What Drives the International Development Agenda? An NLP Analysis of the United Nations General Debate 1970-2016

Alexander Baturo, Niheer Dasandi, Slava J. Mikhaylov

There is surprisingly little known about agenda setting for international development in the United Nations (UN) despite it having a significant influence on the process and outcomes of development efforts. This paper addresses this shortcoming using a novel approach that applies natural language processing techniques to countries' annual statements in the UN General Debate. Every year UN member states deliver statements during the General Debate on their governments' perspective on major issues in world politics. These speeches provide invaluable information on state preferences on a wide range of issues, including international development, but have largely been overlooked in the study of global politics. This paper identifies the main international development topics that states raise in these speeches between 1970 and 2016, and examine the country-specific drivers of international development rhetoric.

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