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The G7 Summit and the Reform of
Global Institutions

Nicholas Bayne

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The institutions of the United Nations family are the only ones which managed to preserve a world-wide membership throughout the cold war. But they often survived by dint of strained and laborious compromises between East, West and a group of non-aligned countries discontented with both. These rivalries made efficient organization and management extremely difficult.

When the cold war ended, the potential for collective UN action expanded hugely. The Security Council, for example, could usually count on Russian cooperation and at least Chinese acquiescence in international action. But the new demands on the UN have outrun its capacity. Its organizational structures and methods, eroded by the years of the cold war, have been strained to the limit, while its finances are undermined by persistent arrears from most member states. Only about a dozen UN members always pay their subscriptions in full and on time Britain and Canada being among them.

The preparation of UN issues for Halifax was less detailed than for financial reforms. The problems were more diverse and incoherent and concerned a more varied group of institutions. There was uncertainty among the Sherpas on whether proposals from the G7 would be received at all positively by the rest of the UN membership. But at Halifax itself the heads of government concluded that the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations provided an ideal chance to start a process of renewal, which would not be repeated. The leaders themselves, including Yeltsin, had the most animated exchange on their second day at Halifax on this subject. Stimulated by Major, they strengthened the text offered by the Sherpas. The result is the most extensive treatment of UN issues ever attempted by a G7 Summit, taking up nearly another third of the published declaration.

The general aim of the Halifax recommendations is to give the UN a stronger organizational structure, with less confusion of responsibility; to advocate more systematic management techniques; and to restore the UN's finances. The leaders looked especially at the humanitarian, development, environment and other economic and social work of the UN and its agencies. They recommended, for example:

The G7 gave much thought to how to follow up their ideas for reform, so as to gain the widest possible support from other UN member states and the staffs of UN bodies. They did not want to alienate others or to provoke suspicion of their intentions. So they agreed to work together to promote change in all UN contexts where reform is being considered, building up coalitions of support from all parts of the membership. Major UN events, such as the special anniversary meeting in October 1995, would be occasions to take their ideas forward. But other gatherings outside the UN framework, such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the Summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries, both due in November, should also be used to promote their ideas, seek reactions and gather wider support. Even more than with the IMF and the World Bank, the Halifax conclusions are meant to initiate a long process of UN reform, spread over several years.

Copyright ©, Government and Opposition 1995. Reproduced by permission of the author and Government and Opposition.

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