Charles Sharpe

  • Fellowship year:2011-2012
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Creation of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) November 1943: The United States Role in the Agency.
  •  My dissertation examines the origins and creation of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), established in November 1943 to meet the needs of destitute populations and war-stricken countries in the wake of WWII.  With a budget of roughly $4 billion (approximately a third of the Marshall Plan), the UNRRA was the first international organization in history with a mandate to aid war-torn populations.  Before its dissolution in 1948, this agency played a critical role repatriating a million refugees, preventing the outbreak of pandemics, and averting famine.  Despite a legacy marred by corruption, incompetence, and inefficiency, this agency is accredited by some estimates to have delivered food, medicine, housing, farming, and industrial supplies to over a hundred million individuals in more than twenty countries.

    UNRRA, however, was not a mere humanitarian effort designed to relieve suffering and reestablish global stability after the war.  It was also part of a grand strategy devised by American policymakers to obtain legitimacy for the global order they planned to erect after the war.  For this reason, they chose to undertake relief, not bilaterally as they had done after WWI, but multilaterally.  The intrinsic logic of this approach was not apparent at the time.  Secretly, the Americans did not believe a multilateral approach to postwar affairs could work without a hegemonic state, yet they also thought that hegemony tends to undermine the legitimacy of a multilateral system.   UNRRA was designed to resolve this problem.  While the United States hoped to give the impression of wide participation, in reality it planned to dominate the agency.  UNRRA was to serve as a model for the whole system of postwar governance.