Short guide to the AIV report

Development Policy30 Jun 2011Frans Bieckmann

The AIV’s advisory report on the ‘post-2015’ agenda for global development sets a different tone than other influential reports from the WRR. In doing so, it lays the basis for an interesting debate on a number of different paradigms on development, globalisation and foreign policy.

See for a Dutch version of this short guide: Een korte gids door het AIV rapport

On 10 June the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) presented its report ‘The Post-2015 Development Agenda: the Millennium Development Goals in Perspective’. The report offers a number of recommendations on the course to be taken to set new global goals for the period following the expiry of the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It comprises two parts. The first part evaluates what the MDGs have achieved and what lessons can be learned from current MDG practice for a post-2015 strategy. Where the WRR, in its report ‘Less Pretension, More Ambition’, was clearly opposed to the MDGs, the AIV adopts a less extreme approach: it endorses much of the criticism, but emphasizes the value of common global goals. It qualifies this, however, by stating that, in the run-up to a post-2015 agenda, this global consensus will have to be achieved with a much greater contribution from poor countries and emerging powers.

In part two of the report, the AIV looks in greater detail at a number of relatively new development concepts that, in its view, should be integrated in the post-2015 process. It proposes a radically different development paradigm, with indicators to measure well-being, sustainability and equality. To achieve that, global arrangements must play a greater role. This overlaps clearly with the advice given earlier in the WRR report ‘Less Pretension, More Ambition’. The AIV clearly chooses for a somewhat more political approach, in which sustainability, equality and well-being are more important than a policy aimed primarily at achieving economic growth and strengthening productivity in developing countries.


The AIV’s evaluation of the results achieved by the MDG approach provides no new insights but, in a few dozen pages, offers a relatively comprehensive summary of the widely varying debates that have been conducted in recent years on the value and impact of the MDGs.

The AIV examines the many progress reports on the MDGs that have been drawn up around the world and concludes that they present a mixed picture. In the case of one goal (access to drinking water), more progress has been made than was planned. Poverty has decreased, but the number of people suffering from hunger has risen to a billion. It is very difficult to prove whether progress in the various areas is the result of MDG-based policies. The greatest contributions to reducing global poverty have been made by China and India, trends which were already underway before the MDGs were formulated. The impact of the MDGs on donor policies is also mixed, and ‘it is difficult to determine exactly what the MDGs have signified for policy development in developing countries’.

According to the AIV, ‘the MDG system has been successful in communicating a complex development problem to a wider public, but has in many cases not led to achievement of the goals themselves’. It is not clear on what the first observation is based; the MDGs are often criticized for simplifying development to a technical, apolitical concept that impoverishes the complex processes and systematic causes underlying poverty.

Four schools

The AIV does provide a useful summary of the ‘four schools of thought regarding the MDGs’: the optimists, the strategic realists, the sceptics and the radical critics (for a different overview of the MDG debate see The Broker article ‘What next for the MDGs?).

Jan Pronk is classified under the optimists. In 2003, he saw six advantages of the MDGs: they are based on a broad perspective on poverty, rather than just income; they apply to the world as a whole; they focus on results and output; they aim at direct poverty reduction and not trickle-down; they are precise and quantified; and they are ambitious.

The strategic realists see the MDGs ‘as essential to achieve political commitment’. They include Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, who also contributed to a debate in The Broker. She is critical of the impact of the MDGs and calls for reducing global inequality to be added as an important goal.

Sceptics like William Easterly agree that the MDGs have ensured a global consensus for the past fifteen years, but do not feel that this ‘global awareness’ has resulted in the goals being achieved. This is because the goals are not underpinned by an accurate analysis of why current injustices remain intact, who is responsible and what should be done about it. The authors of the WRR report ‘Less Pretension, More Ambition’ are also counted among the sceptics, partly because they believe that the MDGs distract attention from the need for structural change.

The radical critics claim that the MDGs do not question the main cause of poverty and inequality and aim only to combat certain ‘undesired side effects’ of the ‘unbridled market economy’. ‘They do nothing to address fundamental power relations around the world, or distribution issues’ (see, for example, on The Broker site, Francine Mestrum and Phil Vernon on the last UN summit on the MDGs in September 2010, and in 2009 the contributions by Andrew Fischer and Charles Gore and others.

The AIV report then addresses a separate discussion on the MDG indicators: how do you measure poverty? It also considers a series of themes that are not included in the MDG project: sustainability, growth and employment, inequality, knowledge and technology, demography, peace and security, infrastructure in Africa, human rights and good governance, and global public goods. In the AIV’s view, a number of other issues should be addressed in greater depth in the context of the MDGs: food security, climate, gender and global governance.

At the end of the first part of the report, the AIV lists a series of lessons learned that should be taken in to account in the process of setting out new goals after 2015. The AIV believes that the Millennium Declaration, which preceded the MDGs, still has strategic value because it specifies a number of important conditions for development. The fact that the majority of the MDGs will not be achieved in 2015 is partly because of ‘limited operationalization of the goals for developed countries (MDG8), and failure to comply with international (financial) pledges and to reform the global trade and financial system. This one-sided focus on what the poor countries themselves should do is a result of the fact that donor countries have dominated the MDG process.

If a post-2015 system has any chance at all of succeeding, it will in the AIV’s view have to provide scope for greater participation by developing countries. Moreover, national objectives in these countries will have to be linked to the MDGs. These national objectives will have to be imposed through pressure from the bottom up, by civil society organizations within the countries, as they will feel more directly connected with them than with abstract, general MDGs. ‘To improve linkage between national policy and the MDGs, it is important to involve developing countries and the emerging economies prominently in the development of a new strategy. The success of the post-2015 system depends largely on this consultative process.’ The EU – and within it ‘a group of like-minded European states with a number of important development partners’ – should take the lead in this respect.

The AIV closes the first part of the report with the question: should we abolish the MDGs, continue with the current MDG system or try to set up a modified system? The AIV’s conclusion is that we should pursue the latter option, advising that, in the run-up to a modified system, there must be an international consensus that provides sufficient scope for developing countries to determine their own courses. It adds that it would be advisable to return to the original basis of the MDGs: Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach (‘freedom is progress’) and a multidimensional view of poverty.


In the second part of the report, the AIV outlines the contours of a new international development agenda, partly by building on the lessons of the current MDG system and partly by proposing new ideas and insights. This new agenda provides the context within which the post-2015 process must take shape. An important aspect of this process is the need for greater global cooperation.

In part two, the AIV first examines a number of current developments, on the basis of a series of reports by multilateral institutions. It sees globalization as being at a crossroads. ‘The promise of peace and prosperity after the end of the Cold War has not materialized and, instead, we are struggling with food, energy, financial and climate crises and many conflicts.’ Most of those conflicts are civil wars; what the AIV refers to as the ‘fragile states problem’.

Following the 2010 UN World Economic and Social Survey, the AIV specifies six trends: a shift in the global economy towards Asia, resulting in ‘multiple engines of growth’; increasing income inequality; population growth and urbanization; heavy pressure on the natural environment and biodiversity; and ‘an economic process consisting of non-regulated global value chains, dominated by international companies’.

The AIV calls for the Doha round of WTO negotiations to be completed as quickly as possible. Developing countries should be offered, unlike in the past, sufficient scope (and support) to strengthen their trade position and their own production. In addition, all agricultural subsidies should be abolished, and the international financial system should be radically reformed, as it has progressively limited developing countries’ policy space. These countries face great risks as a result of the liberalization of capital markets.

Internet and the spread of ICT have also had a great impact. The AIV calls for more attention for new technologies and improved knowledge transfer, partly in relation to intellectual property rights. It calls for knowledge to seen as a ‘global public good’.


The AIV is conducting an interesting discussion of the need for a more conceptual approach to underpin development policy, also at a global level. It takes as a starting point the capabilities approach of Amartya Sen, who identifies five basic freedoms: political and participatory freedoms and civil rights, economic facilities (participation in trade and production, a fair labour market), social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security (law and order, social security).

The AIV therefore adopts a far broader interpretation of poverty than one focused primarily on income. That is completely in line with a series of articles that have been published in The Broker in recent years on the concept of human well-being.

In addition, the AIV looks more closely at the need to pursue different economic goals worldwide to ensure that the earth’s resources are not depleted. Sustainable development must determine policy at the national, European and global levels, and European and other governments must take the lead.

To ensure that this goes beyond good intentions, the AIV tries to specify a number of concrete indicators that can serve as hard targets for post-2015 goals. These include a number of methods to measure sustainability, developed by Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. It also proposed alternatives for the still dominant growth indicator: GNP (see also The Broker articles Cutting to the core by José Eli da Veiga, The virtues of ignoring GDP by Jeroen van den Bergh and The Broker Special Report Greening the global economy by Jeffrey Sachs and Peter May.

Lastly, the AIV argues for equality to be specified explicitly as a global and national goal. Inequality in the world increased sharply in the decade after 1985 and has not declined again since. The global trade system has largely benefited the rich. Many countries have experienced rapid economic growth, developing from low to middle-income countries (see article New Bottom Billion by Andy Sumner) , but the number of poor people has not fallen.

With this combination of alternative indicators for measuring well-being, sustainability and equality, the AIV lays a practical basis for a new development paradigm which, in its view, should serve as a guideline for the post-2015 discussion and the Netherlands’ contribution to that debate. In doing so, it offers a serious counterbalance to, on the one hand, the traditional development approach aimed at direct poverty reduction and, on the other hand, the focus – propagated by the WRR and especially by the current government – on strengthening the productive sectors in developing countries (with more than average attention being devoted to the opportunities this offers to Dutch companies).

Global governance

The AIV report becomes a little confusing towards the end, under the heading ‘Conceptual basis for global cooperation’. This chapter examines three approaches, all of which should be included in the post-2015 discussion: the human rights approach, global public goods and global commons. There is something to be said for all three, and the last two complement each other. The sections on global public goods and global commons certainly make interesting reading. But it remains unclear how this all has to fit together, especially if it also has to include the concepts of well-being, sustainability and equality discussed previously. Clarity is even more important given the politically sensitive nature of these concepts. After all, they imply a clearly different form of globalization, and have far-reaching consequences for the domestic and foreign policies of the rich countries. That means that concrete perspectives for action will have to be formulated. It is the very vagueness of MDG8, concludes the AIV itself, that underlies the fact that the rich countries’ own responsibility has never been translated into concrete ‘targets’, for example in the field of fair trade relations.

Lastly, in a chapter entitled ‘Towards renewed global governance’, the AIV explores the way in which global public goods and other global goals should be achieved. It observes – along with many others – that ‘current institutions are based on the economic and political reality of 60 years ago and have proved ineffective in managing today’s increased interdependencies and addressing crises’. Existing organizations must return to their core mandates while new, ‘more representative’ organizations must be created to address issues like financial regulation, the debt burden, technology transfer, climate and labour, and other forms of migration.

This is explicitly not only a matter of cooperation between states, but also between ‘NGOs and their networks, civil society movements, and transnational corporations’. And not only formal institutions but increasingly informal institutions have an important role to play. The AIV has its doubts about the conclusion reached by the WRR in its report ‘Attached to the world’, namely that we live in a network society: ‘In the view of the AIV, a society in which temporary networks play a more prominent role is a more realistic starting point’.

Although it does not say so in as many words, the implication here is that, to achieve the many goals in the more complex interrelationships per issue (for example, per global public good), it is necessary to enter into strategic cooperative arrangements with a wide variety of actors. This implies that automatic cooperation with traditional allies is a thing of the past.

Such a differentiated approach calls for diverse financing instruments. Among these, the AIV discusses the possibility of a ‘global currency transaction tax’.