In this thesis, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference of Trade and Development) is used as a case to shed light on the dynamics in the North-South dialogue. UNCTAD was meant to be the institutional arena where the South used Global Conference Diplomacy (GCD) to challenge the status quo in the quest for a New International Economic Order (NIEO). The quest of NIEO through UNCTAD failed conclusively when the outcome was compared to the stated objectives of the grand coalition of the South. Consequently, UNCTAD as an institutional arena and as a device for aggregating and articulating the demands of the South experienced a Fall.
The main objective of this thesis is to understand UNCTAD’s development over time and explain the drivers behind the ‘Rise’ and ‘Fall’. The wider aim is to identify drivers that are relevant to other GCD processes where the North-South cleavage appears. Preliminary interviews in Geneva and four months of participative observation in UNCTAD negotiations in 2011 served as a point of departure. I constructed a theoretical model that includes four selected independent variables: Consensual Knowledge, Problem Malignancy, Institutional Capacity and Power. The model also includes three specified criteria to evaluate UNCTAD’s performance as an intergovernmental forum over time. In order to obtain information about these issues, 21 semi-structured elite interviews were conducted with 19 respondents who were diplomats, UNCTAD staff and experts in Norway and Geneva. It became clear that UNCTAD had experienced a rise and fall and was influenced by “the vicious cycle of deprioritization”, ”radicalization of the UN agenda and coalitions”, “agenda sprawling”, “law of the least ambitious program” and finally the “the contamination scare”. It became clear from my analysis that the independent variables correlated, and subsequently three general findings from the analysis were examined: (i) In the GCD processes the leader and the secretariat play a fundamental and pivotal role in creating consensual knowledge between the North and South; (ii) The GCD process is sensitive towards the ‘amplifying effect of the level of participation’ in a competitive institutional landscape; (iii) The GCD process becomes harder when there is asymmetry in the power distribution in the negotiations in UNCTAD (the decision game), coupled with asymmetric power distribution in the world as such (basic game) and when these two games are incongruent.
I hope to make a small contribution to our understanding of the complexity of the dynamics in the North-South Dialogue and shed light on factors that increase the vulnerability for diplomatic gridlocks in the GCD processes.