In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “The Politics of Scarcity”An interview with Ambassador Munir Akram, who served as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations until September 2008
  • Michael Collins (bio)

Part I

(conducted at the United Nations on March 13, 2008)

COLLINS: What was your role as a member of the UN Secretary General’s advisory board on disarmament?

AKRAM: Well, I served on the advisory board on disarmament for four years while I was ambassador to the disarmament conference in Geneva; and our role was to advise Kofi [Annan] who was then Secretary General on how we saw the best possible role for the UN in a very complex situation where disarmament negotiations had come to a standstill and what the UN could do to energize the disarmament agenda. And this is a standing goal, I think, though we have other members on the board now. But it was a useful way for the Secretary General to receive inputs from those who had been associated with disarmament for a long time. To get ideas and possibly initiatives that we could run with.

COLLINS: Are you still co-chair [for] UN Management Reform?

AKRAM: No. I gave up that post about a year ago when we assumed the chairmanship of the Group of 77 last year. That’s when I left the position of the co-chair of the [management] review. But it’s now been assumed by New Zealand and Namibia, who are co-chairs at the moment. And they are making some progress on the issue . . .

COLLINS: UN reform is something that is debated a lot in the U.S. Some people in the U.S. view the UN as a very inefficient organization—as an organization that is ineffective, not cost effective and so on. Is there a chance that the committee on UN management reform might help to improve UN-U.S. relations, or improve the UN’s reputation in the U.S.?

AKRAM: I think the Mandate Review exercise is not likely to make any revolutionary changes at the UN. I think it is probably more important to have—to evolve a strategic [End Page 1306] vision for how the UN machinery and the UN secretariat can be made more efficient and more effective. And I think that there are now several ideas floating around, including a proposal from what is called the Four Nation Initiative, which seeks to reform several things at the UN—the way that the actual mandates of the UN secretariat are generated, how the budget is formulated and approved—and how UN personnel are recruited and trained, promoted, and posted. So I think if one were to adopt a comprehensive approach, it’s possible that we could reach decisions that could improve the UN bureaucracy—and the effectiveness of the bureaucracy. The main problem at the UN is that there is very often a lack of clarity on what the secretariat is supposed to do: resolutions and decisions are ambiguous at times. Secondly, the secretariat’s interpretation of those decisions is quite often arbitrary, and there is very little accountability for performance. Third, there is quite often a mismatch between mandates and the allocation of resources to implement the mandates. So I think we have several areas in which we need to make improvements. And I hope that the thematic debate which the President of the [General] Assembly convened for the 8th of April will result in at least some strategic vision of how to improve the UN.

COLLINS: Moving on to the G77—what, from the Group of 77’s point of view, is the purpose of the World Trade Organization [WTO]?

AKRAM: The Group of 77 was constituted in the Sixties at the advent of the first UN Conference on Trade and Development. This was when the WTO did not exist. It was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT], the predecessor of the WTO. The purpose of the group was basically to coordinate the positions of the developing countries, which considered that the international trading system was basically structurally disadvantageous to them. Because, for instance, two of the major areas of trade interest in the developing countries in...