Paul Kennedy, William I. Hitchcock, eds. From War to Peace: Altered Strategic Landscapes in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000. ix + 325 pp. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-08010-0.
Reviewed by Barry M. Stentiford (Department of History and Geography, Grambling State University)
Published on H-Diplo (July, 2002)
New World Disorder
New World Disorder
Paul Kennedy and William I. Hitchcock have collected eleven essays first presented in June 1996, during a conference at Yale University sponsored by the International Security Studies program. The theme of the conference centered on attempts by victorious powers throughout the twentieth century to turn wartime alliances and victories into permanent security arrangements and lasting international arrangements. In short, the essays hoped to explain why peace has been so elusive in the twentieth century. The authors, all leading historians of twentieth century international relations, used the years following the end of the Great War, the Second World War, and the Cold War as examples of times when power relations were in flux, in a period of "strategic drift" (p. 2), to demonstrate the pitfalls of trying to change war into peace.
The stated purpose of the essays was not to draw lessons for the present, but to explore the difficulties in transforming power arrangements to create new and stable international orders. This is pure as opposed to applied political science. That said, the books serves as a timely tool for understanding the present international instability and suggests pitfalls for current world policy makers to avoid. The eleven essays filling this book address three recurring themes from each of the three periods of transition in the twentieth century; first, leaders sought to address the causes of the war from which they had just emerged. Second, leaders failed to realize the extent of the changes to the aforementioned problems caused by the war. Finally, leaders, perhaps naively, placed too great a trust in the power of international opinion and institutions to enforce peace.
Following the end of the Great War in 1918, European and American statesmen attempted to create a new order to replace the old balance of power that existed since 1815. However, social, economic, and ethnic forces soon made a mockery of attempts at a lasting peaceful international order. Kennedy describes the post-Great War attempt at framing a new order as "a dismal failure" (p. 2). The framers of the post-World War II international order, which Kennedy calls "an incomplete success" (p. 2), were only marginally more successful. Although no World War III occurred, nuclear tensions and unfriendly economic rivalry, in addition to new difficulties caused by the collapse of colonialism, led to the Cold War, at best an uneasy peace. Both major blocs depended on military alliances for security, but hope for future peace rested in the imperfect United Nations, which blended Wilsonian idealism with Franklin D. Roosevelt's politics of the possible.
The years since the Cold War have seen the rise of issues unforeseen in 1989: nuclear proliferation, transnational economic instability, environmental degradation, demographic explosion, and resource depletion. Added to this list of new woes is the return of ethnic conflict, suppressed and forgotten during the Cold War but never far below the surface. The New World Order has turned out to be quite messy.
As with any collection of essays, summation can be difficult. The contributors range over a wide field of time and geography. That said, the essays focus mostly on Great Power politics with the United States, Britain, France, and Germany looming large throughout. The Soviet Union and Russia, perhaps from a slight case of present-mindedness, fill less space than would be expected. The third and final section, "Security and Order After the Cold War," is dangerous ground for historians. As a general rule, historians make poor clairvoyants. The international instability following the end of the Cold War has continued for over a decade. Perhaps the next generation of historians will be able to judge the attempts by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations to create stability, but, as the editors admit, the attempt is still very much continuing and relegating it to "history" is a bit premature.
While all the essays maintain a high standard of writing and scholarship, a few stand out. William I. Hitchcock's "Reversal of Fortune: Britain, France, and the Making of Europe, 1945-1956" is an outstanding comparison of the relatively successful accommodation to the post-World War II reality by France, with Britain's failed attempt to maintain great power status. Failure in World War II forced France to face reality, while Britain's role in the victory over Germany allowed the British to maintain the illusion of great power status at odds with economic realities. For Hitchcock, the turning point came in 1956, when the United States opposed the British/French/Israeli seizure of the Suez Canal and ensured its failure. France realized that the future lay not in closer relations with Britain and the United States, but in European integration. France, despite stumbling badly in two colonial wars, managed European unity and maintained a central role in modern Europe. Britain, by attempting to maintain power and prestige through the empire and through close ties to the United States, kept Europe at arm's length for decades. The result was a lost empire, and junior status in Europe.
Tony Smith's "Third World Nationalism and the Great Powers" handles well the impact of the arrival of the Third World on the international stage along with its implications for the post-World War II settlements created by the Great Powers. Smith convincingly makes two seemingly opposite arguments; first, that the Great Powers overestimated the significance of emerging nationalism in the Third World, and second, that they underestimated its force. The result is a finely nuanced argument that brings depth to current anti-Western forces and the West's responses to them.
Paul Kennedy's "Global Issues and the New Security Agenda," the final essay, is the best. Kennedy tackles a most difficult subject: identifying emerging trends and issues with which modern statesmen must maneuver. He concisely delineates the shifting borders of what can be considered military problems. That said, all the essays are uniformly informative and well argued. Historians of twentieth-century international relations, as well as current policy makers, would do well to read carefully From War to Peace.
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Barry M. Stentiford. Review of Kennedy, Paul; Hitchcock, William I., eds., From War to Peace: Altered Strategic Landscapes in the Twentieth Century.
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