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From: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sun, Sep 3, 2017 at 8:21 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Lavelle on Sharma, 'Robert McNamara's
Other War: The World Bank and International Development'
To: h-rev...@h-net.msu.edu

Patrick Allan Sharma.  Robert McNamara's Other War: The World Bank
and International Development.  Politics and Culture in Modern
America Series. Philadelphia  University of Pennsylvania press, 2017.
 264 pp.  $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4906-4.

Reviewed by Kathryn Lavelle (Case Western Reserve University)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2017)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Robert McNamara was an enigma his entire life. His legacy will be
debated for many years after his passing. He succeeded in
transforming every enterprise where he played a role: the auto
industry, US foreign policy in Vietnam, and the world of
international development in the 1970s. Yet the changes he initiated
both harmed and helped their intended targets. Using the prism of
McNamara's thirteen-year presidency of the World Bank, Patrick Sharma
offers a significant contribution to our understanding of this
complicated man, and the world of international development where he
focused the third portion of his career. Unlike previous leaders, he
was the first who tried to turn the bank into an intellectual leader
as well as a lending institution. Sharma is also keen to point out
that McNamara made conditionality a central feature of the
organization's work.

_Robert McNamara's Other War_ opens with a discussion of the history
of the bank from its creation until the 1960s, and McNamara's own
initial experiences with war. The early World Bank was stymied by
domestic American political tensions wherein the World Bank president
and American executive director competed for influence over control
of the bank's lending direction. Once the situation was resolved in
favor of the president, the organization needed to expand its
capability by raising money from American capital markets in order to
become a true global power. During these same years, McNamara was
forging his way, first in the air force and later at Ford Motor
Company as a "Whiz Kid." When President Lyndon Johnson assumed
office, he inherited McNamara as his secretary of defense. When
Johnson's relationship with McNamara soured, he sent him to the World
Bank upon the recommendation of its then president, George Woods. As
Sharma points out, it was a shrewd maneuver because the bank's
Articles of Agreement prevented the World Bank's president from
commenting on the political affairs of member countries, including
the United States. Regardless, McNamara's transition from secretary
of defense to World Bank president would always seem as if he were
doing penance for Vietnam.

To increase the bank's size and influence, McNamara quickly turned to
expand its existing borrowings by selling more bonds in other
countries. He also worked to modernize its management structure,
beginning with its accounting system. In addition, he expanded ties
with other international organizations, such as the World Health
Organization, International Labor Organization, and UN Industrial
Development Organization. Next, McNamara moved to de-emphasize the
large infrastructure projects that had characterized the bank's early
years with their emphasis on growth, and replace them with broader
concerns, such as population growth. He was particularly skillful at
navigating the new external environment the bank confronted, chiefly
the oil shocks of the 1970s and efforts by the US government to
control its operations.

Later in the book, Sharma details the problems that McNamara
confronted in seeking to accomplish his goal of alleviating poverty.
The examples of early rural development projects served as a
precursor for many later World Bank projects, where local agencies
struggled to meet World Bank requirements and the intended population
received relatively few benefits. These projects also became a cause
for concern about the connection between lending and policy. McNamara
formally proposed Structural Adjustment Lending in 1979. Wanting to
encourage wealthy countries to open their markets to developing
country exporters, the bank would also encourage developing countries
to expand their export sectors by carrying out structural
adjustments. Thus, the bank would link country lending programs
explicitly to the economic policies of member governments, by
agreeing to a range of bank-prescribed economic policy changes.

Shortly thereafter, McNamara informed the World Bank's board that he
would be leaving. In 1982, the role of the bank changed again when
Mexico suspended payments on its external debt and triggered an
international crisis. Although the event was after McNamara had
departed, the response of the US government and the World Bank to
that crisis was based on the substantive changes he had brought
about--notably, the rise in conditional lending. In a similar
fashion, while Sharma notes that McNamara never incorporated
environmental concerns into the bank's lending practices while he was
its president, by the 1990s, the bank became involved in
environmental as well as global health policies. These later
initiatives were possible in no small part due to McNamara's early
efforts at outreach to other international organizations.

Sharma ties these themes together by arguing that the story of
McNamara's presidency of the World Bank is a story of good intentions
gone awry. By focusing on the term of one man, he argues for the
importance of the individual in the history of any organization--in
this case the importance of an American at the helm of an
international organization. This is a compelling argument, and one
that is frequently lost during debates about the topic. It also
reflects the high degree of balance Sharma brings to each chapter by
illuminating the positive and negative effects of what McNamara
initiated. Sharma gives the laudable impression that he is advocating
neither for nor against what McNamara did. Rather, he places
McNamara's role at the bank in the context of its impact on how the
world community came to understand international development, and how
to figure out the best way to redress global imbalances with the
precision of Western quantitative analysis.

Based on these strengths alone, _Robert McNamara's Other War_ will
provide useful background material for anyone interested in the man,
the history of development, or the extended national and
international diplomatic background of the 1970s. In addition to
accessing the records of numerous national archives and those of
international organizations, Sharma was successful in consulting the
archives of the World Bank Group, which was off-limits to many
scholars prior to 2011. Moreover, readers will find the volume a
delight to read, since Sharma's writing style is so accessible and

Admittedly, the book's focus is on the world of international
development. However, the history of development was shaped in those
years by the winding down of the decolonization movement, rising
voices of the former colonial peoples in international forums, and
the Cold War. Therefore, if there is to be criticism of the volume,
it would rest with Sharma's lack of connection of McNamara's work to
the domestic American political environment in these years, and the
intellectual relationship between McNamara's bank and rival
development strategies offered by developing countries. Without
examining these other forces at work, it is difficult for the reader
to sort out where the role of McNamara as an individual operates in
relation to the material concerns of the day, or what international
relations scholars would distinguish as "levels of analysis."

First of all, the Cold War was an important feature of the landscape
of international development as well as domestic American politics.
This context shapes many of the events that Sharma details, and would
enhance his presentation of them. For example, Sharma notes that when
the People's Republic of China joined the World Bank near the end of
McNamara's time, it doubled the bank's developing country population
and appeared to have become the global institution he envisioned when
he took over. However, this event was not only attributed to months
of negotiations between the bank and Chinese officials, or to the
meeting between McNamara and Deng Xiaoping in Beijing. McNamara had
invited the People's Republic of China to apply for membership as
early as 1973. No decision could be made as long as Mao Zedong lived.
After the economic reforms of 1978, discussions reopened, and the
Taiwan issue remained. When China did join, the decision was aided by
the additional resources that would come from the International
Monetary Fund (IMF).[1]

Secondly, competition existed in the 1970s between McNamara's bank
and other organizations that sought to advance the goal of
development. Notably, developing countries sought a New International
Economic Order (NIEO) through UN agencies, and the United Nations
Conference on Trade and Development was still working to secure its
status with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Many ideas in
these plans were not new, but had been tossed around in international
organizations from the 1960s on. However, the commodity price boom in
the 1970s pushed them into a more prominent place on the
international agenda. Sharma reviews how McNamara tried to distance
the bank from the NIEO at the same time Henry Kissinger worked to
bring them together. Sharma acknowledges that this tension reflected
the push of the American desire to control the bank and the pull of
having an American in charge who was not controlled by the US
government. However, the story of the NIEO and the bank is more
complex.[2] The effects of these struggles left many in the South
disillusioned with the notion of development altogether.[3]

Finally, some readers may wish Sharma had fleshed out the ties within
the American political process more explicitly.  McNamara's vast
network sustained him throughout his tenure at the World Bank. He was
successful in circumventing the usual diplomatic channels at the
Treasury Department because he could approach so many members of
Congress and business leaders directly. These ties may have helped
him with Democratic presidential administrations, such as Johnson's
and Jimmy Carter's, whereas partisanship may have tainted his
relationship with the Republican administration of Richard Nixon.
McNamara's career in Vietnam certainly influenced debates on funding
the World Bank in Congress once the bank sought to resume lending
after the American war ended.[4]

Thus, Sharma avoids the question of whether or not it is advantageous
to have an American as the head of the bank. While this issue was not
as controversial in McNamara's time, the "gentleman's agreement" by
which developed countries select the head of the World Bank is
currently assailed as not reflecting contemporary power dynamics and
criticized by those who would do away with such preferences
altogether.[5] On the other hand, as one of the few international
organizations that does have an American serving as its head, the
World Bank may access domestic funding channels in Congress through
that person's influence, as McNamara did.[6] McNamara's legacy in
enmeshing the World Bank in this network is as important as his
efforts in doing the same in the constellation of international

Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles. The book is best when Sharma
weaves the work of the man with that of the organization and the
world of international development. Although that discussion is not
always embedded in a broader context of McNamara's world, that was
not necessarily Sharma's intent in writing it. It is an important
contribution that will remain relevant for scholars, practitioners,
and anyone interested in the life of Robert McNamara for years to


[1]. Harold James, _International Monetary Cooperation since Bretton
Woods _(New York: Oxford University Press for the IMF, 1996),

[2]. Craig N. Murphy, _The Emergence of the NIEO Ideology_ (Boulder,
CO: Westview Press, 1984).

[3]. Arturo Escobar, "Power and Visibility: Development and the
Invention and Management of the Third World," _Cultural Anthropology_
3, no. 4 (1988): 428-443.

[4]. Kathryn C. Lavelle, _Legislating International Organization: The
U.S. Congress, the IMF, and the World Bank_ (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2011).

[5]. Jacob Katz Cogan, "Representation and Power in International
Organization: The Operational Constitution and Its Critics,"
_American Society of International Law_ 103, no. 2 (2009): 209-263.

[6]. Kathryn C. Lavelle, "American Politics, the Presidency of the
World Bank, and Development Policy," in _Policy Research Working
Paper_ (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2013).

Citation: Kathryn Lavelle. Review of Sharma, Patrick Allan, _Robert
McNamara's Other War: The World Bank and International Development_.
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2017.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=49954

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart
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