Issue 6.1


hum.5.1_front_smThis special issue of Humanity revisits the New International Economic Order (NIEO), one of the most significant global governance initiatives of the 1970s. Emerging at a moment a deep uncertainty about the direction of the international system, the NIEO sought to transform the governance of the global economy by redirecting more of the benefits of transnational integration toward “the developing nations,” thereby completing the geopolitical process of decolonization and creating a democratic global order of truly sovereign states. In disinterring the NIEO and its “moment,” our contributors consider the multifarious, contested, and sometimes contradictory ideas and proposals that came together under the NIEO rubric. Focusing on different dimensions of the NIEO, our authors show how the NIEO was not a single, monolithic entity; rather, it was more like a political brand that held together a set of loosely compatible agendas, which together formed something less than a unitary strategy. This, as much as anything, helps to explain why the NIEO seemed unable to realize its proponents’ hopes, and why various pallbearers, above all in the global north, have dismissed it as an historical dead end. In reexamining the NIEO, however, we ask a different question: if the NIEO was in fact doomed from the beginning, why did it seem so compelling to its proponents and so threatening to its opponents?


The New International Economic Order: A Reintroduction

Download PDF Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! —William Wordsworth, 1805 I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. —H.P. Lovecraft, 1917 What, exactly, was the New International Economic Order (NIEO)? Promulgated as a United Nations declaration in 1974 (reprinted as the frontispiece to this special issue of Humanity), the NIEO was the most widely discussed transnational governance reform initiative of the 1970s. Its fundamental objective was to transform Read More »

African Socialism and the Limits of Global Familyhood: Tanzania and the New International Economic Order in Sub-Saharan Africa

In November 1963, Julius Nyerere, president of the newly independent East African country of Tanganyika, delivered a stirring speech to open a conference of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome. He began by commending the rise of an “almost world-wide recognition of the common humanity of man, and a growing sense of human brotherhood,” affirming that “the existence of the FAO is indeed one of the expressions of this feeling of involvement in each other’s welfare.” Yet Nyerere’s speech quickly departed Read More »

Bookend to Bandung: The New International Economic Order and the Antinomies of the Bandung Era

The opportunity to rethink the historical record of the 1970s from the perspective of the developmentalist aspirations of the global south is welcome. A decade often cast as a historical exception and interruption—wedged between the development orthodoxy of the 1960s and the neoliberal turn of the 1980s—the 1970s now increasingly appear to mark the dawning of a sustained crisis of accumulation in the capitalist world system. Undoubtedly, the 1970s witnessed utopian aspirations for the developing world, as evidenced by the “Third Worldist” tenor of the Read More »

Competing for the Last Utopia? The NIEO, Human Rights, and the World Conference for the International Women’s Year, Mexico City, June 1975

In the mid-1970s, the United Nations hosted a dramatic attempt to totally transform the world economy, which appeared to be on the cusp of victory at the Sixth Special Session of the General Assembly in April and May 1974. In a moment that represented the highest tide of southern self-confidence, the Group of 77 (G-77), unleavened by the language of compromise, demanded global redistribution as a matter of right. The manifestos of this revolt of sovereigns were the Declaration on the Establishment of a New Read More »

Mossadegh Madness: Oil and Sovereignty in the Anticolonial Community

The emerging literature on the New International Economic Order (NIEO) has the spare conventions of a new topic in contemporary history. The narrative typically begins by identifying its origins as a historical intermingling of national and international, political and economic, and social and cultural factors. A sketch beginning at some point in the twentieth century follows, delving into some combination of these elements, their tensions sometimes fecund but, most likely, ultimately harmful. Then the story flows on in a more or less chronological fashion, finally Read More »

From Boumedienomics to Reaganomics: Algeria, OPEC, and the International Struggle for Economic Equality

In the first satellite pictures taken from the Apollo 17 in 1972, Earth was shown as a weightless sphere covered in clouds and unified by the blue oceans. The picture came with an important message, appearing as it did in the same year as the Club of Rome Limits of Growth report: humanity had common interests and these interests lay in the need to preserve the limited natural resources of the planet from the danger of overexploitation and overpopulation. An even more important image of the Earth Read More »

“Under the Aegis of Man”: The Right to Development and the Origins of the New International Economic Order

On September 23, 1966, the Senegalese foreign minister Doudou Thiam gave an impassioned speech to fellow delegates assembled in New York for the opening of the 21st Session of the United Nations General Assembly.1 It began as a reflection on the preceding twenty years of UN history. Despite some modest progress that the UN had achieved in meeting its three primary objectives—the maintenance of peace; the liberation of colonized peoples; and the economic and social development of mankind—this period was more notably exemplified by failures and Read More »

Socialist Globalization against Capitalist Neocolonialism: The Economic Ideas behind the New International Economic Order

This conference must also establish in plain terms the right of all peoples to unrestricted freedom of trade, and the obligation of all states signatories of the agreement emanating from the conference to refrain from restraining trade in any manner, direct or indirect. —Ernesto Che Guevara, speech delivered March 25, 1964, at the plenary session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development1 Much globalization scholarship assumes that the United States and other advanced industrialized capitalist countries are the primary agents of globalization. Meanwhile, Read More »

“In the Interests of Mankind as a Whole”: Mohammed Bedjaoui’s New International Economic Order

International lawyers, it is often said, are exceptionally, even ridiculously, fond of “universality.” And this fondness, bordering at times on the obsessive, manifests itself in a variety of forms, the most nebulous and notorious being the idea of “jus cogensnorms”—general principles from which international lawyers are willing to permit no deviation, even in the form of supposedly iron-clad treaties with directly countervailing provisions. Like principles of nonaggression and sovereign equality, prohibitions of piracy, slavery, and genocide are regularly ascribed jus cogens status, typically as part of an Read More »

Legal Aspects of the New International Economic Order

The complaint of the poor nations against the present state is not only that we are poor both in absolute and relative terms and in comparison with the rich nations. It is also that within the existing structures of economic interaction we must remain poor, and get relatively poorer, whatever we do … The demand for a New International Economic Order is a way of saying that the poor nations must be enabled to develop themselves according to their own interests, and to benefit from Read More »

Corporations at the United Nations: Echoes of the New International Economic Order?

During the 1970s, a coalition of developing countries known as the G-77 launched a far-reaching effort at the United Nations to realize a New International Economic Order (NIEO). At its core, the NIEO was a plan to transform what was, from the perspective of this coalition, a profoundly inequitable international economy biased against the global south. This program of structural reform and global redistribution was presented as a precondition for meaningful development in the Third World but also as a natural and necessary extension of Read More »

The Search for Justice: NGOs in Britain and Ireland and the New International Economic Order, 1968–82

On May 10, 1974, representatives from six leading British NGOs sat down to a meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and three of his cabinet colleagues at 10 Downing Street. Their aim was simple: to persuade Wilson’s Labour Party government of the inherently global nature of poverty and the need for an appropriately global response. Coming just nine days after the UN General Assembly approved the G-77’s Declaration for the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO), this ad hoc Group for Action on Read More »

Between North and South: The World Bank and the New International Economic Order

The New International Economic Order (NIEO) was among the more notable aspects of the 1970s, a decade that scholars have begun to view as a critical period in contemporary history.1 Although anticolonial leaders, dependency theorists, and others had long advocated reforming the international political economy to spur more rapid development of the global south, the attempt to enumerate and codify these proposals under the auspices of the United Nations was unprecedented. So too was the fact that, for a time, northern governments entertained some of the Read More »

North/South: The United States Responds to the New International Economic Order

Endings, not beginnings, preoccupied the makers of American policy in the era of the New International Economic Order (NIEO). The collapse of the international monetary system; the expiration of cheap oil, which had fueled the postwar resurgence of industrialized societies; the disgrace of Richard Milhous Nixon; the crisis of American world leadership, even of the Cold War international order: these were among the transitions that American leaders were struggling to navigate when President Houari Boumediene of Algeria took the floor at the United Nations in Read More »

The New International Economic Order, Interdependence, and Globalization

The New International Economic Order (NIEO) was a failure as a political program. Its proposals called for a sweeping transformation of the global economy, but most of them never came close to being implemented. In fact, during the following decades, the world economy evolved not toward the NIEO vision of multilateral oversight and income redistribution but in the opposite direction, toward a more purely marketbased approach that has variously been called globalization, neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, or the “Washington Consensus.” Why, then, study the NIEO? Scholars Read More »