Welfare State Internationalism? Economic and Social Rights in Scandinavian UN Diplomacy, 1970-2000

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Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard


University of Copenhagen


DKK 1,250,000




Reintegration Fellowships


The project aims to explain why the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) have been among the strongest supporters of poverty reduction and the promotion of economic and social rights abroad since the 1970s at a time when egalitarian politics were on the decline elsewhere in the West. The hypothesis is that the welfare state models of the Scandinavian countries made them more supportive of economic and social rights in diplomacy than other Western countries. To test this, the project will determine what motivated Scandinavian human rights diplomacy at the UN from 1970 to 2000: ideology of domestic governments, national security interests, economic interests, public opinion, desire to promote their welfare state models, or other factors.


This project makes three important historiographical contributions: 1) It addresses the neglect of economic and social rights in human rights history. 2) It provides an examination of Scandinavian human rights diplomacy absent in the international scholarship. 3) It adopts a transnational multi-archival approach that goes beyond the national histories of existing research on the topic. More broadly, the project furthers our understanding of the role of values in Scandinavian foreign policy and the relationship between a country's domestic political economy and its foreign policy. Finally, it provides insights into the complex connection between human rights and development at a time when fighting poverty and reducing inequality remain key issues for the international community.


The project adopts a transnational approach through multi-national archival research in the three Scandinavian countries as well as in relevant UN archives in New York and Geneva. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway my focus will be on the archives of the foreign ministries, development aid agencies, national missions to the UN, and to a lesser extent relevant NGOs. The multi-national archival research makes it possible to trace processes, arguments, and decision-making at UN institutions into the national governments of the Scandinavian countries. Because of the records on Scandinavian attempts to coordinate diplomatic efforts, it is possible to examine the motivations behind official positions at the UN and the meaning policymakers ascribed to social and economic rights.

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