Ahead of the Curve? U.N. Ideas and Global Challenges

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Ahead of the Curve? U.N. Ideas and Global Challenges

By Louis Emmerij, Richard Jolly, and Thomas G. Weiss
Indiana University Press, 2001
280 pp.

This book, the first volume of the United Nations' Intellectual History Project, seeks to map the economic and social ideas promoted by the organization since 1945. Although the U.N.'s most visible work has been in the arenas of geopolitics and peacekeeping, its enduring impact may be in spreading ideas about economics, human rights, and social development. The authors note, for example, that nine Nobel Prize winners in economics have spent substantial parts of their careers in the U.N. system. Debates over decolonization and human rights during the U.N.'s early years shifted their focus in the 1960s to social and economic development and later to basic human needs. In recent decades, U.N. world conferences have become a dominant vehicle for spreading ideas on population, food, the environment, and women's rights. The authors only scratch the surface of the important interplay between politics, power, institutions, and ideas. But they show that the U.N. has provided an institutional space in which long-term policy agendas can be constructed. How these ideas shape national interests and government commitments, however, still needs to be determined.

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