Mark Malloch Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary-General and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, and Minister of State in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, took part in an IBA webcast interview on 20 November 2012.
James Lewis (JL): I’m James Lewis. Welcome to this live IBA webcast. With me today is Mark Malloch Brown, who’s had a long and distinguished career. At the UN, he was Kofi Annan’s right hand man, first as his Chief of Staff, and then as Deputy Secretary General. He’s also been Head of External Affairs at the World Bank, and was invited to advise the government on the United Nations Africa and Asia, becoming Lord Malloch Brown.
Mark has also had an interesting career as a political consultant, advising remarkable figures from Peru to the Philippines. All of this suggests that we’ll have a wide-ranging discussion on the nature of International Affairs, and the future of Global Governance. Mark, welcome to the IBA.
Mark Malloch Brown (MMB): Thanks, James.
James Lewis (JL): Before we get started, let me just remind our viewing audience that they can send in their questions. We welcome that, and we’ll pass those on to Mark as the discussion unfolds. So, Mark, as I’ve said, we’ll talk about global governance, other big issues, reform of the United Nations, the need for political vision, events between Israel and Gaza, and really bring all of that into sharp focus. Perhaps you can share with us your assessment.
00.01.14: Mark Malloch Brown (MMB): Well, you know, often, if one’s a retired international affairs type, one sounds a little boring when one says 'in my day…'
But when it comes to Israel and Palestine, one actually has every excuse for saying 'in my day'. Because never has there been a crisis which is so circular. We’ve been there before, almost whatever happens.
You know, Israel has, before now, stood on the cusp of invasion of the Palestinian territories. It, before now, has invaded and occupied those territories. We’ve just seen it, time after time, and the frustration is that it’s as though no lessons are learnt, while other parts of the world have, over recent decades, in glorious revolutions, in many cases, collected the political courage to resolve their disputes.
In the case of the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think the frustration for all of us on the outside is, why does it have to go so many rounds? Why does it have to continuously repeat itself? When will Israel learn that there is not a military solution to containing the threat of Gaza?
And when will those in Gaza learn that they have no choice but to find a modus vivendi, a peace agreement with Israel, which allows both sides to prosper and bring up their families in peace and security, as those of us in the rest of the world are largely able to do? And so, you know, it brings back old ghosts, this conflict, and old frustrations.
00.03.04: JL: You’re clear that the United Nations needs reforming. The situation in Syria was already making that a pressing need; you’re saying we’ve got a recurring problem. You and Kofi Annan really had this as your project, reform of the United Nations; what did you want? What were you aiming for?
MMB: Well, we were starting from the proposition that here is an organisation which had, you know, pretty much not changed since its early beginnings in the 1940s. Certainly the humanitarian and development operations had grown in scale, but the fundamental governance of the whole system remained largely as it had originally been set up.
And over time, there come the inevitable, sort of, barnacles of middle age, and they grow up around the machinery, making it even less responsive and effective. And so we felt, look, here’s a very different world; there are new emerging powers who are not represented enough in the councils and decision-making of the UN.
There are non-state actors such as NGOs, but also groups, such as lawyers, business and so on, all of whom should have a critical voice in the building of a new global society. And yet, the UN wasn’t really organised to allow that voice to be heard and channelled into advice or decisions.
Above all, the organisation was not right-sized for its times. The general 'hit' on the UN is vast, unaccountable bureaucracy, and in truth, in its total, it's rather smaller than the city government of Vienna, or the fire department of New York.
So we needed, in our view, to rebuild a UN which was more representative of its time, more effective at taking on a growing global agenda; an organisation which could use the great wave of globalisation to take it to a position where it became the manifest institution for managing this new global integration that had occurred.
You know, I think the UN has, in a way, had two great moments and opportunities in its life. One was when Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish Secretary General who tragically died in the Congo was in charge in the 1960s, and his period as Secretary General coincided with the extraordinary sense of possibility and opportunity provided by the end of Empire, by decolonisation in Africa and Asia. And he put himself at the head of those forces of liberation and freedom, and became their champion.
Kofi Annan, in a similar way, became, strangely, the 'Secretary General of Globalisation'. Not of the globalisation which was about multinational companies and all the rest of it, but the globalisation which was about people seeing their lives transformed by much higher rates of economic growth, through inclusion in the world economy, through being able to reach the new media and new technologies, whether it was in health or education, that could transform their lives.
And so he became the Secretary General for this second great wave of optimism and opportunity which, in a way, swept the world. And you know, we just wanted to equip him with a UN which could deliver on that sense of optimism and opportunity.
00:07:00: JL: Right, okay. Picking up on that, and coming back to Syria as well, you’ve described the doctrine of 'Responsibility to Protect', which was very much a Kofi Annan project, and it responds to the points you’re making there, and yet, we see the situation in Syria. Does that mean that 'RtoP' is dead in the water?
MMB: It’s taken a serious amount of, sort of, beneath the water level damage, if I can say that.
JL: Right. Is it fatal?
MMB: I don’t think so. My defence of the current condition of the UN, is, it isn’t working well, but in an era of globalisation, global management arrangements are indispensable. Now, it’s certainly possible that the UN could fall by the wayside, and a new network of institutions and arrangements come up.
I mean, you’re seeing some of that in the emergence of things like the G20. But if you take the problem that Responsibility to Protect was trying to address, which is that the human rights and welfare of people is, at times, too important to be trusted to their governments, that idea is very clearly one which isn’t going to go away. It’s at the basis of an awful lot of the development of international law.
The idea is that, at a global level, not just a national level, institutions need to be accountable to people and principles and values, and to show consistency in how they treat people. And Responsibility to Protect was about what happens when you get a major state/people breakdown, and a government turns on its own people, or a portion of those people.
JL: Describing Syria, almost.
MMB: Well, which describes Syria. And, you know, and when that happens, the doctrine, which is really at this stage a lot of articles in learned law journals, and books by academics and policy makers, myself included, but in terms of actual, adopted international law, it’s a paragraph or two in General Assembly Resolutions and suchlike.
JL: It’s very much nascent.
00:09:22: MMB: It’s nascent. And you know, in fact, the first real reference to it in the Security Council Resolution was Libya. And in a sense, there also lay the seeds of the current problem because it got slipped into the Libyan resolution, and strangely, the Russians and Chinese barely commented on it.
It went racing through, despite their historic suspicion of it. And then of course, when it was seen as, in their eyes, yet again opening the door to a western intervention and military action which went, in their view, way beyond what the Resolution had anticipated, it raised all the old spectres again, of this being a doctrine not of global equity and global human rights importance, but rather a thin-end-of-the-wedge vehicle for western intervention.
JL: And so we see all the weaknesses with the Security Council.
00:10:23: JL: Coming back to it, you would say that the Security Council really does need to be reformed now; you know, this institution goes back to 1945. The Security Council particularly reflects the order as it was then. Things have changed.
Are we likely to see change - would Britain give up its permanency, for example? Should Germany be on there? Brazil, India?
MMB: Well, I certainly think that Brazil and India have to come on, as two of the three that you’ve mentioned. I think the German issue probably needs to be taken account of through a more effective European representation. You know, Europe seems to always think that its inability to pick who should represent it means that the rest of the world is willing to put up with just having more Europeans there.
Frankly, I don’t think the world is ready at the moment to add Germany to France and Britain, as a third European permanent member. It was still possible a few years ago when this came up, and Germany was one of the group of countries asking that. I think Germany’s moment may have, in that sense, passed.
But in a sense, I think the early reform that we were espousing, I mean, sometimes time and delay is not exactly the enemy of progress that one anticipates. And I actually think any UN Security Council reform adopted now, in some ways, would be wiser and mature than what I, and others, were pressing for some five years back.
The reason for that is that it’s become clearer and clearer that reform has to be on two tracks; not just reform of membership, but reform of procedures, use of the veto, how items can be introduced, enforcement, and agreement on what the enforcement capabilities of the Council are. So it needs a general retooling and updating.
And then, within that, on the membership, perhaps rather than adding permanent new members, we try to move to a place where all members are elected on a 'long-term lease' basis. You know, 15 or 20 years, because today’s world is a bit of a rollercoaster. Those who are up now are not necessarily always going to be up.
At the beginning of the UN, in 1944/1945, Brazil pressed really hard to be a permanent member, and the reason they didn’t get it was that Australia said, 'If they get it, we’ve got to get it, too.'
And people realised that was just a bridge too far. But if Brazil had been elected, you would have had 40 years in which people would have been scratching their heads as to the logic of that, because Brazil was lost in the midst of military dictatorship for much of it, its economy was a total mess.
It was not the gleaming new global power of today. You know, you can anticipate that other countries which look 'up' now, may have their own periods of 'down' later. So I think you’ve got to have flexibility about who’s on the Council, to ensure that it remains representative as world power shifts occur.
00:13:48 JL: You’ve started to talk a little bit, whilst we’re talking about the United Nations, about something more wide-ranging. You’re talking about, really, a new global order. And you’ve said the United Nations could continue, or it might disappear; you’re fairly open-minded on that.
We look at whether the G20 is now the real focal point for international communal action, in the wake of the financial crisis. Is it regional blocks, OPEC, ASEAN? Tell me your views.
MMB: Well, you know, in the terrible phrase of those who spend their days in this strange vineyard, it’s a matter of 'variable geometry'. And what I think people mean by that is that, you know, each global issue may require a somewhat different constellation of actors engaged around it, a kind of coalition of the willing, if you like.
And it won’t just be state actors; if it’s energy, it’ll be producers and consumers. If it’s a human rights issue, or an environmental issue, it’ll be a whole array of civil society actors, as well as states and business who will want a voice at the table.
But the UN, in this world of coalitions of the willing, had one absolute claim to legitimacy that is uniquely its own, and that is the fact that it is a global, all-inclusive, treaty-based body.
I’m always surprised, knowing the dear old thing from the inside, with all its shabbiness and lack of resources, and weaknesses in so many ways, that looked at from outside, to much of the world - not necessarily to the people watching this webcast - but to, you know, hundreds of millions of people striving for a better life in all sorts of places, the UN remains this shining beacon on the hill, and has this legitimacy.
So when big changes like the Millennium Development Goals, or a doctrine such as the Responsibility to Protect, are adopted by the UN, they get a legitimacy and a universality that nobody else can give them. And so, even take the G20, which is not a treaty body; it’s a, kind of, voluntary club of the self-proclaimed 20-plus economies in the world. Even though it represents 85 per cent of global GDP, despite all of that, its own decisions lack global legitimacy, let alone implementation or enforceability.
So a lot of them go back to the UN, for validation and universal adoption. So you know, the UN just has that particular status. The World Bank, where I’ve also worked, powerful, important, a highly respected international institution to some, much criticised by others…
MMB: Washington-based. It just lacks the same global authority which is the hallmark of the UN.
00:17:06: JL: With the IMF and the World Bank, you know, there is that problem, isn’t there, that you have an American and a European head at the Washington base that are unaccountable. Do they really act in the interests of the poor, or are they acting in the interests of the market? And they’re unaccountable while they’re doing that; what’s your feeling?
MMB: Well, it is strange, because, you know, both institutions have always been much better run than their critics give them credit for, and staffed by people with a real commitment, a vocational commitment, in the case of the World Bank, to reducing poverty; and in the case of the IMF to financial stability and growth, and other good things. They are actually remarkable institutions, the modern international mandarinette, if you like.
But they have always struggled to escape the label that they are western dominated. Look at the boards of both. They’ve managed to achieve, in the membership of their two boards, a lot more reform and shift of ownership than we managed at the UN in the Security Council. And yet, despite all that hard work, they’re still routinely dismissed as unaccountable and out of touch, and all the rest. Whereas the UN, with a governance model dating from the mid-1940s, somehow is seen as more representative and legitimate.
So they struggle. And in truth, while the world goes on changing, a few years ago, the IMF looked as though it was largely played out, and now, a good old-fashioned long-running financial crisis in, of all places, Europe, has brought the IMF swinging back into vogue.
The World Bank, which, when I was lucky enough to work there, was at the height of its authority and power, has been on a steady decline, and not because I left, I hasten to say, but just because of this rise of investment capital going into the developing world from so many other sources, which has squeezed it in an unanticipated way. Today, frankly, it's a shadow of its former self.
00:19:25: JL: Before we move on to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, which is an important project for you, and one that’s very much on the agenda, I just wanted to come back to finish off on the Middle East, really. We started talking about…
MMB: We’d never finish on the Middle East!
JL: We’d never finish, no. But I wanted to just read a section from your book, which predated the Arab Spring really, and come up to date, if we can.
You say: 'The Arab world’s political future lay like a fallen tree across a path to its economic development. Until it was cleared, it would have no progress, no stability.' As I said, that was before the Arab Spring; what’s your view now, two years on from when the Arab Spring started?
MMB: What lay behind those words was an extraordinary group of books that we commissioned when I headed the UN Development Programme, called the Arab Human Development Report. And an astonishing group of Arab authors wrote these reports, and my job was to go and be the poor suit who had to explain to Arab ambassadors why we had engaged in what they saw as a hostile act against them.
But you know, these books, as I say, with Arab authors, declared that the Arab world had these three big deficits: a deficit of democracy, a deficit of gender - the marginalisation of women in economy and society - and a deficit of secular education, and a lot of rote Muslim teaching, but without the kind of, if you like, post–enlightenment scientific secular education that had been such a spur to western development.
And as a westerner, one could never get away with this kind of critique, so a group of Arab authors, again, writing for UNDP in this case, but with that umbrella of UN legitimacy, wrote something which, within a week or so, had downloaded a million copies in Arabic over the internet. It lit up the airwaves of the new satellite television stations like Al Jazeera, that were pretty new in the region at the time.
And so I became, through this process, deeply convinced that, in the Arab region - and I’d make this case across the whole world - when the politics stultifies and when it gets stuck, which is different to saying, it has to all be democratic, good democrat though I am, but when systems stultify, there’s no accountability, there’s no change, the system becomes more and more unresponsive to the growing demands of a youth, then you are set for a fall. And that’s what’s happened in that world.
Now, having also lived through the change in Eastern Europe, what I’d say is that these changes…are not overnight fairy stories.
With Eastern Europe, I watched it take ten years to move from post-communist chaos, weak governments, you know, coming in, one after another, to something akin to the stability of their Western European neighbours. And I’m sure something similar will happen in the Arab world. But I think we will continue to see a lot of instability of government in countries like Egypt or Libya, or even Tunisia.
And, you know, there’ll be a lot of 'we-told-you-so' from neo-conservatives and other groups. But in truth, if this journey only takes ten years, the people of the region will be very privileged, because, you know, actually, it’s a flash in time.
And if, at the end of it, there is an Egypt which is more akin to Turkey, you know, a big secular country with a dynamic market, and high rates of growth, but with a very respectful Islamic quality to its governance, if that’s its point of stability in a democratic rule of law system ten years from now, whatever happens in the meantime will, I suspect, be a price worth paying.
00:23:45 JL: I’m interested in your views in this context, on social media. It's getting a very bad reputation at the moment, because of goings-on in the British media and the BBC. But in the context of the Arab Spring, it’s well documented that it had a powerful impact, and more generally, I’d assume your view is that it’s an accountability mechanism, and it can really take power away from outdated institutions, and empower the disenfranchised.
MMB: Absolutely. I think it changes pretty much everything it touches, in terms of the way it spreads the debate, pulls people into potential accountability over institutions they care about. I mean, we were talking of the UN earlier, the UN is a squashed little thing in a few city blocks of Manhattan.
And you know, whenever it tries to get NGOs into its meetings, it can never fit in enough. Now, through social media, there is the opportunity of consultation with a much wider range of civil society, able to come in on environmental issues over the internet from their very homes in the rainforests or wherever it is that they are interacting from.
It potentially transforms the nature of international policy development, and political debate. Saying that, obviously, as someone who started his life as a journalist, call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that before you claim something about somebody, you need a couple of sources.
JL: It’s good to check!
MMB: Yes. You know, I do worry. My concern for what’s happened in Britain with irresponsible use of social media is that it comes back in a way that allows authoritarian leaders, those who are left, to start censoring and closing down social media, on the grounds that it’s libellous.
This would pervert what should be an argument about accountability and free speech, into one about the responsibility of the social media. And it would be a real cost if the social media community played into that.
00:24:13 JL: Absolutely. I just wanted to get a handle on your motivation - you’ve obviously done a lot of good things at the top of some important institutions, but you’ve also seen some horrendous things. I’m just wondering whether this is a motivation in part? I’m thinking about refugee camps, seeing people fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and you write powerfully about it in your book. I’m just wondering if those formed strong memories, and whether there are similar things that motivate you, and what they are, really.
MMB: Well, I think it started with a boy’s own sense of adventure. You know, I was that generation, too late to be booted off to work in the colonies or anything else, but the school library was still filled with the novels of that era.
My father was a South African lawyer, as it happened, at least, a lawyer by training, and I just had throughout my childhood this sense of adventure, and almost of exploration, to go and discover Africa.
And the moment I was out of school, I raced off to do just that. It didn’t take me long, you know, seeing the difficulties and poverty there, in the very beginning of the 1970s, to persuade me that the sense of adventure needed to be married to a vocational sense of service and contribution to try and do something about it.
It has proved a combination which has been a powerful motor through life in that I was lucky enough in my 20s to do those indispensable years in difficult refugee camps, and revolutionary situations around the world, which both I suppose shaped and hardened me as a person, but perhaps equipped me with the judgement and the hinterland to take on leadership roles in these big institutions.
Because, you know, these big institutions...they wrap you up in a kind of bureaucratic... wrapping of some kind, and fill your days with meetings and protocol. And to grip them and turn them, and direct them to the fight against poverty that brought you into leading them, is a daily act of will.
It's doable, because there are lots of other fabulous people and collaborators in these organisations, who are just waiting to have that kind of leadership which allows them to cut through all the disincentives to action, and the 'small-c' conservatism that tends to keep them going day to day.
But nevertheless, you know, I think you have to have been amongst dying kids in your 20s to be good at this stuff in your 50s, or still good at this stuff in your 50s.
JL: You still draw on those memories.
MMB: Yes, it left me with a sense of urgency and impatience, which I hope has never deserted me.
00:29:56 JL: Which brings me on nicely to the core of what we need to discuss today, which is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). You played a strong role in writing these. It was something that Kofi Annan really pushed hard, and I interviewed Muhammad Yunus recently, he’s Bangladeshi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he said that the MDGs were the best thing that mankind had ever done.
I think you’d be more critical; you said that they were rushed, and they didn’t lead to formal agreements, and I’m very interested, because Ban Ki-moon has brought it back onto the agenda, and rightly so, because we’re approaching 2015, which is when the eight goals were meant to have been reached. He’s putting together his task force, or his group of people to look at it, co-chaired by David Cameron, I believe.
The question is, if you were writing the MDGs now, and you had more time, what would you add? What would be in there?
MMB: Well, I think the first thing to say is, they probably wouldn’t be as good. That’s not an entirely flippant remark. It's precisely because they were done in a rather hurried way, without a sense of the historical importance that would quickly become attached to them, that they were... They liberally borrowed from things that others had written before, but had been written principally by a group of western policy types, clustered around an organisation called the OECDDAC - the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.
And you know, they’d taken these things out of a bunch of global conferences in the 1990s, around the environment, women, reproductive health, other things, and put them together. But because they had put them together, they didn’t have this global legitimacy. It goes back to what I was talking about earlier, in the UN.
We were able to borrow from that, add some things which weren’t there, and I’m sorry to say, take some things out, which we just recognised we could not get through the UN by consensus.
JL: What did you take out?
MMB: Well, you know, the family planning stuff is fudged because of the conservatism that you would anticipate on that. We didn’t have a democracy goal, because again, that would have been deeply resisted, but actually there is a strangely powerful call in the language around the MDGs, in the document, about democracy being an enabling condition for reaching them.
But perhaps more important than the process of how it was done was the times in which it was done, which, in two ways, were very different to now. The good thing about 2000 was, it was a moment of great optimism about the world and the coming millennium. It was before 9/11, and Iraq; it was after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
There was a sense that we were embarking on a new era of global cooperation and stability, and everybody was going to get richer together, and you know, some people even foolishly declared history dead.
JL: A little premature...the misguided conception was that it was all about war; if you solved the war problem, then you were home and dry.
In the MDGs, you were trying to go beyond that and say, look, it’s about the environment, although I don’t think you put the environment in the first time, and development.
00:34:00 JL: Development is the eighth of the Millennium Development Goals. Why is there such a problem in achieving that? And the goal, to make it explicit, is to develop a global partnership for development.
MMB: It was a weak goal, because, while President Bush at the time was rather keen on these goals for reasons of his own genuine personal philanthropy and care about these kinds of issues, but also some political stuff...
The conference to organise the funding of the goals took place in Mexico, and he felt that he’d rather let Mexico down, because he’d been preoccupied by other issues since becoming president.
And he was, in the same way that President Obama is now, about a tilt to Asia. President Bush, on election, had been about a tilt to Latin America and Mexico.
So you know, for all sorts of local and personal reasons, he was rather in favour. But many in his administration were not. And goal 8, which suggested there was a global obligation on the rich to help the poor, really rubbed up against the edge of American particularism, if you like, and exceptionalism.
The United States, to this day, has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is almost the only country that hasn’t. It has not accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. So there were problems getting a stronger Goal 8. I hope, this time, that will be easier.
And that’s where the world is going to be easier this time round, there’s a lot more agreement about development, and what makes for successful development, the need for collaboration around issues of global trade, and global intellectual property, and global laws and frameworks and all the rest.
00:36:11: JL: That all seems to have taken off in Asia, it seems to be a relative economic success story, particularly China and India. And it’s been instrumental in meeting the first of the MDGs to halve extreme poverty, but Africa’s the problem. And I’m just wondering whether the private sector is put off by political risk in Africa, or what the issue is.
MMB: You’re right. Africa’s MDG problems remain huge, because it’s the only continent in the world whose population will double by 2015 from 1 billion to 2 billion. But until this point, there have actually been more very poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa because it’s a matter of size.
And you know, the actual MDG performance in Africa has been much more varied, with much more good news than the popular myth allows. You’ve got about half the countries of Africa, between a third and a half, who have made really significant progress. Tanzania will achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015; a lot of others will halve poverty, actually, believe it or not.
And so it’s a much more significant success story, even though it’s patchy, than people believe. But you’re right. I mean, this sort of... myth, of 'problem Africa', has hung heavily over the kind of private investment which could help move things forward. That, though, is really, dramatically changing.
I always think of London as Africa’s extra-territorial, additional commercial city. I chair the Royal African Society, and so have a fairly good finger on the pulse of all the law firms, all the private equity firms, all the multinationals which are building businesses in Africa out of London, or at least, supported by services out of London.
Half of the top ten growing economies in the world, in terms of annual growth rates, are African countries. It’s exhibiting some of the early-stage growth of Southeast Asia, at the time I lived there in the 1980s. And you’re starting to see a self-sustaining growth curve, driven significantly by the development of new energy and oil resources in Africa, but not exclusively, and with a middle-class narrative beside that, of people moving to cities, becoming middle-class, needing the goods and services the middle classes need, wanting the infrastructure that middle classes need.
So in everything from banking to insurance, to cement production, to mobile communications, to travel and tourism, you’re starting to see dramatically higher rates of growth in Africa.
It’s a changing story. This is not just a story about bleak, unending poverty. It’s a story about countries getting onto the bottom line of economic transformation.
00:39:39: JL: That’s a very positive story, by the sound of it. On the environment, not quite so positive. It’s there as a Millennium Development Goal, but it seems to be difficult to get traction. Why is this?
MMB: Well, there’s been this strange sort of reverse symbiotic relationship between development and the environment, which, to this day, frankly, veteran though I am of it, bewilders me. You mentioned that there almost wasn’t an environment goal in the MDGs in 2000, and that’s, I’m ashamed to say, right, because the environment at the time was in one of its periodic periods of eclipse.
You know, ten years before, there had been an important global environment conference in Rio, and environment was right up in terms of public attention, and poverty right down. And then in 2000, it had reversed. By 2005, it had come back the other way, with the focus on climate change, and so on. And now, we seem, again, to be going back towards more of a poverty focus.
And the reason it’s so perverse and frustrating to someone like myself is that if we’ve learned anything about development, it is that it’s unsustainable, unless it is within a strategy for managing the resource constraints.
JL: Which are getting ever more limited because of population growth.
MMB: Yes. For example, one of the development successes, which was long since notched-up and put away as something that we didn’t need to worry about any more, was the green revolution in India. Today, huge parts of India are water stressed; agricultural productivity levels are coming sharply down.
And in fact, Asia, as a region, gets about 90 per cent of the world’s natural disasters now, because of a combination of overpopulation; greater use of resources, either from changes in diet, meaning people eat more meat, which takes more grain to produce; a much heavier use of water, both as consumers and in industrial production; population pressures on low-quality land, whether it’s the huge populations in flood-prone Bangladesh, or a huge population in the city of Tehran, and in Iran, which is very earthquake-prone.
But in place after place we are sharply increasing the risks because we’ve lost a grip on managing the environmental dimension of growth.
00:42:30: JL: What do world powers - financial institutions, corporates, law firms - need to do, to assist in moving towards the achievement of the MDGs, rather than hampering progress towards them? It may be things that they need to not do.
MMB: A country like Britain has been fantastic in the way that, even in these economic hard times, it has continued to ramp up its development assistance level to meet this, 0.7, which is the iconic number.
JL: The magic figure, yes.
MMB: The magic figure.
JL: America resists, I think, continues to.
MMB: Yes, and many others resist, too. There are different ways of cutting that cake, peeling the orange, whatever the right metaphor is. For example, the US, while its government aid level is low, makes a non-aid contribution to global security, which while controversial, is huge. It is the global policeman, occasionally... many would argue it goes beyond...
JL: It’s getting more reticent about that, isn’t it, I think?
MMB: Yes, and it’s getting reticent, but nevertheless, it makes a huge non-aid contribution to global issues, and also has a tremendously active foundation and philanthropy sector. No other country in the world comes close. So you know, you can skin this cat in different ways, if you like. There are other policy things which are equally important.
We have trade policies which remain skewed against poor countries, whether it is agricultural subsidies, or... A cow in Europe gets a $2 a day subsidy, essentially, which looks pretty rich to one of the world’s billion who are living on less than a dollar a day. And actually, it’s that $2 to the cow a day which keeps the billion trapped at less than a dollar a day, because it’s making their agriculture uncompetitive, vis a vis Europe’s or the USs.
There are issues of copyright, and affordable R&D, and medicines and IT systems for poor countries. On IT, the technologies are becoming available very quickly, and are getting adapted to poor countries, they’ve not just leapfrogged fixed line phones; you know, many parts of the world, they’ve leapfrogged PCs and gone straight to mobile communications. We’re just catching up with them, if you like. But you know, on other areas, like drug development, still the global pharma industry is disproportionately focused on R&D for drugs for rich people’s diseases.
And you know, you’ve got a few, sort of, fantastic exceptions, like the Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust here, which are putting a lot of money into the research and development and marketing, even, of drugs for poor people’s illnesses. But we’ve got a long way to go to get equity in global public policy.
00:46:08 JL: So a focus on patterns, to bring it back to a very legal issue, would really have an enormous impact on the poverty issue and the development issue.
Yes, that’s right. Some people think that when one says that, one means a patent-free world - not at all. But one where, you know, intellectual property is protected, but not at the expense of the access of the poor…
There has been lots of literature and debate about how, say, in the field of drugs, you can use marginal pricing for poorer global patients, while the affordability of the drugs, greater affordability in the north allows the profit over the original capital investment of R&D, to be recovered in the northern market.
In treatments for HIV AIDS, that’s essentially what’s happened, pushed, in that case, by generic producers, who were willing to break patents to force that more enlightened view by western big pharma. It is a classic case of a coalition of the willing.
I describe in the book how some of the changes in drug pricing, and the availability, therefore, of HIV treatments, drug treatments in Africa, were combinations of AIDS activists, development activists, enlightened pharma leaders, one or two, generic producers, people like Kofi Annan...
00:47:50: JL: Who’s driving it? I mean, you’re describing a patchwork quilt of… it’s not quite governance, but it’s activism, if you like; who’s the driving force?
MMB: It is where the UN's indispensability often comes back, because in this case, a series of leaders at the World Health Organization, particularly Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian Prime Minister, and Kofi Annan himself, seeing this as a global issue, a disease which, at its height, looked as though it was going to just rip a hole through global health, and even global stability and security.
The man he had running his AIDS programme, even myself as the overall head of UN development activities, we provided a convening platform for these disparate groups who were at war with each other, to come off the street and sit down…
JL: And collaborate, and cooperate.
MMB: …and collaborate. And so, you know, the deal, if you like, which set the tone for what followed was probably one in Botswana, where the sequence was, when I first became head of UNDP, the then-President of Botswana didn’t even admit, wouldn’t accept that AIDS was a problem. I remember when I first met him. We then did a Botswana Human Development Report, which was a remarkable document, and showed that this illness was going like wildfire through his population.
He is an extraordinary man, who turned on a dime, and because his just happens to be a diamond-rich country, was able to put up a lot of resources, but went into partnership with not just the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative - President Clinton was critical in negotiating lower drug prices for the treatment plans there - but also, early big pharma converts, who provided the drugs.
That particular model has been copied in a lot of other places, and adjusted and changed, and somewhat different constellations of actors have gathered. But you know, it’s those kinds of breakthroughs which show how inspirational leadership and commitment, in that particular case, Bill Clinton’s, and his counterpart, then-President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, along with good men and women in these US organisations and pharma organisations, came together to produce a plan that has saved countless lives.
There was a remarkable woman, a health minister there, Joy Phumaphi who went on to a career at the World Bank, and she and I are now on the boards of several children’s health organisations together. But you know, she’d been an accountant before she became Health Minister and put this all together for her president.
But you know, people come from the strangest paths, but suddenly, you find yourself around a table with people with dissimilar backgrounds, even dissimilar reasons and interests that have brought you to that table, but you suddenly see the power of a transformational deal.
00:51:30: JL: You’ve spoken there about the importance of Bill Clinton; I wanted to ask you a little bit about the US election. Obama’s been re-elected. We’ve also seen a new leader in China. Which of those do you think is more important, and what’s the likely impact for the world over the next five, ten years?
MMB: Well, I’m certainly not yet one to say that the Chinese election is more important. I think both are enormously important, and I know many of your viewers in the US find it strange that this is the case.
But for those of us outside the US, as polling by the Pew poll showed, President Obama could have won an election in pretty much any country in the world, because for many of us outside, he has restored much of the traditional sense of pride and trust we feel in America, after a period where many of us felt that had been breached.
And so I think, while not making any comment on the domestic side of things, abroad, it’s an extraordinarily popular re-election choice, and a relief.
00:52:45: JL: Will he reinvigorate the international communal approach that you’re advocating?
MMB: Well, let’s see. One had great hopes for him in the first term. As a senator, he was quite a user of the shuttle up to New York to come and actually get briefed by me at the UN on issues that were of concern to him. And he is a multilateralist, there’s no doubt about it, but I think he’s one who gets enormously impatient with the preening bureaucracy of much of the system.
I mean, he’s been reported as being exasperated by a lot G20 meetings, let alone UN ones where obscure international officials push to be in the group photo, or to have a seat at the table. And for someone who is a policy person, from his ankle to the top of his head, I think he just finds this terribly irritating and distracting.
But equally, as one of the sherpas for Gordon Brown’s G20 during the financial crisis here, which was Obama’s first big international meeting, I saw that when it goes well, as it did, because whatever else you can say about Gordon Brown, he chaired an international financial meeting about as well at those things ever get chaired, because he knew the brief so well...
You know, when it works well, Obama is an enthusiastic multilateralist. In that case, walking around the table to try and nurse the Chinese and French, who were at each other’s throats over what constituted a centre of unregulated international financial behaviour. The French asserted it was Hong Kong. The Chinese, you know, had their favourite French territories that they asserted was where there was no regulation of finance.
So Obama nursed them all into an agreed approach. By instinct, he’s a multilateralist; by position, president of, still, the most powerful country in the world, with a Congress which just watches him like a hawk, to not go soft on America’s bilateral privileges.
It’s worth saying that that he has to walk a balancing act, and as I say, I think, not just because he does have all the powers of the presidency, occasionally gets deeply frustrated at just what a mess and a 'spaghetti-junction' internationalism can sometimes seem to be.
00:55:38: JL: Yes. And you’ve talked a little bit about the financial crisis, and you’ve viewed Obama close up, in those circumstances; I mean, you’ve spoken about how crises can actually galvanise a global change for the good. Are you a little disappointed, in fact, looking at what’s happened in the four years, since the crisis really kicked in in 2008, at how little change there has actually been on the important issues that led to the financial crisis?
MMB: Yes, I am disappointed, but not entirely surprised.
JL: Do we still have an opportunity to change things for the better?
MMB: Yes, I mean, look, the G20 got off to a flying start at the head of government level. It had had a lower order of existence as a finance ministers' forum for a while. But it got off to a flying start because global leaders were looking over the precipice, the whole system was under threat.
It was clear that without coordinated action, the markets were going to punish these leaders, and the economies they governed, dramatically.
That kind of pressure, the burning platform syndrome, meant we got a lot done. But as it receded, as muddle became a reasonable alternative strategy, leaders have reverted to muddle. Now, they’re… I think what…you know, [overtalking].
JL: We’re not going to improve things, are we, through muddle?
JL: I’m just wondering if you feel that there’s still an opportunity, or whether we’re slipping back into the old status quo, really.
MMB: Well, progress happens one of two ways. It’s either relatively slow and deeply negotiated, and needs the emergence of a new international consensus that can then be, if you like, translated into legislation or regulation and become a new norm. Or it’s explosive, because of the crisis, and people have to create a response, and that response becomes a precedent, a kind of notched-up internationalism, if you like.
And we got some of that at the G20. We’ve now had a more, iceberg-like period of gradual change since, because after all, the instructions given in 2009 to the Basel process to improve global bank regulation, capital ratios, etc, you know, it didn’t stop. It just got put on to a much slower bureaucratic stream.
But it’s still happening, and those results are still coming out. So I think it’s a…it’s a fast-forward, then it’s a dribble forward, and them sometimes it grinds to a halt until there’s another crisis and you get another fast-forward..
JL: Let me ask you about one of the problems you’ve identified, in terms of global governance, the gaps in global governance, the tax havens. I think you feel it’s an important issue, you know, tax revenue is important for States to be able to meaningfully deliver what they are elected to deliver. Are you seeing improvement in terms of patching up the gaps and addressing the issues there?
MMB: Well, you know, those watching this in the UK will know this has been a particularly strange couple of weeks where one after another of our favourite consumer brands have proven to have paid no corporate tax. It was all right when it was Starbucks, because I go to Nero, and now Nero also doesn’t seem to pay corporate tax.
So this has been a creeping story, and I think at a time of economic hardship, corporations have unintentionally, I’m sure for the most part, drifted away from a defensible place, in terms of how their tax burden is globally distributed.
Obviously, efficient tax management is at the heart of any company’s success, and it’s a thin line between that and tax avoidance, on a scale which outrages the public, and this is where we’ve got to.
And I think it does push the point that rich countries have, in a sense, laboured under the belief that they garner the lion’s share of the tax, under these arrangements, because after all, they’re usually the headquarters of these companies, and it’s the poor countries that lose out, but hey, they don’t have the power to challenge it, and all the rest.
And now, of course, it’s emerged to be a much more varied position. Here are all these high street brand names, and not just American ones. Alliance Boots’ head office is in, I think I’m right in saying, Zug, Switzerland, not where you might anticipate it to be, somewhere in London.
And so there is a sense that because we don’t have a global framework of regulation to govern tax and corporate matters, a lot of corporate, multinational corporates are gaming the system.
I think this will become one of those pressure points which will lead to a breakthrough, not to more taxes, but fairly allocated taxes across a company’s operating footprint. I think we’re going to see a lot more attention to that.
JL: For sure. Moving towards the end of the interview, I just wanted to draw on your personal experience. You’ve met a lot of global leaders in your time; who are the people that have impressed you most, and why?
As leadership becomes more global, I think we are going through a little-noticed change in what a good leader looks like. I always summed it up in the two leaders who I had to deal with quite a lot when I was at the UN.
One was my own boss, Kofi Annan, a gentle, consensus-building Ghanaian, with a Swedish wife, whose education had taken him from Ghana to the US, to Switzerland, to spells in the UK, all the rest of it... a thoroughly cosmopolitan man, who nevertheless remained grounded in his Ghanaian roots and origins, and whose style was, as I say, a gentle, consensus-building style, but velvet with steel underneath it.
This versus the other leader we most had to deal with, who was George Bush, and in many ways, I could say Tony Blair as well, who were much more 20th-century throwback 'type A' personalities.
JL: Conviction politicians.
MMB: Conviction politicians in a way, but all about leadership from the front, getting out there and declaring that, whatever the facts, they were confident the war was just…showing a lack of respect for the views of others, for contrary evidence and opinion.
I think there was a time where their sheer dogged determination, this almost Churchillian sticking to their pitch, even when all around them, saw that the evidence pointed to a contrary conclusion, was seen as the kind of principled, solitary leadership we looked for, conviction, as you put it.
That just looks, nowadays, terribly culturally naked. You have to be able to listen and hear others, and adopt their point of view, and you know, reflect it in how you think about things. It doesn’t mean that you must not still be a person of absolute principle. Kofi Annan was willing to go to the stake, so to speak, over his views about the war in Iraq needing the endorsement of the UN Security Council, even when the world’s most private and powerful country was aginim [?] on it.
So it’s not that you betray principle, but that it’s…that your principles and values and norms, and style of leading are drawn from, you know, being a fully signed-up member of a global community of diversity, of cultures, of faiths, of values that is the modern world.
A very good note to end on. Mark Malloch Brown, thank you very much, indeed, for your time.
Thank you, James.
And to the viewing audience, thank you very much for watching, and thank you, too, for your questions. Have a very good day.