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International Institutions

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the role of international institutions during the Cold War. It explains that while international institutions promoted their own agendas for global action, they also provided venues for raising questions about the bipolar power contest and acted as mitigators in international conflicts. The chapter also suggests that the histories of international institutions can provide insights into the complexities of the Cold War. It furthermore discusses the role of the United Nations in creating an era of global expectations and conventions that do fit into the nation-states paradigm, and highlights the emergence of the so-called world society or world culture during the Cold War.

Keywords: international institutions, Cold War, bipolar power contest, international conflicts, mitigators, United Nations, nation-states paradigm, world society, world culture

International institutions during the cold war operated both within and outside of the traditional narrative of East-West superpower conflict. They provided arenas for states large and small to raise questions outside the bipolar power contest; they promoted their own agendas for global action that sometimes competed with those of the superpowers; they acted as mitigators in international conflicts and promoted international consensus; they were frequently more preoccupied with North-South issues (especially development) than East-West conflicts; they handled crises and challenges that no single nation could; and they worked with a broad spectrum of governmental and nongovernmental actors to accomplish their mission. Their histories are therefore integral to understanding the complexities of the cold war, even though their role in international society often preceded the advent of the cold war and has persisted and expanded since its end. Most significantly and primarily outside the traditional East-West drama of the cold war, international institutions have largely succeeded in changing the lens through which people and national governments view, think about, and interact with the world. At the center of the cold war universe of international institutions was the United Nations system, which seemingly touched upon all aspects of the international community. Building on the foundations of the League of Nations, the United Nations included six principal organs (the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat headed by the Secretary-General, the Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice) and incorporated both new and previously established specialized agencies. From its beginning, it also served as a center for the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the world over. This chapter therefore primarily uses examples drawn from the international institutions that make up the United Nations system.

The United Nations and its specialized agencies built upon eighty years of international organizing. Starting in the mid-19th century, countries had worked together to coordinate issues that threatened burgeoning international trade and had grown (p. 378) too complex to be effectively handled by binational or even regional conventions. For example, to prevent the spread of epidemic disease without unduly hindering the flow of trade through restrictive quarantines, countries created the intergovernmental Conseil Supérieur de Santé de Constantinople (established 1849), Egypt's Sanitary, Maritime, and Quarantine Council (est. 1893), the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PASB, est. 1907), and the Office International d’Hygiène Publique (OIHP, est. 1908). The International Meteorological Organization (est. 1873 and renamed the World Meteorological Organization in 1950) monitored and reported global weather phenomena and standardized national weather reporting. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) similarly aimed to facilitate international trade and communications by standardizing equipment, creating uniform operating procedures, and establishing a common rate structure first for telegraphs (1865), then for telephony (1885), radio transmissions (1906), and television (1927). The origins of the Universal Postal Union were similar, as countries in 1875 decided to create an international framework to standardize postal rates and regulations and to replace an increasingly complex set of national and regional agreements. At the dawn of the new century, growing international trade led to the first (1899) Hague Peace Conference; the 26 states attending included European countries, the United States, Mexico, Japan, China, and Persia. The resulting Permanent Court of Arbitration established a standard set of rules and procedures to govern international arbitration and issued several landmark rulings in the development of international law, including the 1913 Carthage and Manouba cases regarding the seizure of vessels. Rationalizing international agricultural commodity markets by gathering and disseminating global agricultural statistics and technical studies was the initial charge of member governments to the International Institute of Agriculture (est. 1908).2 The 19th and early 20th centuries confronted the governments of the world with issues that increasingly seemed outside their ability to control and led them to turn to international forms of organization—a trend that accelerated significantly with the catastrophe of the Great War.

In the wake of World War I, the international community created the League of Nations (whose health and cultural work scholars have largely overlooked), the International Labour Organization (also established by the Treaty of Versailles), and the Permanent Court of International Justice at the Hague (which grew out of Article 14 of the League Covenant). The League of Nations Council created a commission to combat the epidemics that spread through Eastern Europe (especially Poland) in the upheaval that followed the war. Building on this work, the League established its Health Organization (LNHO) in September 1923, as part of the League Secretariat. It created a truly global system of epidemiological surveillance by incorporating Asia and the Pacific with the work already being done by the PASB and OIHP, conducted educational initiatives, served as an international clearing house for medical information, standardized health and vital statistics, and developed international standards for biological products used in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. In addition to preventing disease, the Health Section of the League of Nations worked toward establishing global standards in nutrition. Its 1935 study, which found pervasive malnutrition around the (p. 379) world, led to a three-day discussion in the League Assembly and the creation of a technical committee on nutrition that established a set of universally applicable minimum dietary standards. The League of Nations Mixed Committee on Nutrition then created national nutrition committees to report annually on their countries’ efforts to improve nutrition both at home and in their colonies. Just as it was working to establish international standards in nutrition and the understanding of common human needs, the League also promoted international understanding and cross-cultural artistic and educational exchange through its International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation and International Educational Cinematographic Institute. However, the beginning of World War II cut this work short.3

Like the League, the International Labour Organization (ILO) pursued “the establishment of universal peace.” The Treaty of Versailles explicitly linked such peace to social justice and the conditions of labor. To carry out this work, the ILO had a permanent staff (the International Labour Office) as well as a tripartite system of representatives, in which each member country sent a representative of its government, organized labor movement, and business community. In its first International Labour Conference in 1919, the ILO established six international labor conventions dealing with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, minimum age for employment, and night work for women and young people in industry. Such conventions served as models for national legislation as well as global standards. Also working to craft international standards was the Permanent Court of International Justice, created by the First Assembly of the League of Nations in 1920. The court's judges were to “represent the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world.” From its first sitting in 1922 until the advent of World War II, it issued rulings on 29 contentious international cases and 27 advisory opinions based on a fixed body of procedure and international law. During this period, it also became the declared jurisdictional body for several hundred treaties, conventions, and declarations, testifying to the legitimacy that the court had developed through its increasingly representative nature.4 In pursuit of universal peace in the aftermath of World War I, the nations of the world experimented with a variety of organizational methods and focused on health, law, nutrition, education, and employment, which promised to root out the underlying causes of the war. This work laid the foundation for the United Nations, which followed an even more devastating global conflagration.

Indeed, the need to plan for a new international order following World War II seemed so urgent that several international conferences established new specialized agencies even before the creation of the United Nations Organization proper, including the 1943 Hot Spring Conference that established the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference that established the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (more commonly called the World Bank). At the 1945 San Francisco Conference on International Organization, those considered to be outside the realm of the great powers worked assiduously to ensure that the functions that they had most appreciated from the League would have a prominent role in the new United Nations Organization. They lobbied (p. 380) successfully to have the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elevated to the status of a principal organ of the United Nations and whole-heartedly supported the motion that led to the 1948 International Health Conference and the creation of the World Health Organization (WHO).5 But much of the optimism generated by these wartime conferences quickly dissipated as the cold war took form.

In the early cold war, the United Nations—especially the General Assembly—became an arena of sorts where the superpowers and their allies squared off against one another, each trying to score points against its adversary and earn the allegiance of the global audience. In the 1950s, the UN Security Council first sent troops into an international conflict in support of the South Koreans under the leadership of US General Douglas MacArthur, but the Soviet Union used the brand new UN Human Rights Commission and later the General Assembly to highlight African-American civil rights organizations’ claims of pervasive racial discrimination and violence in the United States. During the next decade, iconic images of cold war drama included Nikita Khrushchev's dramatic response (whether he actually banged his shoe or not) in October 1960 to a delegate from the Philippines referring to the peoples of Eastern Europe being “swallowed up . . . by the Soviet Union,” and US ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson's internationally televised Security Council presentation, which featured enlargements of American intelligence photos of missile silo sites in Cuba and his belligerent questioning of Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin. In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States complained about the “politicization” of several UN specialized agencies and withdrew from the International Labour Organization (November 1977–February 1980), the International Atomic Energy Agency (September 1982–February 1983), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, December 1984–October 2003). The Soviet Union during the Stalinist era had employed similar tactics—for example, never joining the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (though it had played an important role in the creation of both organizations) and withdrawing from the World Health Organization (February 1949–May 1957), taking the rest of the Soviet bloc with it.6

But not all of the great theater of the United Nations revolved around the bipolar agenda of the superpowers. Newly independent countries openly challenged the cold war paradigm in the United Nations as well as the persistence of imperialism, racial discrimination, and unequal terms of global trade. The Non-Aligned or Neutralist Movement emerged under the philosophical leadership of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru through a series of conferences starting in 1947 to facilitate communication and joint action between non-aligned nations. In December 1950, twelve states from Asia and Africa joined together to establish their own bloc within the United Nations, expressing a common stand that differed significantly from the superpower agenda then playing out on the Korean peninsula. These states worked cooperatively to pass a December 1952 General Assembly resolution condemning South African apartheid in solidarity with the Indian and African Defiance Campaign then taking place in that country. South Africa's Nationalist government believed that this UN action provided a major impetus to the nonviolent campaign and was a grave trespass on its (p. 381) domestic affairs. When a diverse set of twenty-nine Asian and African nations gathered in Bandung, Java, Indonesia, in April 1955, they shared a common vision (despite ideological differences and regional conflicts) of cooperative action to influence, if not control, the actions of the superpowers through the collective body of the United Nations and to reorient the priorities of that organization away from the superpower contest in order to better reflect their own concerns. At roughly the same time, advocates for and supporters of independence for the French colony of Algeria began actively to work through the United Nations to “internationalize” the question of Algerian independence. This gave the Non-Aligned Movement a platform from which to advocate for the decolonization of all areas. By 1961, when the French negotiated Algerian independence at Evian, the Non-Aligned Movement had largely succeeded in making decolonization, racial equality, and the development of these newly independent nations the focus of the UN agenda and a standard trope of international discourse. Subsequently, the UN General Assembly created a Special Committee against Apartheid in 1962, adopted an International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in 1973, and by globally publicizing and condemning such actions, played an important role in ending apartheid in South Africa before the end of the century. Indeed, the Non-Aligned Movement succeeded throughout the cold war in undermining the dominant paradigm of white supremacy across the globe.7

In many ways, the United Nations was most intensely involved in the Middle East during the cold war, where many countries seemed to have vital interests—whether related to oil, religion, national security, trade, refugee settlement, territorial boundaries, or all of the above. From the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, the United Nations sought to resolve conflicts by engaging in diplomacy, suggesting international borders, passing Security Council Resolutions, dispatching peacekeeping forces, and aiding refugees. Not only did the United Nations help resolve the Iran-Iraq War (1980–8), but it also played a key role in resolving conflicts in Lebanon and between Iraq and Kuwait. In particular, the United Nations sought to address the region's most intractable problem, the Arab-Israeli dispute. When its initial plan to partition Britain's Palestinian mandate failed and war erupted in 1948, the United Nations issued ceasefire resolutions and dispatched a UN mediator, who sought to win Arab acquiescence to the existence of the state of Israel, Israeli repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and the internationalization of Jerusalem. After none of these measures worked, the UN Security Council in 1949 created the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to care for more than half a million Palestinian refugees displaced by the conflict. More than a half-century later, UNRWA remains a temporary agency, although it has provided four generations of Palestinian refugees with education, health care, and other vital social services. Following the 1956 Arab-Israeli War, the United Nations helped to defuse an explosive situation by negotiating a ceasefire resolution and by deploying peacekeepers to serve as a buffer between Israel and Egypt. A decade later, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 242, which called on Israel to withdraw from Arab territories occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace and Arab recognition of the Jewish state. This formula, often known as “land for peace,” was the (p. 382) foundation for subsequent diplomatic agreements, including the 1979 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, along with the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It is exceedingly difficult to judge whether the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East were part of the cold war or explosive regional conflicts that would have taken shape regardless of the structure of post-World War II international relations. Nonetheless, it is clear that the threat of superpower conflict made the stakes in the Middle East higher than in many other regions of the world and required an active presence by the United Nations, which could assume the mantle of impartial mediator.8

Those working for the United Nations embraced their identity as impartial, international civil servants and frequently promoted their own agendas, which sometimes differed significantly from those of the superpowers. The Food and Agriculture Organization's first Director-General, Sir John Boyd Orr of Scotland, was an independent-minded, outspoken, world-renowned nutritional scientist whose 1945 candidacy for the organization's highest office had been opposed by his national government. Orr, building on the earlier work of the League of Nations, believed that the majority of the world's people were suffering from malnutrition and that, in the face of the projected growth in global population, a gargantuan increase in agricultural production was needed. He believed this expansion would require a stabilization of commodity prices as well as modernization of Third World agriculture. Additionally, Orr sought to transform global distribution networks in order to help the world's poor break out of malnutrition and poverty, which in turn would buoy the global economy and serve as a stepping stone to a better world order. But his vision of an agriculturally centered economic development model quickly ran aground in the face of Anglo-American opposition. FAO Director-General B. R. Sen of India, who took the helm in 1956, built on Orr's vision of agricultural development with his Freedom From Hunger Campaign of 1959–63, which redirected the focus of agricultural development work toward rural and human development activities (with the active support of a wide range of NGOs). This focus differed significantly from US efforts at the same time to promote the “Green Revolution”—an effort to increase agricultural productivity by introducing high-yield strains of grains, more effective pesticides and fertilizers, and new management techniques that greatly favored commercial agriculture.9

A more dramatic example of UN civil servants’ independent agency was Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's initiative in the Congo crisis, which ultimately claimed his life. This second UN peacekeeping operation (known as ONUC), which involved some 20,000 troops and civilians, was the UN's most complex and protracted operation to date. UN actions contributed, against the odds, to holding the Congo together, decreasing the level of civilian hardship, and preventing another proxy war between the superpowers. Hammarskjöld's policy of strict political neutrality, however, ensured that at one time or another during the crisis all sides were discontented with the UN Secretary-General and his policy. Nevertheless, his push for intervention helped transform the image of the UN (from perceived agent of US policy to mediator) and make it a prominent forum for the forces of decolonization.10

(p. 383) Like Hammarskjöld, the leaders of the UN specialized agencies frequently sought to mitigate international conflicts (related and unrelated to the cold war) in order to accomplish their work, and also like Hammarskjöld, their efforts to maintain political “neutrality” often produced mixed results. To illustrate, the World Bank under President Eugene Black was most successful in negotiating an amicable sharing and development of the resources of the Indus River, divided after the 1947 partition of the subcontinent between India and Pakistan. The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 removed a source of great friction between the two contentious neighbors and established a more stable basis for further economic development in both countries. However, the World Bank failed in its effort to negotiate a settlement of the Anglo-Iranian oil crisis that would allow Iranian and regional development efforts to move forward. The bank had hoped to serve as a neutral broker that would operate Iran's Abadan oil refinery and keep the resulting profits in escrow until an Anglo-Iranian agreement was reached. Yet its efforts quickly ran aground on the twin shoals of Iranian suspicion and British hopes for an International Court of Justice decision that would reverse Iranian nationalization. Black similarly sought and failed to promote Egyptian and Middle Eastern development by assembling a consortium of funders to construct the Aswan High Dam. Although the World Health Organization's Malaria Eradication Program (1955–69) was also ultimately a failure, it was singularly successful in facilitating cooperation between contentious neighboring countries, because the mosquitoes spreading malaria stubbornly refused to recognize even contested borders. Focused on this goal of malaria eradication, the WHO was able, for example, to unite the countries of southeastern Africa (Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, and the Union of South Africa) in 1958 into a single regional malaria eradication program whose multinational coordination board established, supervised, and evaluated the coordinated DDT-spraying program. While UN development agencies sought to mitigate conflict in order to accomplish their work, several of the UN specialized agencies found their very mission in the midst of conflict.11

In 1950, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received a three-year mandate to complete the mission of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in caring for World War II refugees in Europe. Throughout the cold war, UNHCR worked with many millions around the globe, including refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Algerian war for independence in the 1950s, Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence from Pakistan, the decades-long clashes between Greeks and Turks on Cyprus, the famines in Ethiopia in the 1980s, and civil wars in Namibia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.12 These conflicts, like the earlier Palestinian refugee crisis, quickly overtaxed the hospitality and resources of neighboring countries, threatened to become humanitarian crises, and therefore required an international response.

The primary focus of the UN's cold war work was the promotion of development, which both superpowers used to further their own foreign policy agendas and which the newly independent countries eagerly sought. In pursuing the elusive goal of development, the United Nations created several agencies dedicated exclusively to this task, (p. 384) among them the World Bank (est. 1944), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, est. 1964), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, est. 1965), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, est. 1974), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO, est. 1975). With the creation of the United Nations Program for Technical Assistance in 1948, the UN had begun to move development to the very center of its work, a move that newly independent countries warmly welcomed and determinedly pushed forward in the coming decades, including the Development Decades of the 1960s and 1970s. These developing nations preferred multilateral aid through the UN and its specialized agencies to bilateral aid, which seemed to come with more “strings” attached and seemed to threaten their independence.13

Development was among the many problems that the UN tackled because no single country could deal with such problems independently, as they affected entire continents or even the world as a whole. Much of this work, though it is vital to the effective functioning of the world system, took and still takes place without much public awareness. The specialized agencies of the United Nations have been the source of important global standards and international norms. The International Telecommunications Union, the Universal Postal Union, the International Maritime Organization, the International Civilian Aviation Organization, and the World Health Organization all set international standards that allow mail, radio, television, medicines, vaccines, ships, and planes to cross international borders daily with few problems. In many ways, this technical work closely knits the nations of the world together.14 More controversial have been the standards that the UN system has defined in terms of the rights of workers, children, women, and human beings in general. Even in these areas, however, the United Nations has succeeded in establishing global norms that have shaped international discourse and that have the potential to deter human rights abusers, to hold such people accountable for their actions, and to pave the way for future improvements.

The field of human rights has been one of the primary areas of contestation between the idea of universal standards and the rights of sovereign nations. While countries have frequently defined and defended their right to treat their own citizens in a way that sustains their national security, the United Nations and its organizations have repeatedly established international rights and norms for a variety of people. In the wake of the World War II Holocaust of the Jews, banning discrimination based on racial prejudice seemed particularly imperative and was written into Article 55c of the United Nations Charter, embodied in ECOSOC's Commission on Human Rights, and more clearly defined by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Subsequently, the ILO and UNESCO similarly passed conventions banning racial discrimination in employment (1958) and education (1960) respectively. By 1985, the UN's 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had more countries adhering to it than any other human rights instrument. However, the fact that most countries have condemned racial discrimination in the international arena has not prevented such discrimination within national boundaries; the postwar period has witnessed a number of racially motivated genocides. Additionally, UN human rights work (p. 385) during the cold war often became a battleground between the two superpowers: the Americans emphasized individual civil and political rights and therefore condemned the communist nations for their lack of free elections and freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion; while the Soviet Union emphasized collective economic, social, and cultural rights, condemned capitalist nations for their failure to guarantee employment, and especially criticized the US for its treatment of African Americans during the Jim Crow era.15

Eventually, the UN framework of human rights became a platform for the assertion of ethnic rights, prisoner rights, women's rights, and indigenous rights as categories of human rights. Although the guaranteeing of such rights varies from country to country even now, the establishment of a universal standard has served as a rallying point for these groups and catalyzed the creation and work of international NGOs (such as Amnesty International). By contrasting international standards with governmental practices, NGOs have often been able to gain global media attention and public support on a range of human rights issues, including racially motivated genocidal practices and the treatment of political prisoners, women, and indigenous and tribal peoples. The UN Commission on the Status of Women, which operates under ECOSOC and whose creation was opposed by both the United States and the United Kingdom, drafted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women (accepted by the General Assembly in 1952), worked with the ILO on crafting conventions on equal pay and employment discrimination, and organized the 1975 Mexico City conference. Although that conference exposed the different priorities of First World and Third World women (with the former focusing on legal equality while the latter focused on economic development), it did help to identify the global problems facing women and served as the launching point for the International Decade of Women. The Mexico City conference also mobilized the General Assembly to adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1979 and to launch a series of international conferences on women's global issues (Copenhagen 1980, Nairobi 1985, Beijing 1995). Similarly, the United Nations hosted an International NGO Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in 1977 in recognition of the developing Fourth World Movement that grew out of grassroots indigenous movements. Subsequently, this network helped coordinate the formulation and communication of the needs and demands of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Formal milestones in this movement have included “The International Year of the World's Indigenous People” (1993) and creation of a permanent forum on indigenous issues within ECOSOC in May 2002.16

Another area in which claims of national sovereignty have collided with the needs of the global community is the environment. As each country sought to advance its own economic standing through trade and development, the question arose, what are the rights of neighboring countries that share migratory animals, air, water, and soil? International debates about environmental concerns began with efforts to protect wildlife in the early 20th century and resulted in the 1916 Treaty for the Protection of Migratory Birds between Canada and the United States, the 1933 Convention relative to (p. 386) the Preservation of Flora and Fauna in their Natural State (which focused specifically on Africa), and a series of postwar conventions related to oceanic fishing that included the creation of the International Whaling Commission in 1946. Increased concern over pollutants (especially oil), realization that airborne pollutants were causing acid rain and depleting the ozone layer, and concern that deforestation was affecting global climate change all accelerated international environmental discussions, resulting in the 1969 UN General Assembly Resolution that convened the first UN Conference on the Human Environment. The resolution instructed the participants of the June 1972 Stockholm Conference to provide “a framework for comprehensive consideration within the United Nations of the problems of the human environment.” The objective was “to focus the attention of Governments and public opinion on the importance and urgency of this question and also to identify those aspects of it that can only or best be solved through international co-operation and agreement.” Conference delegates discussed the future of the human race within the context of its global environment under the motto “Only One Earth.” Although the entire Soviet bloc abstained from participation, 113 governments were represented. They drafted a Declaration on the Human Environment that created the UN Environment Program (UNEP) as a special body within the UN Secretariat and established 26 “Principles” that helped to focus international attention on key environmental issues. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, UNEP was able to sidestep many prevailing cold war issues and focus on key North-South development issues. Its conventions on marine pollution (1973), international trade in endangered species (1975), and long-range air pollution (1979) helped to establish the principle that, although there is a recognized right of sovereign nations to exploit their natural resources, there is also an attendant responsibility to ensure that no significant damage is suffered by others in the community of nations.17

When the UN convened the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, international environmental NGOs organized a parallel forum that attracted some 400 NGO representatives, facilitated their meetings with the governmental representatives attending the conference, provided opportunities for demonstrations, and created a global platform for these NGOs to promote their issues alongside and in conjunction with the UN representatives. This arrangement showed the growing political clout of nongovernmental organizations and set a precedent for future UN conferences. At the 1975 UN Conference on the Status of Women in Mexico City, an unofficial forum of NGOs, called the Tribune, garnered as much international media attention as the main conference. The Tribune pushed for a more progressive feminist agenda and helped establish an international network of feminists. Leading up to the 1985 Nairobi Conference, NGOs with consultative status in ECOSOC participated in the formulation of the “Forward Looking Strategy for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000.”18

In many ways the United Nations and international NGOs developed a thriving symbiotic relationship during the cold war that again complicates a state-focused view of this period. Under the guidance of Article 71 of the UN Charter, the Economic and Social Council granted forty-one NGOs formal consultative status in 1946. Subsequently, consultative status was divided into general and special consultative status, recognizing (p. 387) that some NGOs are interested and involved in most of ECOSOC's areas of work, while others are more specialized. Once accorded such status, NGO representatives gained access to UN meetings, information, and conferences as well as the right to add items to ECOSOC's agenda.19 The UN actively recruited and officially recognized NGOs, because it needed their resources to carry out its ambitious mission, their voices to enrich a conversation dominated by official government positions, and their prodding to move the organization forward and make it more responsive to the needs of the world's people. In turn, the NGOs received an international bully pulpit, a locus for the development of international networks of activists, the legitimacy that came with official UN recognition, and some ability to shape international policies.20

NGOs not only reflected the interests of international actors outside and occasionally independent of the nation-state but they also exposed both different viewpoints within single governments and agreements across state and even cold war divides. When FAO Director-General Orr floated his World Food Board proposal in 1946, the State Department was vociferously opposed, but the US Department of Agriculture saw great merit in the idea. International organizations often dealt with federal bureaucrats specializing in agriculture, the postal service, telecommunications, international shipping, and public health among other fields, and these became areas in which the superpowers could and did cooperate. The World Health Organization's global Smallpox Eradication Program, which was launched in January 1967 and celebrated eradication in 1980, brought the two superpowers together to cooperate in a campaign whose primary soldiers were a global “epistemic community” of epidemiologists and health officials. Indeed, the founders of the World Health Organization initially created an advisory executive board whose medical experts were to act on their professional standards rather than their national allegiances. However, only the International Labour Organization has been able to maintain an organizational structure in which governments, labor, and business are each independently represented.21

The people who worked for and with these international organizations began to see the world in a different way. The health and cultural work of the League of Nations had begun to define people in human terms—their caloric and nutritional needs, their ability to create valuable artistic and intellectual products—that transcended national borders and racial categories. The League of Nations effectively integrated Asian, Latin American, and African countries as equal members, and Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans during the interwar period became increasingly active in international organizations of all sorts. This reflected larger intellectual trends of the 20th century that used social science to break down the immovable dichotomy between “savagery” and “civilization.” Although Western nations had used this dichotomy extensively in the 19th century to rationalize and legitimate imperialism, it had also accorded a different status, especially in international law, to those nations, such as Japan and Thailand, which adopted some of the accepted norms of “civilization.” With the advent of the 20th century, such countries were increasingly invited to participate in international conferences and organizations (such as the 1899 Hague Peace Conference, the League of Nations, and the Permanent Court of International Justice). Additionally, the horrors of the (p. 388) Holocaust exposed the fallacy of Western “civilization,” and the decolonization and civil rights movements of the postwar era helped to establish a more universal discourse for the second half of the 20th century by undermining the dominant paradigm of the previous century that had divided nations into “civilized” and “savage” along racial lines. “Development”—the idea that all countries defined as poor and traditional could become affluent and modern by following a historically derived model—embodied these new ideas and sought to make them a reality.22 The international civil servants charged with implementing UN development projects shared this liberal ideology of development, seeing only global problems and believing that with the help of expertise and resources that all could enjoy the fruits of modern society, including good health, gainful employment, quality education, equality, and access to the global consumer economy.23

Indeed, the preamble to the UN Charter began “We the peoples of the United Nations” and focused on the fundamental purposes of the new organization: “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” In pursuit of these goals, the peoples of the United Nations committed themselves “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours . . . and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.” In other words, the United Nations established a new standard and goal for the international community. That it has not always succeeded in attaining those standards and goals has made it the rightful target for criticism or even charges of hypocrisy, but this should not obscure the fact that such standards and expectations were largely absent before the United Nations and have transformed the expectations of the peoples of the world.

During the cold war, something began to develop that sociologists have variously called “world society” and “world culture,” which political scientists have termed “international society” or “functionalist epistemic communities,” and which some historians have called a “global community” or just plain “globalization.” Regardless of its nomenclature, the United Nations system has helped to craft an era of global expectations and conventions that do not fit neatly into the still-dominant paradigm of nation-states. Indeed, during the cold war the superpowers expended a great deal of diplomatic energy on avoiding criticism in the United Nations and on criticizing the other side by utilizing the new UN standards on human rights and its efforts to promote development throughout the Third World. Despite the centrality of the UN in the cold war narrative, the end of the cold war brought no noticeable diminution of the United Nations’ global work and role. Indeed, the need for economic development in the former Soviet bloc, the environmental dangers created by the nuclear program of the USSR, and the ethnic and national conflicts between and within the former Soviet Republics seem to indicate, if anything, a greater need for an international organization that can address these additional challenges.24 As long as there continue to be large numbers of refugees from conflicts like those in Kosovo, East Timor, and Rwanda; as long as human rights, indigenous rights, and women's rights remain issues that transcend national boundaries; as long as (p. 389) global epidemics threaten the world's peoples; as long as rising population and unsustainable natural-resource use seem to threaten the environment and climate of the globe; as long as an earthquake in one part of the world threatens another with a catastrophic tsunami; as long as the trafficking of human beings and narcotic drugs crosses national boundaries; and as long as the countries of the world trade and fight with one another, it seems likely that international institutions will continue to be vital to the life of the planet and its peoples.25

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            Ostrower, Gary B. The United Nations and the United States. New York: Twayne, 1998.Find this resource:

              Simons, Geoff. The United Nations: A Chronology of Conflict. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                Zweifel, Thomas D. International Organizations and Democracy: Accountability, Politics, and Power. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006.Find this resource:


                  (2.) Norman Howard-Jones, The Scientific Background of the International Sanitary Conferences, 1851–1938 (Geneva: World Health Organization, 1975); Morley K. Thomas and W. J. Maunder, Sixty-Five Years of International Climatology: The History of the WMO Commission for Climatology, 1929–1993 (Downsview, Ontario: Environment Canada, 1993); Moussibahou Mazou and Sribhumi Sukhanetr, The Universal Postal Union: Past, Present and Future (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2004); Luciano Tosi, Alle Origini della FAO: Le relazioni tra l’Instituto Internazionale di Agricoltura e la Società delle Nazioni (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1989); Michla Pomerance, The Advisory Function of the International Court in the League and UN Eras (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973); International Telecommunication Union, International Telecommunication Union: Celebrating 130 Years, 1865–1995 (London: International Systems and Communications, 1998); Robert N. Wells Jr., ed., Peace by Pieces—United Nations Agencies and their Roles: A Reader and Selective Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991).

                  (3.) Paul Weindling, ed., International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Michael Worboys, “The Discovery of Colonial Malnutrition between the Wars,” in David Arnold, ed., Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 208–23; F. P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1952); Norman Howard-Jones, International Public Health between the Two Worlds Wars: The Organizational Problems (Geneva: World Health Organization, 1978); Jean-Jacques Renoliet, L’UNESCO Oubliée: La Société des Nations et la Coopération Intellectuelle, 1919–1946 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1999); League of Nations, International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation (Paris: League of Nations, 1933).

                  (4.) Antony Alcock, History of the International Labor Organization (Los Angeles, CA: Octagon Books, 1971); Victor Yves Ghebali, The International Labour Organisation: A Case Study on the Evolution of U.N. Specialised Agencies (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989).

                  (5.) Georg Schild, Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks: American Economic and Political Postwar Planning in the Summer of 1944 (New York: St. Martin's, 1995); Walter R. Sharp, The United Nations Economic and Social Council (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969).

                  (6.) Carol Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Caroline Pruden, Conditional Partners: Eisenhower, the United Nations, and the Search for a Permanent Peace (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1998); David L. Bosco, Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Mark F. Imber, The USA, ILO, UNESCO and IAEA: Politicization and Withdrawal in the Specialized Agencies (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989); John Farley, Brock Chisholm, the World Health Organization, and the Cold War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008).

                  (7.) Thomas Borstelmann, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle: The United States and Southern Africa in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Matthew Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Kweku Ampiah, The Political and Moral Imperatives of the Bandung Conference of 1955: The Reactions of the US, UK and Japan (Kent Global Oriental, 2007).

                  (8.) Anthony Curnow, Palestinian Refugees: The Role of UNRWA in Fulfilling an International Responsibility for their Welfare (Christchurch, New Zealand: Australiasian Middle East Studies Association, 1987); Edward H. Buehrig, The UN and the Palestinian Refugees: A Study in Nonterritorial Administration (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1971); Peter L. Hahn, Crisis and Crossfire: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005).

                  (9.) Nick Cullather, “Miracles of Modernization: The Green Revolution and the Apotheosis of Technology,” Diplomatic History 28 (April 2004): 227–54; Sergio Marchisio and Antonietta di Blase, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (Dordrecht, Netherlands: M. Nijhoff, 1991).

                  (10.) William J. Durch, ed., The Evolution of UN Peacekeeping: Case Studies and Comparative Analysis (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993); Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

                  (11.) Edward S. Mason and Robert E. Asher, The World Bank since Bretton Woods: The Origins, Policies, Operations, and Impact of The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Other Members of the World Bank Group (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1973); Arthur Eyffinger and Arthur Witteveen, The International Court of Justice, 1946–1996 (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1996); Javed Siddiqi, World Health and World Politics: The World Health Organization and the UN System (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995); Amy L. S. Staples, The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945–1965 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2006).

                  (12.) Gil Loescher, The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Mark Cutts, The State of the World's Refugees, 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

                  (13.) Craig N. Murphy, The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Shigehisa Kasahara, Charles Gore, and Rubens Ricupero, Beyond Conventional Wisdom in Development Policy: An Intellectual History of UNCTAD, 1964–2004 (New York and Geneva: United Nations, 2004); Digambar Bhouraskar, United Nations Development Aid: A Study in History and Politics (New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2007).

                  (14.) Samir Mankabady, The International Maritime Organisation (London: Croom Helm, 1984); Hendrik Gerrit Cannegieter, The History of the International Meteorological Organization, 1872–1951 (Offenbach: Selbstverlag des Deutschen Wetterdienstes, 1963); David MacKenzie, ICAO: A History of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); James Schwoch, Global TV: New Media and the Cold War, 1946–69 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2008); Fred Brown, A Celebration of 50 Years of Progress in Biological Standardization and Control at WHO (Basel and New York: Karger, 1999).

                  (15.) In addition to the contribution by Barbara Keys and Roland Burke to this Handbook, see Robert F. Drinan, The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001); Rowland Brucken, “A Most Uncertain Crusade: The United States, the United Nations, and Human Rights, 1941–1954,” dissertation, Ohio State University, 1999; Jean-Marc Coicaud, Michael W. Doyle, and Anne-Marie Gardner, The Globalization of Human Rights (New York: United Nations University Press, 2003).

                  (16.) Elissavet Stamatopoulou, “Women's Rights and the United Nations,” in Julie Peters and Andrea Wolper, eds., Women's Rights Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives (New York and London: Routledge, 1995), 36–48; Hilkka Pietilä and Jeanne Vickers, Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations (London: Zed, 1990); George Manuel, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality (New York: Free Press, 1974); S. James Anaya, Indigenous Peoples in International Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Bice Maiguashca, “The Transnational Indigenous Movement in a Changing World Order,” in Yoshikazu Sakamoto, ed., Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1994), 356–82.

                  (17.) Richard Tucker's essay in this volume; Mostaffa Kamal Tolba and Iwona Rummel-Bulska, Global Environmental Diplomacy: Negotiating Environmental Agreements for the World, 1973–1992 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998); Kurkpatrick Dorsey, The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy: US-Canadian Wildlife Protection Treaties in the Progressive Era (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1998); Kurk Dorsey, “International Environmental Issues,” in Robert D. Schulzinger, ed., A Companion to American Foreign Relations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 31–47.

                  (18.) Jutta M. Joachim, Agenda-Setting, the UN, and NGOs: Gender Violence and Reproductive Rights (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2007); Peter Willetts, ed., “The Conscience of the World”: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UN System (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1996).

                  (19.) The number of NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC in 1992 was more than 700 and in 2009 stood at more than 3,000.

                  (20.) Michele Merrill Betsill and Elisabeth Corell, NGO Diplomacy: The Influence of Nongovernmental Organizations in International Environmental Negotiations (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008); John Boli and George M. Thomas, eds., Constructing World Culture: International Nongovernmental Organizations since 1875 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); Volker Heins, Nongovernmental Organizations in International Society: Struggles over Recognition (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

                  (21.) Erez Manela, “A Pox on Your Narrative: Writing Disease Control into Cold War History,” Diplomatic History 34 (April 2010): 299–323; R. E. Riggs, “FAO and the USDA: Implications for Functionalist Learning,” World Politics Quarterly 33 (September 1980): 314–29; Ernst B. Haas, M. P. Williams, and D. Babai, Scientists and World Order: The Uses of Technical Knowledge in International Organizations (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978).

                  (22.) Although historians and critics of development have rightly pointed out that the idea of “development” still enshrined the Western experience and labeled “others” as “less than,” such critiques ignore the ways in which this idea was an improvement over previous hierarchical and deterministic views that identified most people of color as “inferior” and destined to remain in such a state due to immutable, racial realities. Additionally, it ignores the fervor with which new nations sought such development during the early cold war period.

                  (23.) Carol C. Chin, Modernity and National Identity in the United States and East Asia, 1895–1919 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2010); Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women's Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); Bernard Semmel, The Liberal Ideal and the Demons of Empire: Theories of Imperialism from Adam Smith to Lenin (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Robert A. Packenham, Liberal America and the Third World: Political Development Ideas in Foreign Aid and Social Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973); Robert Latham, The Liberal Moment: Modernity, Security, and the Making of Postwar International Order (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Michael E. Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and US Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011); David Ekbladh, The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); David C. Engerman, Nils Gilman, Mark H. Haefele, and Michael E. Latham, eds., Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); Garrit W. Gong, The Standard of “Civilization” in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); Hedley Bull and Adam Watson, eds., The Expansion of International Society (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984); Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995); Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard, eds., International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997).

                  (24.) Hyung-Gu Lynn's essay in this volume; Leslie Sklair, Sociology of the Global System, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); John W. Burton, World Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); Boli and Thomas, Constructing World Culture; Akira Iriye, Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002); Alfred E. Eckes Jr. and Thomas W. Zeiler, Globalization and the American Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

                  (25.) National Intelligence Council, “Global Trends 2025: The National Intelligence Council's 2025 Project,” <>, predicts a revolution in the entire international system that has developed since 1945 that will be marked by an unprecedented transfer of wealth from West to East, unprecedented economic and population growth, and an increased potential for conflict.