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The G20 vs. the UN Development System: Two Rivals Heat Up


G20 meeting at the Kremlin
A meeting of the Group of 20 countries at the Kremlin in Moscow in February 2013. Attendees included Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, second left; and Christine Lagarde, center, head of the International Monetary Fund. Russia is president of the G20 this year.

The Group of 20 nations is more capable of replicating development success models than the United Nations manages to do within its own development ranks, representing a major challenge to the UN system and its second-most important agenda item after the maintenance of peace and security. The G20 also represents other challenges to the UN development arm: in economic might, it includes all of the world’s major countries, and it makes up not only the richest nations but also the poorest big economies and therefore encompasses a wide array of development perspectives. The G20 also includes almost all of the globe’s regional heavyweights and the world’s most populous nations, giving the organization unrivaled clout.

Representing a strong global network of power, wealth, poverty and values, the G20 combines established forums of multilateralism with an informal institutional setting, allowing players to work with each other directly and to avoid the inherent UN bureaucratic baggage that can saddle projects. In short, the G20 is a better place to do business, a new report says. The study, based on an evaluation by FUNDS (which stands for the Future UN Development System), a research project of the City University of New York’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, spells out that the development debate in rich countries has moved beyond aid packages and toward focusing on such pillars as education, skills training, infrastructure and food security, making the UN’s approach to development less and less relevant. Can the UN reform its structures and procedures to compete with the G20? Don’t hold your breath.

To read the full briefing, click here.


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Ramesh Thakur is the director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at Australia National University in Canberra and a professor of international relations in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. He was vice rector and senior vice rector of United Nations University (and assistant secretary-general of the UN) from 1998–2007. Educated in India and Canada, he was also a professor of international relations at the University of Otago in New Zealand and professor and head of the Peace Research Center at the Australian National University, while also advising the Australian and New Zealand governments on arms control, disarmament and international security issues.
In addition, Thakur was a principal author of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and a senior adviser on reforms and principal writer of the UN secretary-general’s second reform report (2002). He has written or edited more than 40 books, 400 articles and book chapters. His most recent book is “The Responsibility to Protect: Norms, Laws and the Use of Force in International Politics” (London: Routledge, 2011).

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