At the United Nations World Summit for Social Development, which ended in Copenhagen on March 12, world leaders accentuated the importance of promoting development for the benefit of humankind and of wiping out social injustice. “Human security” was the underlying concept of discussions at the week-long gathering.
Although the concept sounds unfamiliar to many, that does not mean it should be ignored. Security and peace in the post-Cold War era will depend on the completion of such urgently needed tasks as the elimination of poverty and the provision of health care to anyone who needs it.
The U.N. was established to ensure human security as well as national security. But the Security Council has dominated the world stage for too long, relegating the Economic and Social Council to relative obscurity. The U.N. should be given credit for finally making an effort to correct this imbalance.
A report released by the U.N. Development Program says that, with the Cold War over, people are more concerned about getting on with daily life than about disputes among nations. This is because many social and economic problems remain, despite developmental progress achieved in many places of the world.
Poverty and unemployment prevail. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. Environmental pollution and crime are worsening. Now is the time to give serious thought to human security and not just national security.
In developing countries, 20% of the population does not have enough to eat and 25% does not have access to clean drinking water and other daily necessities. Nearly 80% of the world’s poor live in Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank.
But poverty is not unique to developing nations. In the U.S., for instance, the number of those living below the government-set poverty line has risen for four years in a row.
Participants at the Copenhagen summit agreed that each country will hammer out a policy by the end of next year to eradicate poverty. To this end, the summit called on industrial democracies to allocate 20% of their official development assistance to social development, mainly health and education projects, and urged developing countries to spend 20% of their national budgets for the same purpose.
ODA has tended to be channeled too heavily into big infrastructure projects like dams and ports. Because this is particularly true of Japan’s ODA programs, the government should review the way it provides assistance to developing countries.
Furthermore, many developing countries are diverting huge sums of money for military purposes at the expense of social-development projects. Therefore, the 20% principle, if and when implemented, would entail a degree of disarmament.
But the elimination of poverty is easier said than done. In the preparatory stages of the summit, a proposal was made to set a specific target date, somewhere between five and 10 years, for wiping out poverty worldwide. The proposal was later dismissed as unrealistic. Even the 20% principle, although adopted, is non-binding in nature.
Despite these and other shortcomings, the Copenhagen summit did elicit many suggestions for building a new world order. Whether the ambitions mapped out at the summit can actually be realized hinges on the efforts of the participants. At a follow-up meeting to be held in five years, it is hoped world leaders will not have to wonder what exactly was discussed when they last gathered in Copenhagen.