Multilateral Institutions Taken Hostage

17 April 2005 by Eric Toussaint , Damien Millet

The conservative offensive within the multinational institutions has scored a few points in recent months. People like us who are trying to put across a different logic cannot afford to rest yet awhile. On the other hand, such frustrations nourish the fighting spirit.

Scene 1: on 18 January 2005, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), decided to appoint Ann Veneman, Minister of Agriculture in the Bush Administration, as Executive Director of UNICEF. The USA and Somalia are the only two countries who refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (189 countries did ratify it). One can well imagine the pressure Washington put on Kofi Annan to get him to make such a decision.

Scene 2: on 28 February 2005, Kofi Annan decided to appoint Supachai Panitchpakdi (Thailand) as General Secretary to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
This was established in 1964, after pressure from the developing countries, to offset the GATT effects.

(UNCTAD), for four years as of 1st September. This appointment is somewhat surprising, considering that the man they call “Dr. Sup” is at present the head of the World Trade Organisation WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

(WTO), the favourite instrument of those who wish to forcibly impose the deregulation of the global economy, to the greater profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. of international finance and trans-national corporations. UNCTAD, which defends the point of view of the countries of the South, has nothing to gain by having at its head a man who has consistently demanded particularly unfavourable economic measures for the poorest countries. Third World countries, under the G77 banner, have protested at not having been consulted, as they usually are, before this appointment was made. However rumour has it that Kofi Annan, his position weakened by the “food for oil” revelations about Iraq involving his son, gave in easily to the United States.

Scene 3: on 7 March 2005, George W. Bush chose John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. This man tried to have Mohamed ElBaradei sacked when ElBaradei was the director of the UN institution in charge of the Iraq disarmament programme, just before the war in 2003. It was Bolton who was responsible for the fact that the United States did not ratify the International Criminal Court; and he it was who withdrew from the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban in August 2001. Bolton considers that the UN should on no account impede US foreign policy. He even went so far as to declare: “Now more than ever the United Nations needs American leadership [1]. At least his positions are perfectly clear, if not particularly endearing. His hostility to the UN is so well-known that a significant number of American Congressmen (including some Republicans) tried to oppose the appointment.

Scene 4: on 10 March, George W. Bush announced his decision to propose Paul Wolfowitz, Number 2 in the Pentagon and a fervent advocate of the invasion of Iraq 2003, as candidate for the presidency of the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

. There is no doubt that this is the finishing touch to the events of recent weeks.

To begin with, the procedure for designating the president of the World Bank is particularly antidemocratic. It is emblematic of an imperialist conception of diplomatic relations. Whereas good governance is at the heart of the World Bank’s recommendations to countries of the South, the Bank itself proves unwilling to respect even the most basic rules of democracy. Do as I say, not as I do! Things have become so dire that the incumbent president, James Wolfensohn, a New York banker of Australian origin, had to take US citizenship before being appointed in 1995.

To listen to the officials of the World Bank, you would think that the sinister structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

programmes of the 1980s were a thing of the past, and that combating poverty has become the only worthwhile cause. Yet the World Bank’s policies over the last few decades have faithfully and unfailingly obeyed a perfect logic. And that logic always and exclusively benefits the major powers who founded the Bank at Bretton Woods in 1944 (before most African and Asian countries had achieved independence) and who have never taken their hands off the wheel. This explains why the presidency always falls into the hands of big bankers or former US Defence Secretaries. The tradition was already established in 1968 with the appointment of Robert MacNamara, who conducted the Vietnam War and used the World Bank as a geo-political tool to help the United States’ strategic allies. During the first five years of MacNamara’s presidency, the World Bank granted more loans to developing countries than in the previous 23 years of its existence. The aim was to acquire the right to oversee policies conducted by its clients. This was how he supported the USA’s strategic allies (such as Mobutu of then Zaire, the Brazilian and Argentine dictatorships, Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, Marcos in the Philippines, etc.). There is no doubt that Wolfowitz will follow the line of this kind of president, using the World Bank for geo-political ends.

Officially, all the World Bank administrators could block the proposed appointment. This has already happened at the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
(IMF), where the Managing Director is always a European. In 2000, when the Frenchman Michel Camdessus left office, the German Finance Secretary of the time, Caio Koch-Weser, who was the European candidate, was vetoed by the USA, and the Europeans finally agreed on Horst Köhler. Yet at the World Bank, the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz won unanimous approval, proving that the 24 groups of countries represented are perfectly happy with it. It is worth noting that most European countries are hoping that the United States will return the favour. The French government is manoeuvring to get Pascal Lamy elected Managing Director of the WTO and Bernard Kouchner to take over the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); the Belgian government is pushing forward Marc Verwilghen’s candidature for the same post; the British are angling for the United Nations Programme for Development. Not to mention the countries that want the US support in getting a permanent seat on the Security Council: Germany, Japan, Brazil, India, South Africa, Nigeria... However unethical, the intense bargaining never ceases.

How is it that the presidency of the World Bank has never been entrusted to a Third World citizen, in the front line against the challenges of human development? Indeed, Joseph Stiglitz, a former Number Two of the World Bank and Nobel prize-winner for Economics in 2001, declared: « Choosing the right general in the war on poverty cannot guarantee victory, but choosing the wrong one increases the risk of defeat ». The only explanation for this choice is that the real war is not on poverty, despite the official discourse of those who, even as they speak, continue to impose policies which spread destitution.

The legitimacy of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF is called into question. The events of the last few months demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt the crying need for a different international architecture!

By Damien Millet, president of CADTM France, Eric Toussaint, president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt). They co-authored the book Who Owes Who? published by Zedbooks, London, 2004 and The Debt Scam published by VAK, Mumbai, 2003. CADTM website :

This opinion was published (in French and in an adapted form) by the Belgian daily Le SOIR on 16 April 2005, under the heading « Des institutions multilaterales prises en otage » (Multilateral Institutions Taken Hostage) in the Forum column.

Translated by Vicki Briault Manus, CADTM France.


[1Financial Times, 12 avril 2005

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Other articles in English by Eric Toussaint (621)

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Damien Millet

professeur de mathématiques en classes préparatoires scientifiques à Orléans, porte-parole du CADTM France (Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde), auteur de L’Afrique sans dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2005), co-auteur avec Frédéric Chauvreau des bandes dessinées Dette odieuse (CADTM-Syllepse, 2006) et Le système Dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2009), co-auteur avec Eric Toussaint du livre Les tsunamis de la dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2005), co-auteur avec François Mauger de La Jamaïque dans l’étau du FMI (L’esprit frappeur, 2004).

Other articles in English by Damien Millet (46)

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