Willy Brandt, former chancellor of West Germany, describes relations between the poor nations of the South and the industrial countries of the North as "the great challenge of our time."
Mr. Brandt, chairman of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, adds in an introduction to this prestigious body's report, released officially today: "We want to emphasize our belief that the two decades ahead of us may be fateful for mankind. We want responsible world citizens everywhere to realize that many global issues will come to a head during this period."
But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could draw the attention of government officials and the public away from this crucial problem of world poverty.
The commission was initiated two years ago by the World Bank, though not sponsored or controlled by that international development institution. Its membership includes such leaders as Edward Heath, former prime minister of Britain; Eduardo Frei, former president of Chile; Olof Palme, former prime minister of Sweden; Peter G. Peterson, former US Secretary of Commerce; Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post; Shridath S. Ramphal, secretary-general of the Commonwealth; and so on.
One goal of the commission was to come up with new solutions for speeding economic and social development in the poor nations. Just as important, it was hoped the commission would impart a greater sense of urgency to the issue, possibly prompting more generosity in funds or other concessions from the rich countries. But the increase in East-West tensions inspired by boost in defense spending may put the North-South issue on a back burner in Washington and other capitals.
For instance, the commission recommended a summit meeting of 25 world leaders of both industrial and developing nations to develop the political will, a greater degree of trust, and a common conviction of mutual interest that would enlarge the prospects for a "global agreement" on North-South issues.
But Mr. Brandt noted at a press conference here that if Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev were to meet within the next year, it is obvious they would not concentrate their attention on an "emergency program" suggested by this commission. In fact, there is some doubt that any meeting between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union is likely for some time. Mr. Brandt thinks it possible, however, that top politicians of the industrial West and the developing south could get together to consider the commission's recommendations.
Another desire of the commission was that some portion of the $450 billion in annual world armament expenditures be diverted to development. Again, however, the aftermath of the Afghanistan invasion makes that unlikely for some years, even among the developing nations.
Commented Mr. Ramphal: "I suspect that as long as the superpowers set such a bad example, there is little hope for reduction in arms by the developing countries."
The "emergency program" of the commission for the years 1980-85 calls for:
1. A large-scale transfer of resources to developing countries.
2. An international energy strategy.
3. A global food program.
4. A start on some major reforms in the international economic system.
Under the proposed enlarged foreign-aid program, an extra $4 billion a year in addition to current aid would go to the poverty belts of Africa and Asia. It would assure middle-income countries (such as Mexico or Brazil or Taiwan) of access to adequate loan funds.
The commission report says the rich countries must commit themselves to a timetable for reaching the United Nations target of 0.7 percent of national output devoted to foreign assistance. This timetable should start this year and reach target by 1985, by which time an additional $30 billion would be available annually. The commission also wants the East European nations to make larger contributions.
Adding in increased lending by commercial institutions on a cofinancing or guaranteed basis; increased lending by the World bank and the regional development banks; the use of the more than $40 billion of gold held by the International Monetary Fund as collateral for more loans; and other resource-transfer mechanisms, the commission sees the possibility of an additional $50 billion to $60 billion flow of funds to be developing world through public channels by 1985.
Similar ambitious goals are set for other aspects of the emergency program.
But will some important portion of these suggestions be accepted by world leaders? Or will the report gather dust on academic bookshelves, a fate Mr. Brandt would regard as worse than no study at all?
Mr. Brandt maintains that the commission will have an impact on policy. He says that Germany's present chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, told him that the commission "shouldn't be too modest" in its proposals, that Germany will be more generous. This week he will be seeing Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, World Bank president Robert S. McNamara, and other government officials, and he says he hopes for a favorable reaction by the US.
But Mr. Brandt showed in citing a quotation of Martin Luther that it will be tough to break rich countries' apathy to global poverty issues: "If I knew the world will go down tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today," he said.