On July 17, the United Nations University hosted a symposium on “The Kyushu-Okinawa Summit: The Challenges and Opportunities for the Developing World in the 21st Century.” The conference was jointly organized by the Tokyo-based Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development, the Toronto-based G8 Research Group and UNU.

Sir Nicholas Bayne, a former British diplomat who is now a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is busy setting examinations to judge the performance of leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. It was notable that developing-country concerns represent an important component of the examination.

The rector of UNU, Professor Hans van Ginkel, cited the U.N. secretary general’s Millennium Report regarding the quest for freedom from fear (through conflict management and resolution), freedom from want (through economic development and growth) and sustaining the future (through careful husbanding of the earth’s resources and ecosystem).

I had the privilege of chairing a session addressed by ambassadors from developing countries spanning Asia, Africa and Latin America. They drove home a simple message: The G8 — governments and peoples — will not be able to live free of fear, will not be able to secure a sustainable future, so long as over a billion people live in servitude to want. That is, freedom from fear is a sine qua non of the other two elements in the secretary general’s trinity.

Earlier speakers had referred to the troika of concerns on the agenda of the G8 leaders: prosperity, peace of mind and world stability. The developing countries’ troika of concerns comprises the wealth divide, the health divide and the digital divide.

The wealth divide is manifested in increasing inequality between countries. Ameliorative measures for it include debt relief for the poorest countries, market access for developing countries and of course poverty eradication.

The health divide shows up starkly on all sorts of demographic measures, including life expectancy, infant mortality and maternal mortality. Bridging it requires affordable preventive and curative training and medicines and access to safe drinking water: The magnitude of water-borne diseases is a major threat to human security in the new century.

The digital divide points to the sad truth that the revolution in information technology has widened the gap between the rich and poor countries of the world. Corrective measures are urgently needed and must begin with the installation of the necessary infrastructure for information technology.

Investment in good quality universal education, in particular to raise female literacy, is a priority for bridging all three divides.

Another common thread running through all presentations from the developing-country ambassadors was empowerment and ownership. This is necessary for preserving — and in some cases restoring — the credibility and legitimacy of multilateral institutions designed to solve the problem of poverty. The knowledge of poverty of most industrialized-country leaders is derived secondhand, from books and anecdotes rather than from direct experience. How sensitive can they be to the real world of operational choices confronting the governments of developing countries?

Developing countries are by and large price-takers in world markets. Are they condemned to remain the equivalent of price-takers in designing and operating the architecture of international financial management and global governance?

There needs to be a shared management of the troubled, scarcity-scarred and fragile world order. The sense of ownership by developing countries of process, agenda and outputs will make the outcomes, including globalization, more palatable and the desired goals more attainable.

The political salience of national frontiers has lessened: both for outsiders — people, countries, organizations — whose duties and rights extend beyond borders and for national governments, whose flaws, incompetence and misgovernance are called increasingly to international account.

Rector van Ginkel spoke in his opening remarks of the transition from the culture of reaction to the culture of prevention. The developing countries would wish to add to that the parallel shift from the culture of exclusiveness to the culture of inclusiveness in making decisions affecting the future of all humanity.

Only so can the lofty rhetoric of G8 summits resonate in the harsh reality on the ground in the developing countries.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.