This vision found its consummate expression at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, where delegates created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — and then in the charter of the United Nations a year later. With support from a range of institutions, including the Ford Foundation, it evolved and expanded to include a plethora of development agencies, a complex mix of government, multilateral, and civil society organizations.
By and large, this system of international cooperation helped achieve its original objective: preventing the horror of a third world war. It sustained peace and prosperity, at least for the West, and ushered in unprecedented (if not uncomplicated) social and economic progress around the world.
At the same time, and from the start, this order was rife with flaws. For one, it did little to impede the proxy wars of world powers, particularly the United States and Soviet Union, across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
For another, it reinforced and even replicated the inequalities it ought to have dismantled, dividing the world into donors and recipients, creditors and debtors, givers and takers, winners and losers. It became a new face of imperialism and colonialism.
Today, the challenges that face this order compound on one another.
We’re engaged in a generational contest between authoritarian ideology and democratic values in countries the world over, including our own, but we’re responding with the cutting-edge thinking of the 1940s.
The consequences of climate change, the next pandemic or next recession will not be relegated to one country or another, but experienced first and worst by the poor and vulnerable in every country, jeopardizing everyone’s security in turn.