Where 80 percent of UN resources go

Not long ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, issued a report on the current state of the UN. All the original aims of the organization, in his view, were threatened.

Sadly, I agree. But, while the Secretary-General referred mainly to the worsening state of UN instrumentalities for peace-keeping and the resolution of conflicts, his remarks are no less appropriate to the realm of international economic cooperation and global development.

Americans, quite apart from the moral dimension, have never adequately understood the practical meaning of their dependence upon the developing countries as the major single market for US exports and as the principal source for many of the raw materials and minerals without which US industry would virtually grind to a halt.

Let's look at the figures:

US industry (and thus US jobs) are dependent upon developing countries for 100 per-cent of needed rubber, 88 percent of columbium, 75 percent of tin, 45 percent of chromium, 71 percent of manganese, to name only a few of the crucial raw materials needed for US production and employment.

In 1980 the value of US exports to all developing countries totaled $84 billion - $10 billion more than all US exports to Western Europe and Japan combined. US exports to non-OPEC developing countries totaled no less than $66 billion. Overall, between 1970 and 1980, US exports to third-world countries constituted the largest growth sector as compared with exports to developed countries.

Clearly, people of developing countries would be even larger consumers, and more effective producers - a third world becoming a huge new contributor to and market in a more dynamic world economy - if they were able to escape from the poverty, malnutrition, disease, and illiteracy which have been their historic legacy. Healthier economies among the developing countries would have a direct impact on America's serious unemployment problems.

Yet many Americans may not realize that more than 80 percent of the resources of the UN system have been directed toward that very goal - a goal the achievement of which is demonstrably critical to the interests of the United States and the American people: the economic and social development of the poor nations of the world.

Today hundreds of millions of people the world over look to the UN as a symbol of technical and humanitarian progress in their age-old struggle against poverty, hunger and disease.

Such longstanding, wide-ranging efforts in development have served as major building blocks for mutual understanding and cooper-ation among nations, quite apart from the UN's peacekeeping functions.

But, like the rest of the UN, these building blocks for international understanding are now also being eroded, as governments increasingly turn their backs on multilateral mechanisms for economic cooperation.

In fact, multilateral efforts for global economic and social development have proved remarkably successful. If you look at the record of developing countries between 1950 and 1980, you will see that their share of industrial output has increased from 5 to 20 per-cent, that their GNPs have on average risen fivefold, their capital formation twelvefold, and their skill formation 16 times. This is a record far in advance of that achieved in the same period by the industrialized countries.

As the world's largest source of grant technical cooperation, the UN Development Program is the UN's main operations mechanism for human resource development. It works in more than 150 developing countries and self-governing territories. It draws upon the technical skills of more than two dozen specialized agencies of the UN system. It maintains the world's largest network of development service offices - 114 - in the developing countries themselves. Last year it provided more than $700 million in training, expert advisory services, and specialized items of equipment to developing countries, which was more than matched by inputs from the developing countries themselves. The result has been an enormous multiplier effect in laying the foundations for investment.

But UNDP is a voluntarily funded program and its share in official development assistance flows has been substantially eroded in recent years. Although the UN General Assembly has repeatedly endorsed an annual growth target in contributions to UNDP of 14 percent a year through 1986, such contributions actually declined by 6 percent in 1981 and failed to grow at all in 1982. UNDP is being forced to cut its delivery of technical assistance to roughly 55 percent of planned targets, and delivery of critically needed services in 1982 was lower in real terms than it was a decade ago, in 1972.

A little known crisis is thus affecting the world development effort, striking hard at one of its most productive aspects and undermining that part of the UN Charter which calls for ''international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic and social character'' and, in the process , retarding world economic recovery.

This is a very shortsighted form of disinvestment. For the poor countries, it means fewer trained people to cope with increasingly difficult problems, slower rates of growth and still harder times ahead. For the rich countries, it means shrinking markets in countries which have become for the US a key source of expanding trade, and further delays in world economic recovery. For the world, it means a retreat from a vital commitment to the principle of economic cooperation.

Fortunately, the US government has become increasingly aware of these concerns, and I am happy to note that its contribution to UNDP will rise substantially this year, despite the obvious budget constraints facing the administration.

Last year the General Assembly met at a time when the ever-fragile bonds of international interdependence had become increasingly frayed. Surely these bonds must be preserved for our own sake and the sake of our children. Surely they are best exemplified in the massive international cooperative effort now under way to eradicate hunger, poverty, disease, and destitution from the face of the earth.

From its inception, the UN has rightly been engaged in this effort. Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar was thus right in calling for a ''conscious commitment by governments to the United Nations Charter.'' That recommitment must embrace mechanisms for international economic cooperation, such as UNDP, as well.

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