chapter  13
12 Pages

The UN welfare network

When the United Nations was set up in the final months of the Second World War, its duty to preserve ‘international peace and security’ was naturally the focus of most attention and the Security Council, dominated by the five per­ manent members, held centre stage. Nevertheless, the new body did not prove particularly adept at preserving the peace and in any case this was not the only function given to it. It was also charged with helping to rebuild the world economic order (see Box 13.1) and, with the completion of reconstruction in Europe by the end of the 1950s, the UN came to be associated more and more with economic development and social work on behalf of the poorer coun­ tries. In this sphere the General Assembly, via its Economic and Social Coun­ cil (ECOSOC), now nominally presides over much of a complex, far-flung and ever-expanding network1 of what are in effect public services and social se­ curity agencies (see Figure 13.1). In UN parlance, most of these are known as ‘specialised’ agencies. (The network which embraces them is commonly de­ scribed as the UN ‘development’ system but this designation is too narrow for the purposes of this chapter since disaster relief, help to refugees and various other activities undertaken by UN agencies operating in the economic and social fields do not fit comfortably beneath it.) Here, then, the UN is a ‘doer’ as well as a forum for negotiation, and it is in the former role that it will be discussed in this chapter. (The work of some of the key economic agencies is discussed in Chapter 2.)

Before proceeding, however, it should be noted that there is a certain awkwardness in treating the UN welfare network as an institution of the states-system, since its most enthusiastic supporters - the ‘functionalists’ - have usually seen it as the most effective way of undermining the sovereign state. According to functionalist theory, the most influential purveyor of which was the Romanian emigre, David Mitrany, international cooperation in performing technical, non-political functions erodes parochial loyalties to the state while simultaneously demonstrating the advantages which might be gained by extending such cooperation into more controversial areas. Gradu­ ally a sense of world community will develop alongside an expanding network of international functional agencies and the state will become obsolete. At this point, and only at this point, it should be possible to create some kind of world government along federal or confederal lines.