chapter  1
19 Pages

Global governance meets development: A brief history of an innovation in world politics


In this chapter, I explore the origins of the practice of assigning international organizations a mandate to promote rising living standards in poorer countries. Today, this “international development” task represents a very important part of the activities of a wide range of international organizations. But it was a marginal part of the focus of the first two generations of international organizations: the pre-1914 Public International Unions and the interwar League of Nations. I demonstrate that it was only at the birth of the United Nations system-and especially during the negotiations that led up to the 1944 Bretton Woods conference-that this mandate came to be seen as an important part of global governance. Among the catalysts for this innovation in world politics, I argue that two were most important: the new interest of US policymakers in the idea, and the rising “development” aspirations of poorer countries at this time. These arguments are intended to correct two common historical

assertions.2 The first is that the architects of the Bretton Woods international economic system had little interest in international development issues. In my view, this argument overlooks the commitment of many of the Bretton Woods architects to development issues, as well as the fact that these individuals pioneered a number of ideas about how international organizations could promote development. Second, this argument challenges the view that the “international development” project was born instead with US president Harry Truman’s 1949 Point Four program and driven by US strategic and economic goals in the Cold War. In my view, that case not only ignores the centrality of development issues during the Bretton Woods negotiations, but also underestimates the role of both the US New Deal and lower-income countries in this transformation of global governance. More generally, my chapter attempts to provide some historical

perspective for the analysis in this volume on the relationship between

global governance, poverty and inequality. Because I am concerned solely with the role of international organizations, this chapter takes a narrower perspective on global governance than others in this volume. The focus on addressing “poverty” is also restricted to the promotion of rising living standards in poorer countries. As we shall see, the idea of assigning international organizations the task of addressing global “inequality” was also conceptualized at this time primarily in inter-country-rather than intra-country-terms. Despite these caveats, the chapter offers insights into how international development concerns were first integrated into the policymaking within the formal institutions of global governance.