The voice of the majority: the role of the group of 77 in the UN General Sssembly.

Author:Swart, Lydia

The staying power of the United Nations is remarkable. For nearly 70 years, UN membership has grown rapidly after newly independent countries joined its ranks. It is encouraging too that no country has felt a strong enough urge to leave the organization in spite of its democratic deficiencies. The composition and working methods of the Security Council, in particular, are sources of discontent for many, as is the failure of the UN to implement certain General Assembly resolutions. Nevertheless, international decision-making has never been as inclusive as it has been in the last few decades, especially in the Assembly, thanks in no small part to the commanding role played by the Group of 77 (G-77), the largest bloc at the UN.

Hovering around 130 members for the last decade, the G-77 comprises a sizable majority of the United Nations 193 Member States. Founded 50 years ago--initially with 77 members, which gave the group its name--the numerical strength of this bloc of developing countries has functioned as a counterpoint to the influence of developed countries which, due to their far greater financial resources and ability to fund international organizations, enjoy significant clout as well. Regretfully, the tensions between those who hold the "power of the majority" versus those with the "power of the purse" regularly prevents timely and meaningful consensus on critical issues.

While some seasoned diplomats contend that lack of agreement between developed and developing countries is often more about power than actual ideological differences, it is nevertheless easy to identify opposing perspectives on substances that divide positions taken by the South and the North. United Nations Member States bring different priorities to the table. Developing countries clearly want the General Assembly to be much more involved in development and global financial issues, while developed countries see the UN in New York mostly as a place to deal with peace, security and urgent humanitarian issues, arguing that the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were specifically established to deal with development. The South tends to counter this argument by observing that these bodies are far too influenced by their biggest donors. For instance, by means of voluntary and earmarked contributions, developed countries have a much stronger say in the functioning of UNDP.

Interestingly, the North-South divide is much less...

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