On Human Identity & Global Governance
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are commonly described as a “roadmap for world development by 2015”. They embody the core content of the current development agenda of “global governance”. They are treated as the current framework of international development cooperation, to which there would allegedly be no alternative. All countries and development agents have so far proven to comply with this framework, reasoning and operating “inside the box”. The MDG framework will remain valid until at least 2015, the “target date” established for its implementation. Although not a legally binding instrument, nor even a formal UN resolution, the MDG framework has in practice acquired a politically and morally compelling character.
What is the origin and history of the MDGs?
In the 1990s, UN member states went through an intense, historically unprecedented UN conference process, aimed at “building consensus” on development priorities for the 21st century. A consensus was proclaimed, even if the acrimonious debates that marked some of the conferences (1994 Cairo conference on population and 1995 Beijing conference on women in particular) were proof of the fakeness of the consensus. At the end of the 1990s, governments experienced “conference fatigue”, and those actors at the rudder of global governance feared the process launched by the conferences was losing steam.
The year 2000 was an opportunity the UN did not want to miss to reengage governments. Under the influence of the UN Secretariat, at the Millennium Summit held in New-York in September 2000, 189 UN member-states adopted the Millennium Declaration – a declaration which ideologically builds on the conference process of the 1990s. The Declaration, signed by 147 heads of states, substantially draws from the UN Secretary General Millennium Report published in April 2000, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century. The history of the intergovernmental Declaration reveals the key role played by the UN Secretariat in the drafting process, which raises the question: does the Declaration express the views of sovereign governments and the will of the people these governments represent, or those of the experts consulted by the UN Secretariat?
A year later, in August 2001, the UN Secretariat published the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The goals were devised, not by governments through an open debate as would have been desirable, if the goals were to express the will of the people in developing countries, but by a “working committee drawn from a range of UN bodies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, UNICEF, the Population Fund and the World Health Organization, as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” (1). The goals were not the object of a formal resolution of the UN General Assembly, but it was taken for granted that they reformulated the intergovernmental Declaration and were to frame international development cooperation until 2015. The history of the goals’ origin makes it clear that they are not, strictly speaking, an intergovernmental product, but an initiative driven by the UN Secretariat and its “experts”: a fuzzy, “formal-informal” situation.
The MDG process
The UN Secretary General invited heads of state and government for a Summit at the opening of the General Assembly in September 2005 in New-York, in order to review progress towards the goals. 170 heads of state and government participated in the event. On September 20-22, 2010, a UN High Level Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly on MDGs will take place.
Ever since 2005, the UN Secretariat has issued a yearly Millennium Development Goals Report. The report is based on a master set of data compiled by an Inter-Agency and Expert Group on MDG Indicators, led by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN Secretariat.
In 2002, the UN Secretary General commissioned the Millennium Project, an independent advisory body, to develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve the MDGs. In 2005, the Millennium Project, directed by economist Jeffrey Sachs, presented its final recommendations to the Secretary General in a report entitled Investing in Development – A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As of January 1st, 2007, the advisory work formerly carried out by the Millennium Project is being continued by an MDG support team integrated under the UN Development Program (UNDP). The UNDP, which is present in 166 countries, now plays a central role in tracking the MDGs (global progress, country progress and UNDP’s work with donors), campaigning and mobilizing, researching and sharing best strategies, and supporting governments in operational activities.
The MDGs inspires a global lobby, the Endpoverty2015 millennium campaign, which describes itself as a “growing global movement of people who are demanding that their government honor their commitments to achieve the MDGs by 2015” (2).
The history of the MDG process since its origin reveals that sovereign governments are not in the driver’s seat, but are themselves driven by a host of “partners” whose identity often remains nebulous: experts appointed or consulted by the UN Secretariat, statisticians, the UN Secretariat and other UN bodies, other international organizations, financial institutions, bilateral agencies, the “private sector”, NGOs and pressure groups… This tacit acceptance of governance by experts, not by the people for the people, is a symptom of the current western crisis of democracy. The West exports its crisis to global governance. As a consequence, global governance processes such as the MDGs tend to often be opaque – a situation which facilitates power-grab by special interest groups.
© Marguerite A. Peeters 2010 – Permission needed for any public or semi-public use of this module.
1. Barbara Crossette. Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals.