This weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Stanley Foundation Conference (March 26-28th, 2010) entitled, “The United Nations and the G-20: Ensuring Complementary Efforts.”  This conference was held at the most pleasant Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center, at - you guessed it - Tarrytown New York.  Tarrytown is a short hour or so ride from New York City up the Hudson River.

 Given the title of the Conference you’ll not be surprised that there were many folk from the various missions of the United Nations as well as UN officials.  In fact over 18 mission representatives attended including a significant number of the G8 representatives, G20 and even some key non-G20 ones as well.  They even let some policy and academic types in.  I was accorded access as a result of a recent Policy Brief I had written for the Stanley Foundation: “Challenges in Global Governance: Opportunities for G-x Leadership,” as was Bruce Jones – a former UN advisor - and now the Director and Senior Fellow of the New York University Center on International Cooperation who had written a Brief on the UN and the G20.  These Briefs and one by Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations formed background for the Conference.

A surprise – though a very pleasant one – was the attendance of Ahn Ho-young, the recent G20 Sherpa for South Korea and now the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ambassador at Large for G-20 – in other words - ‘Mr. Big.’

Now I can’t report on what folk individually said – Chatham House rules you know - but I can certainly relate general views and statements.  First, in my BRICSAM and GIR (Global Institutional Reform) Workshop work, I almost never had come across issues related to the UN and the Gx institution systems.  Certainly since the failure of the Security Council reform efforts in 2005, I’ve heard less and less about the UN except in the realm of PKOs – Peace Keeping Operations. Well the mission representatives had a lot to say about the links – or lack there of – between the G20 and the UN.

The Conference was a bit of a lesson for me.  I had boldly suggested that the emergence of the G20 – a significant Gx institution that included both the traditional powers and the rising powers – India, China and Brazil in particular – had banished at least for a time the legitimacy or representative membership debate that had plagued the G7/8.  Boy was I wrong.  With hardly a breath apparently, the non-G20 states and particularly the smaller and also less developed ones expressed strong frustration and nervousness over the emergence of the G20 and the ‘threat’ it posed to the UN universal system.  Could have blown me over.  Well I always said the legitimacy debate was, ‘a fool’s game’ – which I repeated at the Conference.  However, the attention paid to it by some participants and the distaste for the non-inclusiveness of the 172 was rather startling. 

It is interesting – and notwithstanding the aversion expressed by some to the current membership of the G20 – there was little belief that the two systems – informal Gx system and formal UN-Bretton Woods – were in fact in competition with each other.  And I’d say that was a rather pleasant conclusion.  In fact if I read the concerns right, the UN folk were consumed by anxiety for the Organization and the fear that the emerging global governance system might cause the UN system to fall into irrelevance.  And here there were many interesting proposals to enhance complementarity of the two systems. There was great concern expressed that the Secretary General’s (SG) Sherpas were not guaranteed inclusion to the Sherpa meetings, not to mention the SG himself was limited in what he could do in the leaders’ summits.  Many urged that to enhance complementarity, the SG be admitted as a full member – free to express his views – and to represent, perhaps, the views of the uninvited developing countries.  But the final word or words were saved for the UN itself.  The need to reform itself was expressed over and over.  And, once again, speakers spoke of the urgent need to reform membership of the UN Security Council.  And then a pall passed over the room – Not going to happen.

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