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The Founex Conference - Longer term lessons

In the end, the Swedish-sponsored text was adopted with a large majority, although with negative votes by the Eastern bloc because of the still unresolved invitation question.83 The Brazilian-sponsored text also was adopted, but by a much smaller margin. Four countries, including the US and UK, voted against and 31 countries, including western donor countries, abstained.(84)

Without the impact of the Founex Initiative, an open North-South confrontation at the UNGA session would have been almost unavoidable and would have had a devastating effect on the Conference.

Some longer term lessons

These early experiences in managing North-South relations in the UN produced some longer term lessons that remain relevant.

• Brazil demonstrated that a country with sufficient geopolitical weight and strong convictions can occupy the centre stage of negotiations and exercise major influence, particularly in a situation that has not yet crystallized.

• Political choices necessitated by such action tend to polarize views and make accommodation more difficult. In this case, the long-term consequences were considerable. The negative votes cast by US and the UK, on the one hand, and the fact that many developing countries felt they had to support the Brazilian position, on the other, were the first formal signs of a North-South polarization.

This had barely been avoided during the previous UNGA session when, in the end, Brazil chose not to put forward a draft resolution of its own.

• The decisive contribution of the Founex Report to the outcome of the Stockholm Conference could not be sustained after the Conference. Its integrative blueprint did not relate to national and international institutional structures with sufficient broad areas of jurisdiction. Attempts were made, but a systematic institutional follow-up of the report was all but impossible, quite apart from the political sensitivities involved.(85)

• A telling international example was the absence of any operational coordination between the preparations for the closely related UNCTAD III and the Stockholm Conferences.

The invitation problem

The matter of invitations, which had been postponed again at the UNGA sessions of 1970 and 1971, became successively more difficult towards the end of the preparatory process for Stockholm. The issue was hostage to East-West negotiations on the German question, particularly concerning the international status of the GDR. This was related to the so-called Hallstein Doctrine of the FRG, which opposed the notion of two German states and was supported at the time by an overwhelming majority of UN members.

Considerable political energy was spent by many actors, including Maurice Strong and the host country, to resolve the problem.

Strong made several attempts, but could not contribute to the substantive resolution of this great power political issue. On one occasion, he met the GDR Foreign Minister, which brought criticism from the US. While recognizing the limitations of the politics of the day, his philosophy was that he would treat all foreign representatives as participants in the process in view of the universal nature of the environmental issue.(86)

However, in spite of the uncertainties about Soviet participation in the Conference, he still managed to secure an active Soviet involvement in the preparatory process by recruiting a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences Vladimir Kunin, as scientific adviser to the Secretariat after a sensitive diplomatic process.(87)

The host country explored all possible options together with many other countries, including both the FRG and the GDR, but in spite of the efforts, none could contribute a solution.88 Uncertainty prevailed until a few days before the Conference but, in the end, the question could not be resolved. The Soviet Union and its allies did not participate in the Conference.

A few months earlier, these countries had boycotted the formal parts of the preparatory process, such as participation in the working group on the Declaration.

However, contrary to the widespread fears in the run-up to the Conference, this episode turned out not to have any significant damaging effects. The Soviet Union participated actively in the Conference Secretariat preparations up to the end. The underlying political problem was resolved in 1973, when the FRG and the GDR both became members of the newly established United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

83 The votes were 94 – 8 – 7; the text later became UNGA res 2850 (XXVI).
84 The votes were 62 – 4 (US, UK, Australia, Belgium) – 31; the text later became GA Resolution 2849 (XXVI).
85 In the host country, the newly established Secretariat for Future Studies in the Prime Minister’s office stimulated national debate through a
Swedish edition of the Founex Report in 1973. This catalyzed a conference and a special publication by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in 1975
entitled What now: another development. Marc Nerfin was the project director.
86 Maurice Strong, interview by author, 2008-04-04.87 Strong, pp. 119-120.
87 Account and analysis of invitation issue up to December 1972 in memo Swartz 72-01-04; examples of further activities memo Swartz/Swedish MFA legal adviser Hans Blix 72-01-21, memo Blix 72-01-27; messages Swedel Gva 1972-01-31 and 1972-02-01; internal report by Swedish Foreign Minister Krister Wickman from visit to Moscow 1972-02-14.