News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS — President Bush’s policies drew heavy condemnation from leaders of dozens of countries at the World Summit here, Sept. 14-16. Despite strenuous efforts by his new UN representative John Bolton, the Bush administration was unable to either ram its agenda through the summit or completely derail it, as it was able to do at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review a few months earlier. This defeat was an indication of Bush’s weakened international reputation, some observers noted.

The World Summit attracted the heads of state of 151 countries, making it the largest gathering of world leaders in history. Its agenda was set to focus on major world concerns over economic and social development and peace, as well as reform of the UN and other issues.

As UN meetings generally work, success is measured by the production of an outcome document agreed to by consensus. The World Summit’s final document will set policy for the UN and its member states for the coming period.

A document had been carefully hashed out over months, but late in August, in one of his first acts, Bolton put forward a version making hundreds of changes. This set off a frenzy as UN General Assembly President Jean Ping led an effort to reach a compromise.

The overriding issue of the summit was global economic development and reduction of inequality, and Bolton had proposed extreme changes in the outcome document in that field. He proposed to eliminate any reference to the Millennium Development Goals, which would, if met, drastically improve the situation of the less developed world. There had been an earlier agreement that rich countries would donate 0.7 percent of their national income to development aid to finance these goals — and Bolton wanted to slash reference to that, too.

However, the final document retained both the development goals and the 0.7 percent donation goal — as well as a provision that would guarantee an additional $50 billion per year for development funding.

Commentators saw this as evidence of the Bush administration’s increasing isolation. “The absence of compromise would have led to the idea that this summit was a failure, so there needed to be an outcome document,” Milkah Kihunah, project associate for the Peacewomen Project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told the World. The U.S. realized that it would be blamed for the failure, and concluded that “this was something that must be avoided,” Kihunah said.

But the Bush administration was able to remove references to nuclear disarmament from the document. “Twice this year — at the NPT review conference, and now at this summit — we have allowed posturing to get in the way of results. This is inexcusable,” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, directly before Bush addressed the gathering. Annan was referring to the Bush administration’s loud protestations about nuclear proliferation in other countries, while it blocks all steps to cut its own enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons and those of other nuclear powers.

Many speakers condemned unilateral war — which many see as synonymous with the Bush administration. Delegates must “uphold multilateralism to realize common security,” said China’s President Hu Jintao. “Peace is the fundamental premise for mankind’s development. Without peace, we can neither go for a new development agenda nor prevent the destruction of the achievements of our previous development.”

Left up in the air were issues related to the massive debt owed by developing countries. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have used loans as a way to compel those countries to adopt “neoliberal” free market restructuring of their economies.

Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner, whose nation was sent to the brink of collapse by IMF-imposed indebtedness, called “the persistence of discriminatory and inequitable policies in international trade” an impediment to development, “both for the poorest nations and for middle-income countries such as my own.” He said he was distressed by the “ideological component” prevalent in the IMF in favor of laissez-faire capitalist economic development for developing nations.

The summit agreed in principle to set up a standing police force in order to respond quickly in situations of war crimes and genocide, when national authorities fail to protect their own people. Many nations, while agreeing on the need for rapid response to humanitarian crises, voiced concerns this could become a tool of the U.S. or other imperial-minded powers. Details were left for resolution by the UN General Assembly.

The conference also agreed to establish a peace-building commission, which would help countries emerging from wars or civil wars to establish peaceful structures.