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Post-Rio Sustainable Development and the Summit

Maurice F. Strong

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Institutional Reform: Managing Interdependence

The unprecedented complex of challenges faced by national societies becomes even more daunting as we confront the implications for global governance. For, as the realities of global interdependence have opened up vast new opportunities accompanied by a new generation of global risks, they have also imposed new constraints on the capacities of individual nations to deal with these. This makes cooperation among nations more and more necessary, and requires a new look at the international organizations and processes through which nations cooperate to manage these issues.

The G7 Summit meeting in Halifax, the 50th anniversary of the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations provide a timely opportunity to review and revisit the structure and mandates of these organizations which constitute the principal system of multinational organization at the global level. This must be accompanied by a review of the relationship of these global institutions with the large number of regional and special purpose organizations outside of the United Nations and Bretton Woods system, which now play roles of growing importance. Few of these other institutions existed 50 years ago when the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions were created.

These issues were examined in depth by the Commission on Global Governance, cochaired by Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson of Sweden, and former Commonwealth SecretaryGeneral Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana, of which I was privileged to be a member. I believe that its report has made an important contribution to this dialogue. What is clear from this analysis is that the global system of governance needs substantial strengthening and reorientation if it is to provide the services that the world community will require of it in the period ahead.

The issue of reform of multilateral institutions, principally the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions, is now the subject of a great deal of attention. Indeed, it has become a veritable industry. Many proposals are being made for fundamental changes, particularly for changes in the Charter of the United Nations. Certainly such changes are necessary and, at some point, inevitable. But the difficulties that must be surmounted are formidable. An agreement will not be achieved quickly or easily in the present political climate.

We must not make the mistake in opening up these processes of constitutional revisiting to freeze them at the present status quo. In a world of rapid change, any new Charter changes must incorporate processes for continued reopening and revisiting such changes in light of the developments that are bound to occur in the geopolitical balances within our world community.

A process must be set up to include a task force with other key countries (not simply members of the G7), and with the assistance of their supporting organizations, including the OECD. The task force should have a mandate to explore the implementation of a continuing process for review and reorientation of the existing multilateral system. That is the best we can hope for. To try to crystallize a consensus today would likely result in a lower level than was achieved 50 years ago. The worst thing to do is try to crystallize political consensus when the realities of that consensus do not support the desired conclusions.

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