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close this bookThe Courier N 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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Alain MINC - La vengeance des nations (Vengeance of Nations) - Grasset - 273 pages - Bfrs 559 or FF 100 - 1991

This decidedly prolific author produces another book almost every year and one of them, La Grande Illusion, was in fact reviewed in these columns a little over 12 months ago. Some of Alain Minc’s theories may well be open to disagreement, but his books, with their profusion of ideas and original, prospective approach to the world of today, are always remarkable.

The basic idea of the present work, a simple one, has been seen before. Mr Minc thinks that the nations are capitalising on a twofold, relative decline, in the international order and at internal level. ‘This movement of nations, a bizarre phenomenon, is along two lines. On one side, we have Japan and Germany heralding the nationalism of the 21st century with domination now an economic, technological and financial thing which has renounced the outmoded idea of territorial sovereignty... On the other are the poor countries, with nationalism back in the rut of the 19th century (if not earlier), turning on identity, land and race, although the words themselves may be censored. Lithuania, Croatia, Transylvania, the Ukraine, Georgia... all thought they had wiped 50 years of Marxism off the slate’.

The author emphasises the development of Southern Europe and is perhaps unrestrained in denouncing the return of a Germany a Bismarck and France’s slide towards a republican monarchy - something the Presidents of the Republic seem very happy with. But he is right to stress the fact that some countries are seeing the emergence of popular nationalism in which, say, Lech Walesa, Saddam Hussein and Boris Yeltsin play very different parts. Oddly enough, other than in remarks on immigration, the developing countries are not mentioned.

What are the conclusions? The nuclear dissuasion-cold war tandem contrived to freeze history after World War II, but now it is on the move and leaping into the unknown. With communism dead, optimism triumphant, capitalism arrogant and democracy recognised, 1989 was the great turning point, but now we can see that some of the assertions needed finer tuning. For this book came out just before the Gulf crisis and could not, perforce, take account of the considerable consequences of recent months. Alain Minc’s general conclusion is that ‘Nation, yes, but under a government of reason’ - an idea already heard at the end of the 1 8th century and which needs clarification today.

Alain LACROIX

Editions l’Harmattan, 7, rue de l’Ecole-Polytechnique, 75005 PARIS: 175 pp.

This is an interesting book dealing with an important and complex subject matter: the cereals markets. For developing countries, cereals remain by far the most important food item. But also in the developed countries, cereals are a cornerstone of the agricultural sector. Problems in this sector have widespread macroeconomic repercussions in the developing countries. Equally, in developed countries, the cereals sector may strongly affect other sectors e.g. input supply or livestock production.

The author rightly subordinates the notion of food self-sufficiency to the much broader concept of food security. The book contains an interesting brief description of the world cereals market and of the cereals markets in some of the poorest developing countries. The author presents the view that it is an illusion to think that the world cereals market can be steered to the benefit of the developing countries. One of the basic recommendations of the book is that developing countries should set up a system of protection that gives them some insulation from the unstable world cereals market and that takes into account their specific production conditions. Given the small size of their markets, such a system should preferably be set up at the regional level. At the same time, it is also imperative to improve the processing and marketing of local cereals so that they may become more competitive in comparison with imports.

In respect of food aid, there is another interesting recommendation, that more responsibility be given to the beneficiary country concerning mobilisation procedures. The author is also in favour of fully exploiting the potential for triangular food aid operations.

The book does also have some weaknesses. It is sketchy on the effects of macroeconomic and monetary constraints on the food situation. Monetary and exchange rate matters are closely related to protection and competitivity. Furthermore, there is rather a narrow view on the programming of food aid and on the use of counterpart funds. Multi-annual food aid is briskly rejected on the basis that one should not send food aid when it is not required, as if multiannual food aid would mean the supply of a constant quantity year after year. On the use of counterpart funds (arising from the sale of food aid supplies) there is a growing consensus that, for maximum effectiveness, this should be planned in a multiannual context.

In conclusion, the book is a very readable and worthwhile contribution to the debate as to what would be the most appropriate cereals market policy. Readers of The Courier may also wish to consult two dossiers which we have published on closely related subjects: no. 114 of March 1989 on cereals and no. 118 of November 1989 on food aid.

Walter KENNES