New north-south relations

In a couple of recent articles, I have written about the need for new and sustainable international relations, especially North-South relations, increased development aid and better migration and refugee measures. The European Union (EU) introduced new migration plans a couple of weeks but they are only half-hearted. I have also said that we must look at the irregular transfers of capital from poor to rich countries, whitewashing of money and the use of tax havens by the richest companies and individuals in the world. I have drawn attention to the need for correcting some of the wrongs that were done in history when the West looted poor countries through colonialism and other forms of exploitation, even slavery. When the Western powers pulled out, they left the countries with poor local institutions, no democratic traditions, and without sound trade relations.
In my article last week, I drew attention to the need for bold new thinking about North-South relations, recommending no less ten percent of rich countries’ GDP (GNI) in aid or an international development tax. When the EU a couple of weeks ago presented its new plans for how to handle its migration issues, the proposals were mainly about how to keep refugees and economic migrants out, and it was about how the EU could return people that they considered sin not to have legal needs for protection or other good reasons for staying.
Sadly, the Europeans have (on purpose) forgotten the basics of colonial history. When I was a young student we read radical writers such as Walter Rodney, Gunnar Myrdal and many others. Rodney’s book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ came in 1972 and investigated how Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped by capitalist Europe. Myrdal’s book ‘Asian Drama: An enquiry into the poverty of nations’ came in 1968 and showed causes of stagnation in developing countries. What is essential about such books is that they are not only based on science, they are also political and moral documents. Myrdal won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974, and his wife Alva Myrdal won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for her efforts towards disarmament and creating nuclear weapons-free zones. She worked for universal welfare policies. Today, we must not forget that economic issues and political plans, such as those of the EU on migration, have moral foundations, and they must take history, philosophy, religion and other understandings into consideration.
We need to think differently and new about international migration. The world has become very unequal and differences between rich and poor within and between countries and regions are growing. If these developments are not stopped, there will be more unrest within countries and people from poor countries will try even harder to migrate to the wealthy countries – EU policies cannot keep them out.
Let us also recall that it is just over a hundred years that we have had major restrictions on where people are allowed to move and settle; the nation state has created restrictions that it was not meant to do. After the current Corona pandemic, we may have better opportunities than in a long time to look at how fair and democratic, well, unfair and undemocratic, it is to have restrictions of movements; the world has become one in new ways; viruses have no borders, Internet has no borders, many people have relatives in several countries, knowledge has no borders, and capital and goods are borderless. The current migration rules and regulations are made for those who want to keep people away, not for those who want to come.
True, we cannot open everything overnight. It must be planned and regulated, as most things have to be in our time. We must begin discussing and analysing the overall and most important issues about sustainable and fair-for-all North-South relations, in all countries, indeed in the North but also in the South. At the same time, we must prepare everyone for the changes that will have to come in order to gain support for them. When the UN introduced the New International Economic Order in the 1970s, the main reason for its non-acceptance and non-implementation was that it wasn’t really marketed well; even those who were for it didn’t quite believe it could happen and maybe they didn’t quite think it was needed. When I now suggest that the rich countries in the North, and other rich countries, allocate ten percent of GDP (GNI) in development aid or as an international development tax, we must debate and plan much better.
We must make sure that people understand that it is in the interest of all, also the rich countries, to change the North-South development paradigm. The urgent need for better migration and refugee policies and practices are the most visible in the North. We must realise that ten percent, or even a higher international tax, is not really going to slow down over-development in the rich countries; they can afford it.
Did I forget to mention it, namely that the rich and ruthless multinationals and other large companies must also contribute to equal development, not only ten percent, but perhaps twenty-five percent of their profit; they must not be allowed to loot ordinary people neither in rich nor poor countries, and certainly not the world’s poorest people and countries. It is in everyone’s interest that they develop, too. It is a moral and political duty to see that all countries and all people become more equal. Then, the rich countries will receive fewer migrants and refugees, and those who come will be welcomed. Then the people in the North can save their soul. Some people from the North will also migrate to the South, and be welcomed there.
This is not an unrealistic dream. It is the only thing that can help create a fairer and more humane world for all. Let us begin the bold discussions and planning as soon as possible; we are already late.

Atle Hetland

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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