No.10 - September 2013

by Stephen Browne & Thomas G. Weiss

Emerging Economies and the UN Development System


Brazil, China, India, and South Africa (the BICS), along with other emerging economies, have views on the UN development system that are distinct from both lower-income countries in the global South and higher-income countries in the North. A survey carried out by FUNDS reveals that emerging economies want more influence in the UN and a reformed development system. The rise of these countries implies the need for major adjustments in the system, including reducing its physical presence and programs in middle- and upper-middle income countries where its traditional development cooperation services are becoming redundant.

This Briefing first discusses how people in four major emerging economy countries (EECs) – the BICS – perceive the UN development system (UNDS). Two viewpoints are examined: those of individual governments; and those of respondents to the FUNDS 2012-13 global perceptions survey of the UNDS, drawn from government, civil society, private sector and other international public organizations.  The Briefing then reproduces the findings of the FUNDS survey for a wider group of 14 EECs – the BICS plus Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey, providing new insights into the nature of the changing relationship between emerging market economies and the UN development system.

The BICS are increasingly putting their mark on international organizations.  Funding is one means of influence, with the contributions of EECs rising and states such as Brazil contributing large amounts in “local resources”.  The BICS are also establishing direct partnerships with the UN, including by sponsoring and hosting global and regional centers of excellence.

When asked about the effectiveness of the UNDS in 20 different development domains, the EEC publics are more positive overall than the global sample. The four most effective are judged to be health, human rights, education and gender.  Other issues viewed positively include regional cooperation, international trade, science and technology, social policy, poverty reduction, economic management, industry, transportation, and services and tourism.

Looking to the future, three particular challenges for the UNDS emerge, in the opinion of respondents from the EECs: lack of financial resources; ineffectiveness of the UNDS; and access to competences of the UNDS.

The BRICS are on the march. The five governments already hold annual summits, have their own web-sites and think-tanks, and have proposed their own multilateral development bank. Growing prosperity is thus prompting their own brand of mini-lateralism, even if there are many remaining geo-political differences among them.  As the EEC club is enlarged, we can expect more “multi-bi” partnerships.

The findings of the survey indicate that UNDS faces a growing challenge: it should scale down its bread-and-butter presence in middle- and upper-middle income countries.  If it does so, it will permit a reallocation of resources to the task of building capacity in low-income and fragile states.

Stephen Browne is a Fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and co-Director of FUNDS.

Thomas G. Weiss is the Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, Presidential Professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center, and co-Director of FUNDS.
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