A casualty of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the Brandt report published at the height of the Soviet-American storm. One wonders at the naivete of such politically tried members as Edward Heath, Olaf Palme and Shridath Ramphal, not to mention Willy Brandt himself. Why didn't they think of postponing publication of the report three or six months?
The consequence is that one of the most important reports of our time has disappeared almost without a trace.
Keeping the Brandt Commission's words alive was the task of a recent meeting of the North-South Roundtable at the University of Sussex, England. The Brandt report, it was said time and time again, was the first document of its kind. Never before has a group of influential Western, Third World and OPEC leaders agreed unanimously on a substantive plan of action for resuscitating the world economy. Despite such a contentious subject, there were no dissenting voices, no minority report, not even a footnote of disagreement. Yet, so far, its political resonance has been slight.
Fritz Fischer, Willy Brandt's adviser, gave the conference a quick rundown of the report's impact on the West. In the United States, press coverage was minimal and political debate almost zero. In Britain, the press was enthusiastic, the government hostile, although it was the subject of three debates in Parliament. In France, since the Brandt Commission failed to produce a French edition, no one has read it, or at least admitted to it. In West Germany, the press gave it good coverage, but regarded its proposals as unrealistic, as does Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In Holland, the queen and her government ministers attended a public assembly to discuss what the nation should do. But one Holland doesn't make a summer.
Leaving aside the fact that the commission chose a most unpropitious time to launch its report and that its public relations techniques were abysmal (not even translations were made available, and in India copies have still not arrived), it remains to be said that the report failed in its own text to drvie the pitch of its message home.
In a last-minute rush, when the report was already 90 percent complete, the commission decided in the wake of the gigantic 1979 oil price rise to write what is called an "emergency program." This would link the interests of the industrialized world to the Third World and OPEC. But it never sharpened it to a point that carried enough conviction. This has ben left to Edward Heath, the former British Conservative prime minister, who in a series of public interventions, has refined the argument that needs to be made. Essentially, he says, the industrialized world has to offer OPEC two things. First, "a more secure means of placing their surpluses with some expectation of getting a higher return a willingness on the part of the West to step up its own aid to the poorer parts of the Third World and to reform the World Bank and the IMF so they can lend much more. In return, OPEC should be asked to guarantee the North "the security of their future supplies of oil as well as an arrangement over the rate of increase in real terms of the price of oil" and to agree to a marked increase in their financial commitments to the international lending institutions.
Heath embarked on a great lobbying effort to have the report discussed at the Venice summit. The White House staff, however, refused to forward his letter to the president's desk. And in Venice, Margaret Thatcher, who usurped Heath as leader of the Conservative Party, kept their personel antagonism alight by squashing a discussion before it got off the ground.
Yet it is obvious to everyone that the Brandt report -- so sweeping are its recommendations -- can only get implemented if the heads of government themselves give it their personal consideration.
In the years immediately following World War II, such was the degree of general political accord in the Western camp that important international economic decisions were routinely made at official level. Later in the 1960s, as the problems and disagreements mounted, ministers were compelled to make the decisions. In the late 1970s, it became possible to resolve the tensions only at heads-of-government summits.
The question is how to get the Brandt report on the main agenda of a Western summit and, after that, how to make succeed a well prepared summit of a representative group of northern and southern leaders.
The Sussex meeting called for the Brandt Commission to reconvene, to update its conclusions and to refocus the debate. Heath, for his part, is beginning a new drive to get the issues discussed at senior levels of government.
The Brandt report, subtitled "a programme for survival," is no less than that. It contains within its 300 pages the means by which the world economy can escape the straitjacket of recession, unemployment, inflation and, for too many people, hunger and malnutrition. It offers us hope within our lifetime. Its goals can be achieved with the word's present resources. That it has so far been shunted aside is one of the great political mistakes of our time.