2014 OECD history sessions|ENIUGH Paris

Abstracts of the double session “Wardens of the West? The OEEC, the OECD and global economic governance since 1945” at the European Network for International Universal and Global History (ENIUGH) Conference in Paris, September 2014. This double session was co-organized with Prof. Daniel Speich, University of Luzern

Session abstract


This double session will explore the neglected history of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC, 1948-1961) and its successor, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, since 1961). Both the OEEC and the OECD played a key role in defining the «Western point of view» on economic growth, governance and development after 1945. Starting as a forum for the 18 Western European recipients of Marshall aid, the OEEC was transformed in 1961 into the OECD, which included not only the United States and Canada, but also Japan (1964), Australia (1971) and New Zealand (1973). From a core Euro-Atlantic constituency, the OECD thus became a key site for (Euro-Atlantic-Pacific) trilateral encounters and circulations during the growth decades, as well as during the tumultuous period of the «long 1970s» (C. S. Maier) characterized by the global crisis of industrial societies and the rise of the Global South. Because of their early involvement in colonial overseas territories and post-colonial development, both the OEEC and the OECD thus served as crucial platforms for mediating and buffering North/South conflicts, as well as Global South organizations such as the G77. In addition to its core Western members, the OECD also offered an observer status to Yugoslavia, a country that acted as a bridge between the capitalist West and the Socialist Bloc regrouped in the COMECON/CMAE. Both the OEEC and the OECD might also be described as potential Western ante-chambers for discussing key issues such as global monetary equilibriums, the Western energy dependency, or challenges to multinational business. In this context, how did both organizations collaborate but also compete with other IOs such as the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank/IMF), the UN Economic Commissions, the UNCTAD or regional groupings such as the European organizations (EEC/EFTA)? This panel will explore these dimensions by emphasizing continuities and breaks since 1945, as well as pointing to key junctures and to the rise of challenger organizations such as the G7 during the 1970s.

Chairs: Prof. Matthieu Leimgruber (Geneva) & Prof. Daniel Speich (Luzern)

Discussants: Prof. Patricia Clavin (Oxford), Prof. Kiran Patel (Maastricht)


Papers abstracts|slides

A «Rich Man’s Club»: The OECD Development Aid Committee (DAC) in the 1960s (slides)

Patricia Hongler, PhD candidate, Department of History, University of Luzern, Switzerland

Dr. Matthias Schmelzer, University of Geneva, Switzerland

This paper argues that the OECD – often dubbed the «Rich Man’s Club» – was an important actor in the emerging international field of development aid, in particular during the 1960s. In focusing on the work of the OECD’s key body in that area, the Development Aid Committee (DAC), the paper analyzes how its debates contributed to producing the collective identity of «the West». On the one hand, it examines the transformation of OEEC countries from a community of recipients of the first large-scale international aid project, the Marshall Plan, into a community of donors and argues that within this organization modern ‘development assistance’ emerged from similar colonial practices. The DAC’s origins lie in the OEEC’s Overseas Territories Committee (OTC), where an increased co-operation in colonial issues was pursued. On the other hand, the paper analyzes how the DAC dealt with the «Global South», especially with Africa. Building on current debates on the history of colonialism and its continuities into the postcolonial era, and taking the preparation and review of UNCTAD in 1964 as an important observation platform, the following questions are tackled: What kind of language was used in the DAC when relating to Africa? What functions had this way of speaking and talking? And how did the technical jargon of development deal with morally charged categories like «poverty» or «hunger»?


Bold ventures in the Cold War: Tito’s bargaining between East and West

Prof. Nataša Mišković, Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Basel

In an informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the UN General Assembly in Paris in autumn 1948, Aleš Bebler, head of the Yugoslav delegation, was absolutely certain: U.S. Marshall aid was not to relieve war-destroyed Europe, but to support U.S. industry and to colonize European economy. At the same time, the break-up with Stalin precipitated Yugoslavia into a desperate situation. The Yugoslav leadership managed to convince the British and U.S. governments to support Yugoslavia discretely, developing their wedge strategy of a socialist country outside the blocs. Shortly after the signing of the Balkan Pact, Tito succeeded in escaping integration into the North-Atlantic Pact with the help of his non-aligned strategy, which he promoted alongside the leaders of India and Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser. This paper will show how Tito discovered the „Third Path“, which forced him in a frequently dangerous play to carefully balance between the blocks, but at the same time offered him opportunities to accept financial aid from East and West and to bargain for the better deal.


Loyal administrators or mavericks? The OECD Directorate for science and technology as troublemaker, 1958-1980

Ludovic Fulleringer, PhD candidate, Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History, University of Geneva

This paper analyzes the history of science policy as a transnational field of expertise and deals in particular with how the OECD Directorate on Science and Technology (DST) clashed repeatedly with other branches and fractions within the Organization. Led for decades by strong-headed individuals such as Alexander King (who had joined the OEEC in 1951, and then led both the OEEC European Productivity Agency and the OECD DST until his retirement in 1974), this Directorate either initiated or found itself at the center of numerous controversies: from being suspected to be a site infiltrated by Communists, the DST dissented on routine OECD country reviews, or appealed to the OECD Recourse Commission on behalf of the Organization’s temporary staffers. The Directorate even challenged a core belief of the Organization, namely its approach towards economic growth, by serving as an incubator for the Club of Rome. TO explore the role of this Directorate, this paper will highlight episodes such as the co-writing of the OECD Brooks Report (1971) by DST staff and Club of Rome experts, how the OECD Council seized the emerging environmental question from the hands of the DST, or its role in the competition between the OECD and UNESCO on the issue of scientific aid for developing countries.


Wardens of free trade: OECD, GATT and G7 during the economic crisis of the 1970s

Samuel Beroud, PhD candidate, Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History, University of Geneva

This paper highlights the role of the OECD in trade liberalization during the economic crisis of the 1970s. It shows in particular how its specialized committees, endowed with plentiful and highly qualified staff, both outgunned the GATT and served as influential antechambers for trade negotiations during the Tokyo Round (1973-1979). The OECD was also the forum in which issues such as «non-tariff barriers» were debated. What is more, the Organization, acting as a warden of free-trade, launched numerous initiatives to avoid that OECD countries that suffered the most from oil prices hikes would take protectionist measures in order to solve their pressing balance of payments problems. In order to maintain the solidarity and the unity of the Western bloc vis-à-vis the economic demands of the Global South (represented by the G77), the largest trade powers that dominated the ministerial-level meetings and working groups of the OECD favored non binding measures such as «trade pledges» and «burden sharing agreements». However, from the mid-1970s onwards, the OECD’s capacity to maintain the coherence of Western economic policies was challenged by the emergence of new, more exclusive, discussion forums such as the G7. Retracing these developments, the paper highlights the competition and/or division of labor between key international organizations during a troubled period of changes


Challenge, partnership or subordination ? The OECD and the rise of the Group of Seven, mid-1970s – late 1980s

Noël Bonhomme – PhD candidate, University of Paris IV-Sorbonne / Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Strasbourg

In 1975, the first G7 summit of industrialized countries excluded the OECD despite repeated demands from its Secretary-General, Emile van Lennep, who reckoned that his organization should be fully integrated in such an economic summit. The institutionalization of the G7 led to a pragmatic collaboration with the OECD from the late 1970s onwards. Nonetheless, this working relationship remained undefined and ambivalent, because the very nature of the G7 – a sui generis institution  – differed from traditional international organizations. As an informal discussion forum and restricted directorate for Western decision-makers, the G7 could both use the OECD as well as bypass it. This paper addresses therefore two questions. Firstly, how the G7 positioned itself toward international organizations, in our case the OECD (that we can compare with the IMF, the World Bank and the GATT), in the framework of global economic governance. Secondly, how the «club» of the Seven impacted the activity of the OECD and its functioning, including discontent raised by non-G7 OECD member states. During its first years of activity (1975-1977), the G7 challenged the OECD and implicitly undermined its status by claiming to manage the world economic system outside of existing international organizations. By 1980, the institutionalization of G7 summitry modified this initial strained relationship: though formally excluded as an organization, the OECD was nevertheless involved in the preparation of G7 summits thanks to its expertise, was used as place for bargaining, and as a conduit for following-up decisions taken at G7 meetings. However, during the 1980s, the OECD maintained its consultative and reflexive role, but was excluded from formal decision-makings. The OECD remained a forum and a tool rather than a real interlocutor: in the end, the members of the G7 acted  in the OECD but not really with it.


Managing Energy Security: From the OECD Oil Committee to the International Energy Agency

Dr. Henning Türk, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany

The paper highlights the role of the OECD and especially of its subsidiary organization, the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the field of energy security. Measures to protect the industrialized countries in the event of an oil supply disruption were first introduced in the OECD during the 1960s. However, when the 1973 oil crisis struck, the crisis mechanism was not activated due to unanimity voting rules and the obstruction policy of the French government. As a consequence, the United States pushed for a strong organization, a sort of Anti-OPEC, which would manage the Western reaction in a future energy crisis. This American initiative quickly led in November 1974 to the founding of the IEA, which became the main organization for the management of energy security. Nearly all the main oil consuming countries, except France and Norway, became IEA members. In contrast to the OECD, the IEA features a strong secretariat that activates crisis mechanisms and IEA voting rules are organized along the lines of oil consumption. It works as an autonomous agency in the framework of the OECD. This construct links the organization to the non-member OECD-countries (i.e. France) and enables the OECD to tap the oil expertise of the IEA. The paper analyzes the experiences in the OECD’s oil committee and shows how they shaped the founding of the IEA and how the concept of energy security changed during this development.