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East–South Relations at UNCTAD: Global Political Economy and the CMEA

Robert M. Cutler

UNCTAD provides focus for examining collective Soviet-bloc (CMEA) negotiating behavior toward the developing countries (Group of 77) in reponse to the initiative for a New International Economic Order in the 1960s and 1970s. Case studies are commodities trade and the Common Fund, the Generalized System of Preferences, the Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences, and the Code of Conduct for Transfer of Technology. The Soviet bloc seeks to use UNCTAD to transform international economic relations while conserving their place in the existing system. CMEA–G-77 coalitions are due more to common domestic structures of state trading than to ideology. Their disagreements are traceable to divergent situations within the international economy itself. Interesting contrasts between the CMEA and the EEC as international organizations are revealed as well.

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  1. The CMEA countries and the foundation of UNCTAD
  2. Group D negotiating behavior at UNCTAD
    • Commodities trade and the Common Fund
    • The Generalized System of Preferences
    • The Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences
    • The Code of Conduct for Transfer of Technology
  3. International organization and CMEA foreign trade
    • UNCTAD and East–South commerce
    • The CMEA and the EEC: a few contrasts
  4. Conclusion
Suggested citation for this webpage:

Robert M. Cutler, “East–South Relations at UNCTAD: Global Political Economy and the CMEA[; Abstract],” International Organization 37, no. 1 (Winter 1983): 121–142, available at <http://www.robertcutler.org/ar83ioz.htm>, accessed 25 March 2017.

[ page 121 ]

East–South Relations at UNCTAD: Global Political Economy and the CMEA

Robert M. Cutler

Systematic studies of recent behavior by the socialist countries of Eastern Europe in universal international organizations are hard to find. Only a few works, nearly two decades old, address the behavior of the USSR, let alone its smaller allies, and they were completed before the UNCTAD machinery was put in gear.[1] The one exception to this statement concerns specialized international organizations.[2]

UNCTAD is of interest, however, precisely because it “is less political, more functionally specific, and technically oriented” than “the political organs of the United Nations … [while] at the same time it is less independent, more intensely political, more functionally diverse, and less technical” than

[ page 122 ]

the specialized agencies.[3] A focus on UNCTAD has the added advantage of permitting some comparisons, in a transnational context, between the collective behavior of the East European countries and that of the countries of the European Community (EEC) toward the Third World. Such comparisons are usually complicated by the fact that the intergovernmental economic organization of the East European countries—the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA)—has neither the juridical status nor the common foreign commercial policy that the EEC enjoys. A focus on UNCTAD avoids this difficulty, for the CMEA is incarnated at UNCTAD as an autonomous collective entity, “Group D.”[4] The particular features of UNCTAD thus provide an opportunity not only to compare CMEA and EEC behavior toward the Group of 77 but also to examine the behavior of the socialist countries of Eastern Europe as a group in a unique international organization.

My purpose here is neither to analyze the relative influence of the socialist states of Eastern Europe on decisions in UNCTAD, nor to describe quantitatively their trade with the Group of 77. I intend, rather, to understand the CMEA countries’ response to the foundation of UNCTAD, behind which they were a motive force; to analyze how their behavior in the organization has been transformed; and to compare, within the focus provided by UNCTAD, the conduct of the CMEA with that of the EEC. The study suggests some basic characteristics of the East European CMEA countries’ response to the New International Economic Order.

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[ page 121 ]

I wish to acknowledge the support of the Albert Gallatin Fellowship in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, without which I would have neither conceived nor executed this study. Members of the Institute’s faculty too numerous to mention graciously shared their expertise and experiences with me. The hospitality of Professor Urs Luterbacher and his colleagues greatly facilitated all my work. Professors Harish Kapur and Marlis Steinert of the Graduate Institute helped to shape the broad contours of this study by welcoming me into their Working Group, on EEC–Third World relations, where I presented a preliminary version of this research; and their suggestions greatly aided its revision. Comments by the editor of this journal led me to reformulate some important points, which Catherine Mannick helped me to clarify. The international civil servants and national representatives who accorded me interviews at the United Nations in Geneva deserve special mention. Their names are omitted here and in the notes, however, because they spoke in confidence. I am grateful to all these individuals for the opportunity to have pursued this research.

[Note 1]. Alexander Dallin, The Soviet Union at the United Nations (New York: Praeger, 1962); Harold K. Jacobson, The USSR and the UN’s Economic and Social Activities (Notre Dame Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963); Alvin Z. Rubinstein, The Soviets in International Organizations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964). More recent are two unpublished theses: John O. Lindell, “The USSR in UNESCO” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1972) Charles Anthony Schwartz, “UNCTAD: Soviet Politics in the North–South Conflict” (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1972). The second of these, despite its title, deals almost as much with the defunct Havana Charter (1948) as with UNCTAD, and does not pursue a systematic analysis.

[Note 2]. Chris Osakwe, The Participation of the Soviet Union in Universal International Organizations: A Political and Legal Analysis of Soviet Strategies and Aspirations inside ILO, UNESCO, and WHO (Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1972).

[ page 122 ]

[Note 3]. Branislav Gosovic, UNCTAD: Conflict and Compromise—The Third World’s Quest for an Equitable World Economic Order through the United Nations (Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1972), p. 265.

[Note 4]. Group D includes the member-states of the CMEA at the time of the foundation of UNCTAD in 1964: the German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. Mongolia entered the CMEA in 1962; the LDCs that joined the CMEA later, such as Cuba and Vietnam, continue to be part of the Group of 77, but they sometimes associate themselves with joint statements made in the name of the East European socialist countries. The full appellation used for the East European CMEA countries that compose Group D at UNCTAD is “the socialist countries of Eastern Europe”; here, “CMEA countries” and “East European countries” are used synonymously with this term. Romania, which calls itself a “developing socialist country,” no longer participates in Group D; since the UNCTAD sessions in Nairobi (1976), it has officially been a member of the Group of 77. The Group of 77 includes the LDCs, of which there are more than one hundred; Group B is composed of the industrialized countries that maintain a market economy.

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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