The Conference to Cure Everything

March 14, 1995

The good news is that the largest summit of national leaders in the history of the world took place in Copenhagen. Some 120 heads of state and government amid representatives of 182 countries commited themselves "to the goal of eradicating poverty in the world," by improving health care, sanitation and food availability.

The bad news is the 80-page document that emerged, with reservations by eight member-nations objecting on religious grounds, does not commit any nation to generosity or any self-impoverishing nation to reform. The good news is that two of the smaller wealthier nations, Austria and Denmark, were so moved by the spirit of the occasion that they forgave some debt from some poor nations. Larger, wealthier nations did no such thing.

Anything that brings 182 national delegations and 12,575 accredited representatives of non-governmental organizations to the same place at the same time to pursue common goals is a success just for taking place. But the very summoning of it three years ago raised expectations that were never going to be met. This suggests that the $28 million allocated for the World Summit for Social Development would have been better spent on food and sanitation for the poorest of the poor.

The United Nations, day in and day out, is meant to address such matters. What it cannot do in New York at regular meetings it cannot do, period. The United Nations is a mechanism by which its member states try to harmonize national policies to solve world problems. It can be no better than its members, and no worse.

Many of the points debated will be considered again at a U.N. conference on women in Beijing in September. With a sharper focus, that meeting may be more businesslike. But this whole series of global conferences serves more to raise consciousness than to hammer out agreements.

That makes the cost-effectiveness of these sessions difficult to measure. But any meeting where Fidel Castro admonishes 119 fellow heads of government or state to restrict their comments to the allotted seven minutes cannot be all bad.

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