, Volume 90, Number 2

Patricia Clavin

From its foundation in 1918, the new Austrian republic was gripped by famine and a crisis of confidence in its currency that threatened to tip the new state into hyperinflation and revolution.

This article shows how western efforts to aid Austria combat famine and its financial crisis were linked, and how they had a profound impact on the new League of Nations, the world’s first multi-purpose intergovernmental organization. It also demonstrates the importance of the incipient wartime international bureaucracy for League agency. Contrary to the expectations of its architects, member governments, international financiers, businessmen and economists began to see the League as a useful tool to meet common needs that today would be called the search for human security.

The article demonstrates how the Austrian food and financial crisis was the founding moment in the institutionalization of international economic and financial coordination, cooperation and oversight. It established the Economic and Financial Organization of the League of Nations, whose work would later inform its successors, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.

The study speaks to the ways in which the notion of security has broadened in the past two decades to embrace economic, social, political and environmental concerns. But the notion of ‘human security’ is not new; it was written into the body of the League.

To read this article, you need to be a Chatham House member

Find out more about Chatham House membership