Brandt Commission

Introduction: Background to the Independent Commission on International Development Issues (the Brandt Commission) and Its Report (the Brandt Report)

The Brandt Commission, properly known as the Independent Commission on International Development Issues (ICIDI), was established in 1977 with the express aim of examining the world’s development needs in the 1980s and beyond. In the words of the Commission’s Report, the intention was to emphasize the ‘‘ybelief that the two decades aheadymay be fateful for mankind (sic). We want responsible world citizens everywhere to realize that many global issues will come to a head during this period.’’ The overall tone, however, was at once both optimistic and globally mutual and inclusive: ‘‘The Commission agreed on the necessity for a thorough rethinking to create a new type of relationship which could accommodate all nations’’.

The suggestion that such a Commission should be created under the chairmanship of Willy Brandt had been made in the first instance by the then president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, in a speech he made in Boston early in 1977 and he again referred to this in his address to the Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington later in the same year. Although, from the very first, the Commission was designed to be independent in its standing, the then secretary general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, showed great interest in the formation of the Independent Commission, and accordingly it was established at the outset that the first copy of the Commission’s Report would be presented to him.

The terms of reference of the Commission are reproduced on page 296 of its first and best known report, North–South: A Programme for Survival, and were notably broad and all embracing. Notably, they specifically included mention of the critical issues of economic and social disparities and absolute poverty:

The task of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues is to study the grave issues arising from the economic and social disparities of the world community and to suggest ways of promoting adequate solutions to the problems involved in developing and attacking absolute poverty. As an independent commission it is free to raise any aspects of the world situation which the Commission considers pertinent and to recommend any measures it finds in the interest of the world economy.

The Commission should pay careful attention to the UN resolutions on development problems and other issues explored in international fora in recent years. It should seek to identify desirable and realistic directions for international development policy in the next decade, giving attention to what their mutual interest in both the developed and developing countries should do.

In pursuing these objectives, it was envisaged that the Commission’s work would encompass direct consideration of the following:

  1. The past record of development – specifically covering ‘‘the record of development in the Third World’’ and the ‘‘widening disparities of per capita income’’.
  2. Prospects for the world economy – the Commission was to ‘‘examine relevant trends in the world economy, particularly for the 1980s but also looking further into the future’’. The Commission was to pay particular attention to expenditures on armaments and the political conditions affecting them. Roads to a new international economic order – the Commission saw its role as above all, to convince decision makers and members of the general public ‘‘(t)hat profound changes are required in international relations, particularly international economic relations’’, including the need to restructure international trade, international finance, regulate multinational corporations, and to enhance the involvement of all countries in international development efforts.

A secretariat was established in Geneva during January 1978, marking the formal start of work of the Commission. The Executive Secretary, Professor Goran Ohlin (Professor of Economics, Uppsala University), and the Director of the Secretariat, Dragoslav Avramovic (who had held various Senior Economic Staff positions at the World Bank 1965–77) were responsible for draft proposals and other documentation prepared for the use of the Commission.

In respect of funding, the Dutch government enabled the work of the Commission to start by making a pledge that guaranteed the total costs involved in its operation. In the final analysis, the Dutch government financed about half the total expenditure of US$1.1 million, with the governments of Denmark, Finland, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and the UK making substantial contributions. Regional organizations such as the Commission of the European Communities and the OPEC Special Fund also gave support. While, on the final page of North–South, it is stated that no formal follow up was envisaged after the publication of the Report, interestingly, again with the assistance of the Dutch government, an ICIDI office was established at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, so that comments and requests could be dealt with. The Commission was formally disbanded in 1983.

The first and best known Report of the Brandt Commission, North–South, was published in 1980 with the subtitle, A Programme for Survival (Figure 1). A sequel was published in 1983 as Common Crisis: North–South Cooperation for World Recovery (Figure 2). As explained in Annex 2 of North–South, the Commission’s purposeful existence was announced on 28 September 1977 when Willy Brandt, the former chancellor of the then Federal Republic of Germany, announced at a press conference held in New York that he was about to launch and chair the independent commission. It is also noted in Annex 2 of the Report on how:

This announcement had been preceded by a large number of private consultations and discussions. The Chairman (sic) made a point of emphasizing that the Commission would not interfere in any way with governmental negotiations nor with the ongoing work of international organizations. Rather, such a group would have a supplementary function, to present recommendations which could improve the climate for further deliberations on North South relations.

This brief summary of the Commission and its work points to several of its most important characteristics. On the positive side, the Commission emphasized the need for the so called northern and southern portions of the world to work together in tackling the interdependent development problems faced by the world. But the assurance that the deliberations of the Commission would in no way trespass on the roles of either governments or international development organizations meant that from the first, it might be left making meso level recommendations for policy action that governments and wider agents had little interest in implementing.

Nearly 30 years on from the publication of the Report, it seems fair to suggest that it is as famous for the iconic nature of its cover design, as for its specific recommendations. The map on the front covers showed the world based on the Peters projection, rather than the then more familiar Mercator projection. Inside the title page it was noted that the Peters projection represented an important step away from the prevailing Eurocentric geographical and cultural conception of the world. The map showed by means of a single thick black line, the division of the world into the North or prosperous world, and the South or poor world. In wiggling its way across the globe, from the Pacific west of the Americas and back to the Pacific east of Oceania, the line served to emphasize just how large the Global South is in comparison with the Global North. Although the Commission has been criticized for reducing the diversity of development down to two categories, it is easy to understand that the motive for this was to emphasize the sharp polarity that characterized the global condition.

Membership of the Commission and the Schedule of Meetings

The Principal Recommendations of the Brandt Commission

An Evaluation of the Recommendations of the Brandt Commission