Last updated: September 14, 2005 10:33 pm

Ask the expert: Richard Holbrooke

Ahead of the Clinton Global Initiative, Richard Holbrooke answered your questions on the challenges of poverty, UN reform and religious conflict in an online Q&A.

Mr Holbrooke was US ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.

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Lionel Barber, the FT’s US Managing Editor, moderated. He also analysed the prospects of the forum’s success in What will the Clinton Global Initiative accomplish?.

Answers also appear on www.ft.com/holbrooke.

Given the different forms of governments and social environment, how will the approach to tackling poverty be different in Africa vs. Southeast Asia?

Patrick Ng

RH: Great question, much studied and debated by sociologists and scholars for decades. People forget that in, say, 1960, Asia, specifically Southeast Asia, was regarded as having less potential than much of Africa, given the resources of parts of Africa. Plus the (now-forgotten) excitment that greeted the emergence of so many new nations in Africa in1960. So what happened, and why? I think the key ingredient in the success of much of Asia was the human capital of Asia, a region that put very high importance on education and, of course, exports. We all know the rest of the story - in Singapore, Korea, Tawain, Thailand, and now China and for the first time, India. But there are revealing exceptions to this generalization that shed light on the problem. Take Burma, for example. The same disgraceful governance that exists in parts of Africa has kept Burma, with its vast resources and human potential, in a state so backward it is astonishing. This is also true, of course, for the tragic country of Cambodia. Indonesia remains an enigma, so important, so large, so full of congtradictions and ethnic complexities. So I remain convinced that leadership is the not-so-secret critical factor.

How do you feel about Paul Volcker’s findings relating to the UN? Do you feel any responsibility for the current state of the UN? What was the terror policy of the Clinton administration and which actions taken under that policy are you proud of? Which would you do differently?

Herbert Allen III, US

Richard Holbrooke: I respect the findings of Paul Volcker’s Commission, and I think that, whether one is “pro-UN” or not, the report should be used to improve an institution which has deep problems of management and structure, but which in my view remains an indispensable part of the overall world system, and valuable to the United States. As for my own role, I spent more time on UN reform than any of my predecessors or successors. In fact, during my confirmation hearings, I pledged to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that reform would be my top priority, and tried to live up to that. As a result, we made the first reform of the financial structure in 29 years, which resulted, among other things, in a reduction of the American dues from 25 per cent to 22 per cent of the general assessment. We created the Brahimi Commission that reformed (but not sufiiciently, in my view) the Peacekeeping Division, and we set in motion many other reforms. At the time I left the UN, in January 2001, I said that we had done about 25 per cent of the needed reforms. Unfortunately, the Bush administration did nothing further on reform, and 9/11 then intervened. Finally, we pushed successfully for the first Security Council resolutions ever in the health field, on HIV/AIDs, and these have been useful in transforming AIDS from a health issue into a global security crisis.

How would you prioritise the improvement opportunities under the heading of poverty (what measure/scale would you use)? How would you build coalitions between politicians, academia and business (what will be the glue that makes them stick together)?

Andre Mol - Director, PI International, Netherlands

RH: It is hard to answer your question, which is rather theoretical. Let me say, however, that the question of poverty has no simple or single solution. Money is vital, but not sufficient. In the absence of good goverance, no amount of money will fix these problems; indeed, they may make them worse if foreign aid, or foreign contracts with, for example, oil companies simply lead to greater corruption. This was the case in such places as Angola, Indonesia under Suharto, Zaire under Mobutu, etc. We must learn from these mistakes. I would refer you to the brilliant column in yesterday’s New York Times by Nick Kristof regarding the UN summit now under way just bocks from where I sit, in which more grandiose words will be uttered. But to what end? Does it make any difference to the poor? I was in Africa during the G-8 summit this year, which was focused on Africa. No one where I was (South Africa) paid it the slightest attention or took anything said there as relevant to thier own lives. Local leadership is always the key, but the world cannot turn its back on the poor; it must simply take a different approach.

What do you think the western world should do for people in less developed countries? Is paying 100 USD each year to the UN enough or should we use new technologies to help them? Is it knowledge transfer or financial help more important?

Harald Weigl, Merchant Banking, Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberösterreich Aktiengesellschaft, Austria

RH: Please see my previous answer.

Though the international community pays close political attention to HIV/AIDS issue, I think tuberculosis (TB) is one of the grossly neglected human development issues that require both political and technical solutions. More than 8m people are infected with TB each year, and 2m people die of the disease around the world. I would very much appreciate it if you could kindly share with me your view on the current global commitment to TB control and the position of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Motoky Hayakawa, Japan

RH: I am pleased you raised TB. As president and chief executive officer of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, I have learned much about the close connection between the two dieseases. AIDS makes people far more vulnerable to TB, the most “opportunistic” of diseases. Yet when someone is admitted to a hospital in Africa or India or Russia or Ukraine or other areas with high AIDS rates with TB, the doctor almost always treats only the TB and releases the patient without even testing for AIDS! This must be changed in order to attack both diseases. Please note also that the Global Fund, which is the world’s largest dispenser of funds to fight [these diseases], is called the Globabl Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria. My organization, by the way, is the official focal point for organizing the worlds's private sector to support the Global Fund. Our Web Site is www.businessfightsaids.org. Please visit us or the Global Fund for much more on this - the world's most serious health crisis in all of history.

It appears clear that there is a classical north-south clash of visions and priorities that has manifested itself at the UN Summit threatening to derail it. It is about the clash of visions between the priorities of human security and poverty alleviation, at the heart of the concerns of the developing world and the priorities of the global war on terror and nuclear non-proliferation, prioritized by primarily the US? Do you agree that there could be a deeper and more fundamental division than the clear desires that the US foreign policy establishment might have to put a clear stamp on the UN’s global agenda?

Raenette Taljaard, Senior Lecturer, P&DM Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa

RH: Yes, I agree with you that there is a deep division over priorities. My own view is somewhat different than either camp. First, we can, and must tackle both sets of issues. Second, they are, in the end, interrelated. Third, let’s not overdo the “purity” of one camp or the other. For example, take AIDS, and your own country, which I visit regularly on behalf of the previously-mentioned Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS. (We have even opened an office in Johannesburg.) What happens in South Africa matters to all of us; it is one of the most important countries in the world. But does anyone think that the South African government’s own policies on this issue are something to be proud of? So there is plenty to be done by both camps in this over-simplified discussion.

We have been told that Iraq is the reason for many of the atrocities being perpetrated by Muslim extremists in a number of countries in the world. But before that the reason given was Afghanistan, Palestine and the occupied territories – hence 9/11, suicide bombers in Israel, the bombing at the US embassy in Nairobi. And before that there was Lebanon, Kashmir, etc etc. The point is, there always seems to be an excuse for Islamic extremist actions. Western intelligence services and armed forces seem unable to deal with these problems. Is the answer appeasement? Disengagement from the Middle East? Or an even more aggressive stance? Or do we all just grit our teeth and put up with many more years of this type of action?

Staveley Ferguson, Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex, UK

RH: You have offered four possible approaches to terror committed by Muslim extremists. I would suggest that the first three are non-answers. The fourth - ”grit our teeth” - is a partial answer, since the terror attacks we have seen in London and New York and Bali and Madrid and Jerusalem will undoubtedly continue for some time no matter what is done to combat them. So we must fight them with whatever military, police, or covert action is necessary, and with first rate intelligence. But I wish to go beyond that, to raise a more fundametnal poiint. Terror is a tactic, not the goal of these people. The suicide bombers are the deluded, manipulated cannon fodder of the ruthless men behind this campaign. That campaign is based on ideas that are anathema to the West, which are clearly and publicly laid out every day in the websites and statements of our enemies. They are anti-western, anti-tolerance of diverse views, anti-Israel, and anti-moderate Muslim. They seek to destroy moderate or secular Muslim states and replace them with a 14th century Caliphate. This is their real goal, and the terror attacks against the west are part of that campaign. If we are to succeed against these monstrous men, we must attack not only the terrorist cells, but the men and ideas behind them - just as we did with Naziism and Communism - both long public diplomacy (old name: propaganda) campaigns that ultimately succeeded. Unless we destroy the ideas behind the terrorists, the leaders of our enemy will continue to gain adherents including suicide bombers, but, equally dangerously, sympathizers. And our enemy has a face that is today just as recogizable in the world as Hitler’s was in 1942. Why have the American and British governments virtually ignored Osama bin Laden, while millions of people wear T-shirts with his face on them, and name their children after him? We must take bin Laden on frontally - now. This is fundamentally (pun intended) a war of ideas.

As a man who got involved in the Cyprus problem and went away leaving a good feeling behind you, please tell us if it is right for the Greek Cypriots and for that matter and for some Turkish Cypriots, to feel bitter and dissaponted that Turkey begins her EU journey while still having here 35,000 troops that occupy half the island?

Christos Rotsas

RH: Thank you for the kind words about my role in Cyprus, where I worked for over two years as President Clinton’s special envoy. Our efforts were only partially successful. I am pleased that Cyprus is in the EU, but disappointed that it is not the whole island. I am strongly in favor of the EU starting Turkey on the road toward EU membership, although that process will take a long time, and is obviously a huge political issue in Europe. As for the Turkish troops, they are part of the larger issues of a settlement, and cannot be dealt with outside that context.

To what extent do you consider EU and US agricultural policy as relevant in context of poverty reduction? What initiatives, frameworks or forums (beyond the ones in New York this week) would you propose to address this issue? Should the abolition of these policies not constitute an overriding goal beyond Doha and receive the same dedicated focus as the G8’s debt-relief package (which some would argue is an inferior goal compared to improved terms of trade)?

Christian Bell, Oslo, Norway

RH: There is something strange and at times (and is the dispute over cotton) heart-breaking in watching world leaders talk about more foreign aid for Africa or Latin America while simultaneously denying the same people their best shot at economic growth through agriculture. This is perhaps the most difficult problem there is to solve, given the political realities we must all live with.

I believe in providing incentives to people as this will incentivise them to do for themselves. This to me appears to be US policy when it comes to poverty in countries where there is little or no democracy. I am frustrated that the people who seem to be determined to forgive debt in these countries regardless of the poor governance issues seem to get more airtime and appear to be the good guys. Why is America so poor at making it’s case which to me seems to make a lot more sense?

Colmm Costello, UK

RH: Please refer to my earlier answers on goverence and poverty and foreign aid.

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