The United States has proposed what it considers to be a constructive new strategy for economic cooperation between the rich and poor nations. In his first major speech on the subject, US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. revealed the broad outlines of the program on Sept. 21 before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.
In his speech entitled "A New Era of Growth," Secretary Haig reaffirmed the American commitment to the UN, to the major international financial institutions , and to the concept of "generous concessional aid" to the poorest nations. In the view of some observers, the speech tended to counteract the impression held by a number of nations that the Reagan administration is only interested in its competition with the Soviet Union and gives low priority to the UN and to economic development issues.
"International development reflects the worldwide search for economic progress, social justice, and human dignity," declared Haig. "Short of war itself, no other issue before us will affect more people, for good or ill, than this search. And peace itself cannot be truly secure if the aspirations of mankind for a better life are frustrated."
The secretary of state asserted that the ideals of the UN are "also American ideals," and that the UN charter "embodies American principles."
"The United Nations has a key role to play in resolving conflict and promoting international stability," said Haig.
According to the Monitor's special correspondent at the United Nations, Louis Wiznitzer, the Haig speech was received at the UN with a sigh of relief. It was considered by many diplomats to be conciliatory. It contained none of the harsh rhetoric that has marked many of the statements made in recent months by administration officials in Washington and by members of the US mission to the United Nations.
While initial comment on the speech was for the most part favorable, many diplomats found ambiguities in the speech and felt that Haig had attached a number of political strings to US economic support. Several diplomats said that Haig was concealing military security concerns behind a smoke screen of economic theory.
Throughout the speech, Secretary Haig advocated the virtues of private enterprise and investment and the need to fight protectionism and promote the free-market system. Haig said there was no question about the value of the existing multinational banks, such as the World Bank. But a senior State Department official explained, in a briefing on the Haig speech, that the Reagan administration intended to propose changes in such international financial institutions that would stimulate private investment.
Secretary Haig asserted that the world's nations must choose between two futures: "A future of sustainable growth, an expansion of world trade, and a reduction of poverty or a future of economic stagnation, rising protectionism, and the spread of poverty."
For a new strategy of growth, Haig said:
* The poorest developing countries "require long-term and generous concessional aid from development and other developing countries to raise productivity. . . ."
* The middle-level developing countries "need foreign capital and assistance in developing the experience and credit-worthiness to borrow on international capital markets" as well as "an open international trading system to encourage export development."
*The more advanced of the developing countries can best be sustained "by a strong international economy with an open capital and trading system."
Secretary Haig said that a new strategy for growth must be based on the lessons of the past. The first among them, he said, is the need for an open international trading system. In line with this, Haig said that the General Agreement on tariffs and Trade must be strengthened.
Second, Haig said, foreign assistance is most effective when it is coupled with sound domestic policy and self-help. he rejected a strategy that would depend on the "massive increase in the transfer of resources from developed to developing countries" as "unrealistic."
Third, according to Haig, regional cooperation and bilateral consultations can be effective in promoting development. The US, he said, is searching for ways to work more closely with private voluntary agencies and the US Chamber of Commerce and its counterparts in developing countries.
Fourth, the secretary said, "growth for development is best achieved through reliance on incentives for individual economic performance."
"Suppression of economic incentives ultimately suppresses enthusiasm and invention," Haig said. "And the denial of personal freedom can be as great an obstacle to productivity as the denial of reward for achievement."
His fifth and final point was that development requires "a certain measure of security and political stability.