An Evaluation of the Recommendations of the Brandt Commission

Behind the individual measures called for by the Brandt Commission, there were two key dimensions. The first was a need for the large scale transfer of resources to the countries of the South. The second was the recognition of the global mutuality of development and the need to act on such interdependence. In both these senses, the Brandt Commission's recommendations were visionary. The perspective of the Commission was of impending crisis and ultimate breakdown of the world-system unless such mutuality and interdependence were clearly recognized and comprehensive reforms undertaken. The recommendations of the Brandt Commission thereby amounted to a strategy of global reformism, with the Commission talking of a new concept of global responsibility and new types of international relation that could accommodate all nations. The North–South report referred to the need for understanding, commitment, and solidarity between people and nations.

Critics, on the other hand, have argued that the Commission was unrealistic, idealistic, and naive, specifically in believing that Northern governments would easily be persuaded to pass on the recommended financial support to Southern governments, who in turn would pass assistance on to those most in need. A major issue here involves identifying who are the most effectiveagents of change, and historically, sovereign states have been dominant in this regard.

A further critique runs that although hailed as the first internationally recognized proposals for development reform, the initial enthusiastic response was soon overshadowed by the recession of the early 1980s. The father of dependency theory, Andre Gunder Frank, maintained that the impetus behind this 'new concern' was the economic crisis faced by the developed world and its search for new markets. Others commented that in addition to underestimating the apathy and intransigence of governments, the Brandt recommendations also underestimated the power of transnational corporations. The 1983 Report noted that the Cancun Summit of world leaders held in October 1981 as a direct outcome of the 1980 report made no tangible contribution to resolving the problems of developing countries and made no suggestions for putting new procedures in place. The 1983 Report acknowledged that increasing hardship had characterized the period from 1980 to 1983.

A further point is that the Brandt proposals were eclipsed by the rise of the New Right wing in the mid 1980s, spearheaded by President Reagan in the United Sates and Prime Minister Thatcher in the United Kingdom. By the end of the 1980s, the so called neoliberal agenda was taking shape. As part of this, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were promulgating private sector led development initiatives and decreasing public sector expenditures in the form of the conditions placed on loans as part of structural adjustment programs.

The Brandt 21 Forum, which seeks to keep the Brandt recommendations alive, comments that the Brandt Report Card makes for depressing reading. For example, globally official international development assistance has most definitely not increased to 0.7% and then to 1.0% of gross domestic product (GDP), it has fallen from 0.35% in 1980 to 0.21% in 2000. Governments have shied away from global solutions to global problems of poverty and development – a case in point being the call for global forms of taxation (e.g., on currency speculation as in the socalled Tobin Tax), which governments dismiss, arguing that taxation is the concern of sovereign states alone. Some point to the charity initiatives such as Band Aid, Live Aid, Drop the Debt, Make Poverty History, and others as having achieved more than the actions of states. While there have been moves to write off debt, thus far progress can only be described as partial. While the Millennium Development Goals may be interpreted as truly Brandtian, they are showing just how much needs to be achieved and how little was achieved from 1980 to 2000. In short, it is suggested that since the Brandt Commission in the 1980s, the international community has not responded in any meaningful way and the inequalities pointed to by the Brandt Reports have widened conspicuously, not reduced.