, remove tax disincentives for job creation and the bias towards development of capital-intensive technologies, promote small firms, raise minimum educational and training standards, reorient social security programmes, increase labour market flexibility, and make income distribution more equitable.
  5. One billion jobs in developing countries: A comprehensive strategy based on the promotion of commercial agriculture, agro-industries and agro-exports, improved marketing, expansion of rural enterprises and the service sector, dissemination of commercial information, extending basic education and upgrading skills can form the basis for creation of one billion jobs in developing countries over the next decade. Achievement of this goal requires that the industrial countries adopt agricultural trade policies designed to enhance the export opportunities of developing nations.
  6. Global employment programme:
    Neither the industrial nor the developing countries can resolve the problem of unemployment in isolation. The industrial nations require a significant increase in demand, which only the faster-growing developing countries can provide. The latter require greater investment and access to markets, especially for agricultural products and textiles. A global employment programme should be adopted at the 1995 UN Summit, setting forth a plan to expand job creation dramatically worldwide during the rest of the decade. The plan should focus on elimination of protectionist trade policies, debt rescheduling for the poorest debtor nations, accelerated transfer and dissemination of technology, and international cooperation to encourage labour-friendly tax policies.
  7. International sustainable development force for food deficit regions: An international development force should be constituted under the UN, consisting of demobilized military personnel and young professionals, trained and equipped to promote people-centred, sustainable development initiatives. The technical and organizational capabilities of this force should be employed to design and implement integrated programmes to upgrade food production and distribution in famine-prone nations by the introduction of effective systems and institutions for planning, administration, education, demonstration and marketing.
  8. Model districts:
    At the forthcoming UN Social Summit, a plan should be adopted for establishing model district programmes in many countries. The central approach is to improve the usage of available natural, technological, human, managerial, institutional and financial resources in a sustainable manner to optimize production, productivity, farm incomes and employment, non-farm occupations, self-employment opportunities, agro-industrial development, exports and expansion of the service sector. The programmes should also cover depressed urban and rural areas in the industrial nations.
  9. Eliminate crop losses in the CIS:
    In Russia and the other republics of the former USSR, highest priority in agriculture must be given to implementing a comprehensive programme to reduce crop losses, which average between 25 to 50 per cent of total field production for major crops. A viable plan is now available to reduce losses for foodgrains, vegetables and potatoes, eliminating food imports and food shortages within three to five years. The plan requires acquisition of foreign production and storage technology, but depends only marginally on the import of equipment, most of which can be manufactured in domestic defence facilities. In order to be effective, it needs to be supported by a massive public education campaign on the use of new technology to eradicate crop losses combined with demonstration plots on both large-scale and small private farms throughout the country.
  10. Institutional development for economic transitions:
    Macro-economic policy reforms must be complemented by parallel efforts at the micro-level to build up new social institutions to support education and training in entrepreneurial and management skills, a free flow of commercial and technical information, access to credit and marketing assistance for small enterprises, business incubators, industrial estates, quality standards, leasing, franchising, and a wide range of other basic commercial systems.
  11. Global education programme:
    A worldwide programme should be launched to improve the quantity and quality of education in both developing and industrial nations. The programme should focus on the achievement of six objectives: eradication of illiteracy by 2000; raising the educational standards of female children to that of males; expanding techniracy by improving basic technical information and productive skills through a network of basic technical institutions using methods of instruction appropriate to the recipients; changes in the school curricula at all levels to reorient education to promote self-employment; raising the minimum levels of education in industrial nations by two years; and evolving education systems now to prepare youth for life in the twenty-first century.
  12. Master plan for debt alleviation:
    An international agreement should be negotiated to provide debt alleviation for the 60 poorest, most indebted countries. Debt reductions can be based on the current market value of country debt, directly linked to investment by these countries in programmes to expand education, upgrade vocational skills and other investments that attack the root causes of poverty.
  13. Comprehensive, human-centred theory of development:
    An important shift in thinking has taken place from regarding development primarily in terms of economic growth to greater emphasis on the human welfare and development of people. But development is not only a set of goals or material achievements it is a social process by which human beings progressively develop their capacities and release their energies for higher levels of material achievement, social and cultural advancement, and psychological fulfilment. A new theory is needed that focuses on the dynamic role of information, attitudes, social institutions and cultural values in the development process. An international effort should be initiated at the forthcoming UN Social Summit to evolve a comprehensive, human-centred theory of individual and social development that will lead to the formulation of more effective strategies to accelerate the development process.
  14. Tolerance, diversity and small arms proliferation:
    The dramatic increase in the availability and use of small arms has become a highly destabilizing factor, both in industrial and developing countries. Often these weapons are utilized against other ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. Highest priority must be given to controlling and reversing the proliferation of small arms on a parallel with the determined international measures employed to curb hijacking. These weapons should be classified and a UN register created to monitor their manufacture and sale; agreements should be negotiated between major arms suppliers to severely restrict production and sales; and strong sanctions must be instituted to discourage states from abetting small arms proliferation. The year 1995, declared as the International Year for Tolerance, will be an appropriate time to establish a global convention on human diversity and a global trust fund for a world without poverty.