American Foreign Environmental Policy and the Power of the State

By Stephen Hopgood | Go to book overview

2
American Preparations for the Stockholm Conference

This chapter deals with American preparations for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment ( UNCHE), held in Stockholm in June 1972. At the time, it was one of the largest United Nations gatherings ever to have been held, securing, in the process, the permanent arrival of environmental issues on the international agenda. It took place during an era of substantial readjustment in global affairs. The hostility between East and West had dimmed as the United States, under the leadership of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, sought to remake the international balance of power. A key element in this strategy was the readmittance of the People's Republic of China to the realm of multilateral diplomacy.

In a parallel development, the pace and scope of decolonization had introduced a large number of poor former colonies to a newly independent role in the international system. These countries of the 'South' had tried, during the 1960s and into the 1970s, to effect changes in both the distribution of wealth and the structure of the world's economy. Their numerical superiority had now assured them of a solid and permanent majority in the General Assembly of the United Nations, if not in the main locus of power, the Security Council itself.

Within the United States, the years between 1968 and 1972 were among the most traumatic in the nation's history. Caught in a deeply unpopular and unwinnable war in Vietnam, the world's most powerful state was also facing economic crisis in the form of rising inflation and a looming trade deficit. The affluence of the postwar years was at last beginning to fade, just as a whole raft of 'new' issues burst onto the domestic political scene, including the environment. Many disaffected young Americans joined these movements, marching to protest about race discrimination, the treatment of women, the war in

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