John W. McDonald

Interview for the Oral Archives of the ILO Century Project by Jaci Eisenberg

John Warlick McDonald was born to American parents on 18 February 1922 in Koblenz, Germany where his father was stationed in the American Forces. He started his career as a U.S. diplomat with a first posting in Berlin in 1946. He worked eight years in Western Europe and another eight years in the Middle East. He was assigned to the State Department’s Bureau of International Organizational Affairs and worked with the UN specialized agencies in the field of economic and social affairs from 1967 to 1974. This brought him to the ILO in 1974 when he became ILO Deputy Director-General in charge of managing ILO’s Secretariat of around 3,200 staff. His ILO post was prematurely terminated in March 1978 due to financial difficulties related to the US withdrawal from the ILO. From 1978 to 1983 Mr. McDonald carried out a wide variety of assignments for the U.S. State Department in the area of multilateral diplomacy, including serving as President of the INTELSAT World Conference, leader of the U.S. Delegation to the 1978 UN World Conference on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries, Secretary-General of the 27th Colombo Plan Ministerial Meeting, Head of the U.S. Delegation which negotiated a UN Treaty Against the Taking of Hostages, U.S. Coordinator for the UN Decade on Drinking Water and Sanitation, and others. After retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1987, Mr McDonald became a Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He subsequently was appointed President of the Iowa Peace Institute in Grinnell, Iowa and Professor of Political Science at Grinnell College between 1988 and 1992. Mr McDonald founded the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington and is the author of The Shifting Grounds of Conflict and Peacebuilding (2008).

1943 – BA degree in Political Science, University of Illinois, USA
1946 – Doctor of Jurisprudence, University of Illinois, USA
1967 – Graduate, National War College, Washington, USA

John Warlick McDonald talks about his work with the U.S. State Department and the UN system, and describes how his experience with labour unions led him to join the ILO in the 1970s. McDonald reminisces about the modernization of the ILO’s administration, computerization of the library, and the digitalization of the personnel files. He also details his efforts to modernize the overall working methods of the Office and to push for more transparency regarding recruitment and evaluation procedures. These efforts also involved promoting gender balance, especially among senior staff, which consisted of 79 men and only 1 woman in 1974. He talks about the period of U.S. withdrawal in 1977 and his efforts to first prevent, then to reverse this decision. McDonald recalls his contributions to the establishment of the UNFPA and of a UN/WHO/ILO daycare centre, starting the first internship programme at the ILO, abolishing precarious eleven-month contracts and introducing headquarters and field experience as prerequisites for advancing beyond P3 level.

Key words
Allied Control Council, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Cold War, communism, day care, field work, golden parachute, headquarters, ILO Governing Body (GB), ILO staff union, ILO Women’s Bureau, internships, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), USSR Committee for State Security (KGB), Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, World Health Organization (WHO), staff rules, rotation, Marshall Plan.

Names mentioned

Annan, Kofi; Astapenko, Pavel; Bolin, Bertil Axel; Blanchard, Francis; Boukreev, Valentin; Carter, Jimmy; Denby, P.M.C.; Franklin, Benjamin; Hoffman, Paul; Jain, Surendra Kumar; Janjic, Marion; Kissinger, Henry; Martin, J.P.; Meany, George; Morse, David Abner; Pope Paul VI; Reagan, Ronald; U Thant.

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