The Origins of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, 1939-1943

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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humanitarian relief
postwar planning
Second World War
United Nations
International Relations
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Sharpe, Charles Wesley

This dissertation analyzes the bureaucratic origins and diplomatic processes that led to the creation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), established in November 1943 to aid destitute populations and battle-scarred countries after the Second World War. Based on archival work in Canada, Europe, and the United States, the author argues that UNRRA was not only a test case for the United Nations organization set up after the war; it also served as a model for the whole system of postwar global governance. Yet this agency was not what it seemed. While Franklin Roosevelt claimed the UN signified the emergence of a new "world civilization," his Administration planned to use UNRRA to construct and manage a global order in America's image. UNRRA would provide the U.S. government an instrument with which to advance its ideological agenda and achieve its geo-strategic aims. The UN, in effect, was imagined and conceived in Washington as a tool of informal empire. American officials had little desire to surrender U.S. resources or freedom of action to any international authority. They therefore devised a scheme that, while giving the impression of wide participation, would enable the U.S. to dominate the organization and act unilaterally if necessary. However, wartime exigencies, criticism from countries all over the world, and the presence of Soviet power forced American diplomats to compromise when negotiating the UNRRA agreement. The resulting concessions limited Washington's strategic options vis-Ã -vis the Soviet Union and various regions of the world, particularly Eastern Europe. This fact certainly pleased Moscow, but a series of subsequent revisions to the agreement hardly appeased the other concerned countries. Yet they accepted it: these countries needed and feared the United States. As a result, UNRRA came into being in late 1943, but the process that made it possible had damaged Washington's clout. This research challenges accepted views of the United Nations and America's place in the world. It revises our understanding of Franklin Roosevelt's grand strategy, the Cold War's origins, and the international system in existence today. It also unearths the roots of post-Cold War anti-Americanism.

Walter A. McDougall
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