Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 19: Building a Workable Peace (1946)

The Economic and Social Council’s powers are very broad. It may initiate studies and recommend action in the economic, social, and cultural fields by the member states, by the United Nations Organization, or by any of its agencies. The Council may also make recommendations to promote “respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” It may draft conventions on any aspect of these problems for submission to the General Assembly. It may also call conferences of the member states “on matters falling within its competence.”

The Council may make agreements for bringing any existing international administrative agencies-such as the Universal Postal Union or the International Labor Organization-into relationship with the United Nations. It can call for reports from these specialized international agencies and obtain their aid in carrying out its own recommendations.

Like the other agencies created by the Charter, the Economic and Social Council is not burdened by the unanimity rule in voting. All decisions will be taken by a majority vote of the members “present and voting.” The Council is, indeed, given very broad powers of management in making its own rules of procedure and in coordinating the activities of the specialized administrative agencies.


That will the Economic and Social Council do?

How important is the Economic and Social Council in the postwar peace structure? Is it a necessary agency for this purpose? To ask these questions is really to answer them. International economic and social contacts are now so close and continuous that failure to cooperate in many fields of common interest may spell disaster to the peoples of many countries. If we recall how the United Nations built up their power to win the war through a common effort, a pooling of all their resources, we can realize what international cooperation can achieve. Lend-lease is an excellent example of what can be done through effective international economic cooperation.

The value of international cooperation is not less in peacetime than in wartime. Monetary stability, health conditions, labor standards, tariff policies, international air traffic, and many other problems are matters which one nation, no matter how large, cannot settle for itself or by itself today. Unless there is cooperation in setting standards and in applying them between countries, there will inevitably be chaos for all.

This is one lesson, at least, which we learned from our experiences in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Economic and Social Council is the answer we have given in the Charter to the need for developing genuine and workable international cooperation in these fields.

Helping hands

In and of itself, the Economic and Social Council cannot do the whole job. The United Nations must have a number of specialized agencies to work out the details of cooperation in the various special fields of international economic and social relations.

The United Nations have inherited a number of international agencies from the prewar period and have already created several others. Perhaps the most important continuing prewar agency is the International Labor Organization, established in 1920. This organization continued to function during the war and is already far ahead with peacetime programs for raising labor standards in all countries through cooperative action.

Without going into detail about how the International Labor Organization operates, we may note that it drafted some 67 international treaties which were ratified by a large number of states. These treaties deal with every aspect of labor standards-from the 8-hour day and 48-hour week to the administration of workmen’s compensation: and social security. They cover industry, agriculture, and maritime shipping. No doubt the International Labor Organization will also propose regulations for labor in aviation.

Others, old and new

In addition to the International Labor Organization, many other prewar international administrative agencies are still in operation or will probably be revived. Among the more important maybe mentioned the following: Universal Postal Union, International Union of Weights and Measures, and International Meteorological Organization.

Altogether, there were more than 50 “international unions” of governments actively functioning before 1939 in many fields of economic, social, cultural, and scientific cooperation. Most of these unions will continue. Many will, in all probability, become a part of the United Nations Organization-under the general coordinating direction of the Economic and Social Council.

Several new international agencies, among which the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) is the most notable, were created during the war by the United Nations. More are being and will be formed in the future as the need for international cooperation .in any given field becomes evident. For instance, the charter of an international agency for promoting educational, scientific, and cultural cooperation has already been worked out at a conference in London, during November 1945. It, and any other similar agencies formed in the future will also be under the wing of the Economic and Social Council.

Compared with the League of Nations Covenant, the United Nations Organization is far ahead in organizing for cooperation in the nonpolitical fields. The League did, it is true, develop a number of important cooperative agencies—economic, social, and cultural. The League Assembly and Council both served to some extent in coordinating them. But the League never achieved so much as can the Economic and Social Council toward a united front in promoting higher world standards through economic, social, cultural, educational, and health cooperation.

How do these agencies help maintain peace?

We have already noted how adverse economic and social conditions at home often breed international political rivalries-and hatreds. When employment, trade, agriculture; and standards of living are unstable, the peoples of the economically and socially depressed countries often seek to blame some other country. Germany, for instance, erected a whole propaganda system on the cry of being a “have-not” country, of needing Lebensraum.

This is why, no doubt, the Charter included among the functions of the General Assembly “promoting international cooperation in the political field.” Close relationship between economic and social conditions and political attitudes is thus recognized—and provided for—by the Charter.

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