Sunday, November 14, 2004

Hello Dolly, again

Cloning is one of the most divisive issues before the U.N. General Assembly, and diplomats don’t appear confident they’ll reach a consensus this week on how to ban “reproductive cloning” of humans.

This seems to be a universal goal, but governments disagree about whether to outlaw all forms of human cloning or to permit it to support stem-cell research, in which identical copies of cells are destroyed before they form tissue. Scientists first used the cloning process in 1997 to produce the sheep “Dolly.”

The United States and the Vatican are the most adamant among more than 60 members supporting Costa Rica’s draft resolution to outlaw all human cloning. At least two dozen members support a rival draft, written by Belgium, that would permit medical research involving cloning.

U.N. members have batted the issue for nearly three years, and made little effort to reach a compromise. The two camps are so deadlocked that Turkey, on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposes a vote on either resolution.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan infuriated the prohibition camp by offering his “personal view” that therapeutic cloning should be allowed. This involves using human embryos in medical research — not to create identical human beings, but to obtain “stem cells” that create specific tissues, which might be useful to treat diseases. But extracting the cells destroys the early-stage human embryos.

The issue is expected to come up for U.N. action on Friday, but few diplomats are willing to predict whether the world body will vote on the rival drafts, or put off the issue again.

Millennium Project

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs thinks military force will never bring peace and financial aid will not spur sustainable economic development.

As head of the U.N. anti-poverty Millennium Project, Mr. Sachs has been trying to persuade wealthy governments to increase their Official Development Assistance (ODA), and poor countries to switch spending from military to social investment.

With promised aid falling behind by as much as $55 billion each year, Mr. Sachs is trying to nudge governments — chief among them the United States — to focus on projects with immediate effects, rather than expensive cures to vast problems.

That means focusing on practical quick fixes. Think bed nets to prevent mosquito-borne malaria, and fertilizer to raise crop yields, which Mr. Sachs thinks will bring immediate benefits.

Aid, he contends, is an overlooked tool in the war on terrorism.

“We can’t solve problems of security through military means — certainly not through military means alone,” Mr. Sachs told reporters last week. Moreover, he added, “bed nets don’t end up in Swiss bank accounts” — a parry to widespread fear of wasting aid money on greedy rulers.

Mr. Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said the United States is the smallest ODA contributor, by gross national product (GNP), among large industrial nations.

Washington spends about $450 billion a year on defense and $15 billion on foreign aid. This $15 billion is about 0.14 percent of the U.S. GNP, Mr. Sachs said, far below the 0.7 percent of GNP the Group of Seven agreed to nearly 20 years ago.

“This has been a bipartisan [U.S.] neglect for decades,” the U.N. official said. “It’s not this administration, but goes back 30 or 35 years.”

The Millennium Project will publish a report in January again calling on rich countries to reach their ODA targets and poor nations to increase their development and social spending to 4 percent of GNP.

Mr. Sachs describes the report as a “business plan” to meet the General Assembly’s Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious blueprint to significantly reduce global poverty, illiteracy and preventable diseases by 2015.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at

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