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As it turned out years later, the Rio and Johannesburg processes were also incapable of meeting this fundamental societal challenge. These are telling examples of the political and structural limitations prevailing in sectoral administrative and decision-making structures at all levels.
The Conference Secretariat also faced another type of externality – a political one related to the East-West divide and its resulting Cold War. This externality prevented the environmental issue from being treated as a universal question because of the controversy over which countries to invite to the Conference (discussed later in this chapter).
As the process moved forward, national interests became more engaged and political sensitivities increased. Strong managed to deflect a challenge at the third session of the Preparatory Committee in September 1971 when Brazil and UK requested a clarification of the competence of the Secretary-General of the Conference.24/ Both countries wished to increase government influence in the process, but for opposite reasons. Brazil felt that too little had been done to satisfy the interests of the developing countries, while the UK was motivated by its restrictive attitude towards the entire process. As a result, Strong agreed to widen the scope of the foreseen consultations with governments on the draft Action Plan.
The Conference Secretariat
The extraordinary challenges of the preparatory process would not have been met without the high quality and unusually effective Conference Secretariat. Under Strong’s leadership, the Secretariat’s further preparations combined innovation with a high level of ambition and thoroughness never before seen at a UN conference.25/
The Secretariat consisted of a small core group of around 10 professionals. The recruitment process, undertaken with great care, in most cases produced excellent results. The criteria for selection were intellectual rigour and initiative, organizing talent, will and capacity for hard work, devotion and reliability.26/
The Secretariat was tightly run, although with an informal atmosphere, and was constantly working against pressing deadlines that were, by and large, met. This professional and loyal group was very ably led on a daily basis by Chef de Cabinet Marc Nerfin. Nerfin, a Swiss national, had a solid background in the UN. He had cemented his highly respected professional reputation during his most recent post as Secretary of the so-called Jackson Study on the Capacity of the United Nations Development System, published in 1969. The trust and candour between Strong and Nerfin was an indispensable asset for the entire operation.
24. Report Swedel NY, 1971-10-20.
25. Caldwell, p. 59.