Cronin’s bold revisionist argument questions long-perceived views of post–World War II America and its position in the world, especially after Vietnam. The author details the challenges the economic transition of the 1970s and 1980s engendered as the United States and Great Britain together actively pursued their shared ideal of an international assemblage of market-based democratic states. Cronin also addresses the crises that would sorely test the system in subsequent decades, from human rights violations and genocide in the Balkans and Africa to 9/11 and militant Islamism in the Middle East to the “Great Recession” of 2008.
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America, Britain and a Disordered World
By James E. Cronin
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2014 Yale University
All rights reserved.
Remaking the World, Again
The end of the Cold War resolved the two great questions of the twentieth century – about capitalism versus socialism, about dictatorship or democracy – and the superpower rivalry through which they were expressed. History did not end, for legacies and memories and institutions persisted and the resolution of the questions posed to the twentieth century allowed new and unforeseen problems to emerge. Still, the post–Cold War world was a new beginning and effectively the start of the new century. The terms on which the Cold War ended, and the institutions and assumptions put in place in its aftermath, define the framework within which states and peoples will work out their fates in the new century. Understanding these terms and the lineaments of the new post–Cold War order is the essential precondition for understanding what comes next.
Three times in the twentieth century the United States and Great Britain came together in an effort to put in place a world order that would provide a framework which would enhance the prospects of peace, democracy and prosperity. The ending of the Great War was the occasion for perhaps the grandest vision, though its implementation would largely fail. World War II offered another chance, and the postwar order that emerged from that conflict was far more successful, though its reach and effects were limited by the Cold War and the superpower rivalry. The collapse of the socialist states in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the disappearance of the Soviet Union just two years later created an opportunity to fashion a world order that would operate on a still wider scale.
Why this repeated quest for a structure with which to order the world? The simple answer is that, without a set of institutions and principles to govern international relations and the international economy, it is not unreasonable to assume that disorder will prevail, and with disorder will come instability, war and economic crisis. Empirically, however, it was not this abstract consideration that motivated these ambitious efforts, but the actual horror of world war. It is hard at this distance to recall fully the trauma of World War I and its revolutionary consequences, a trauma that affected soldiers and citizens high and low. The war's destructiveness exceeded the expectations and experiences of all who lived through it and transformed the understanding of what modern war meant. Its ending, with four great European empires disappeared and new regimes claiming to be their rightful successors, made clear that the world after the war desperately needed guidance and organization. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia demonstrated to established elites just what needed to be organized against and in what direction new states and their restive populations had to be guided.
If a new postwar order was to be stable, it would also have to be economically viable. The Great War had produced massive losses, extensive disruption and dislocation across the industrial nations. It also caused a near cessation of trade, the end of currency convertibility and rates of inflation that would make the restoration of old parities and trading relationships extremely difficult. Constructing a better world would therefore require a new set of states based on new principles of membership and legitimacy, new mechanisms to regulate the relations between them, and the reconstruction of the international economy. The vision of world order associated with Woodrow Wilson – and influenced strongly by British traditions – was meant to meet these varied requirements, but it was a very tall order that the Versailles settlement failed to meet.
World War II brought even greater losses and created a new standard for evil in the world. And because it followed the deepest and most prolonged crisis in the history of capitalism, the determination to reorder both international relations and the world economy was that much greater. The character of the enemy also dictated that the order had to be "antifascist" Germany and Japan promised new orders in Europe and East Asia, but their political visions were racist and undemocratic and their economic plans closed and autarkic. In response, the British and the Americans felt the need to craft a world order premised on democracy, racial equality and economic openness, even if these lofty goals sat uneasily alongside the practice of racial inequality in the U.S. and the U.K.'s commitment to maintaining its empire. The Soviets were determined in their antifascism, but guided in practice by a realist calculation of geopolitics and untroubled by the contradiction between a rhetorically democratic foreign policy and a brutal authoritarianism at home.
The effort to build a new postwar order was overseen by leaders who were more pragmatic than idealistic, and it had the support of the United States, by now the world's dominant power, and of Britain, once the world's dominant power and still possessed of a global reach. It therefore "took" and the postwar order proved remarkably durable and allowed the major powers to avoid war with one another and, especially in the West, to experience rapid and sustained economic growth. It was of necessity a Cold War order, which meant that the peace was highly armed and that nations on the periphery – in Asia, Africa and Latin America – and unlucky enough to be the object of superpower rivalry, experienced repeated and deadly conflicts. It meant, too, that the prosperity of the postwar era was limited to peoples and countries in Western Europe, North America and Japan, while the socialist states limped along and the developing countries developed at a very slow pace. The political freedom enjoyed in "the West" was also not afforded to those trapped within the socialist bloc and was only intermittently on offer for people in the Third World as well.
The revolutions of 1989, and the Soviet collapse that followed, provided the third opportunity to create a new order, one that would reconstruct economies, societies and political systems in the formerly socialist world and reconfigure international institutions and the global economy. The end of the Cold War and the eclipse of the socialist idea, and economic model, also altered the options available to what had been the "Third World" The outcome of this latest effort is still unclear: much has changed, but some things remain the same; not every change has been positive; and the dreams that attended the end of the Cold War have been tempered by awkward realities and unforeseen problems. Still, the contrast between the worlds before and after 1989 is stark, and demands detailed study and at least a provisional assessment.
It was also the very opportunity to remake the world – in 1918, 1945 and 1989 – that elicited the effort. With destruction all around and old institutions in ruins, there was literally no alternative but to begin anew with a different vision. Just what vision would prevail and how effectively it would be embodied in institutions and rules was what the politics of the immediate postwar (or post-Cold War) eras would be about. What is striking about all three moments, however, is the extent to which the ideas on offer were Anglo-American in origin and inspiration and, less surprising perhaps, that it was largely Britain and the United States that would dominate the process of turning them into reality. Clearly, it mattered that they had been allies in the two world wars, and in the Cold War, and that they had prevailed in those contests. But what was it that produced such a measure of agreement between the two countries, and what facilitated their cooperation? Was it the shared culture, the similar political institutions and the common commitment to a liberal capitalism that brought, and kept, the two countries together? Or was it a common stance toward the world? Both countries were protected from rivals by geographic distance, by being "offshore" in relation to Europe and its continental powers; and both saw their connections to the rest of the world in terms of commerce, the flow of goods and people and money across borders and great distances, rather than in armaments, alliances or territorial aggrandizement. Britain had a formal empire, of course, but the goal was to run it like a business, to devolve power to locals and native elites and to govern lightly even if British rule did not always feel so light to those who endured it. American expansion across the continent was often brutal, but once it was accomplished the United States had little appetite for things imperial, although there had been a brief flirtation with empire around the turn of the century.
The Anglo-American connection, or "special relationship" as Churchill dubbed it, has fascinated observers for a long time and produced a large and perceptive literature. It is a history filled with ambivalence, with resentment and condescension as well as pride and affection. Overall, the literature depicts an intimacy that is unusual and surely produced a predisposition to be allies rather than rivals or enemies, even if it did not prevent recurring episodes of estrangement. The fact that Britain and the United States have also staked out a similar relationship with the rest of the world has been less remarked, but not entirely unnoticed. It also served to predispose the two countries to take the same side in the great conflicts of the twentieth century and, especially after 1940, to work out their fates collectively. So, too, did the extensive economic ties between the two dominant states within what was still until 1914 a "British world system."
Explaining why the U.S. and the U.K. have been allied is therefore not terribly difficult. The point of this study, however, is not when and why the alliance flourished, but to what effect. What mattered to the world were the consequences of the joint actions, the common projects, that Britain and America undertook. It mattered a great deal, after all, that they joined together against the Germans in two world wars; and it mattered greatly that the U.S. and Britain were at the center of the alliance system through which the Cold War was largely fought out. And it would matter enormously that the Cold War ended at a moment when the two nations were more or less united in an effort to make the world safe for markets and democracy. During the 1980s British and American leaders – Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in particular – embarked on a controversial effort to shift the boundaries between state and market toward the market, to roll back the state, to expand trade and to remove barriers to the free flow of goods and money, if not people, and to convince others – developed and less developed countries alike – that the path to prosperity ran through more open and competitive markets.
The U.S. and the U.K. also took to preaching the virtues of democracy and of human rights, even if their record was patchy and their enthusiasm of recent vintage. Just as the turn to markets was aimed at restoring the U.S. and its ally to a position of economic leadership, so the policies of the "Second Cold War" – increased armaments, an escalation in anti-Soviet rhetoric and a plan to cause the Soviets trouble at the further reaches of their sphere of influence – were designed to rebuild American (and Western) influence globally. But the world would exact a price, for in a postimperial and postcolonial era dominance would be bargained rather than simply asserted. Self-determination and democracy were by the 1980s the accepted norms in international relations and the aspiration to lead would require a vision that acknowledged these. Democracy and human rights were thus added to open markets and private property as key components in what the U.S. and the U.K. proposed in their quest to recover and extend their influence.
This reimagined vision, which united the two allies, was shared at least in part by others, though not to the same extent; and it was the vision that would guide the work of constructing the post-Cold War world. The end of the Cold War meant that the principles proclaimed by the Americans and their British allies could be applied in places previously closed off and to societies that had been ruled by opposing principles. The campaign to extend the reach of "markets, rights and democracy" and to make them the standard against which institutions were judged was the central feature of the post-Cold War era. It produced mixed results, and the verdict is still awaited on the overall effect, but it was a vast undertaking with real and enduring consequences. And because it was largely an American project, with Anglo-American roots, it was also resented and resisted as a further extension of U.S. dominance or hegemony.
The purpose of this book is twofold. The first aim is to describe and explain the formula – with its new emphasis on markets, democracy and human rights, its greater antipathy to communism and its insistence on fighting and winning the Cold War – that emerged in the 1980s as a consequence of the relaunch of the "special relationship." Its second goal is to assess its impact on the ending of the Cold War and the construction, and later the functioning, of the post–Cold war world. Understanding the dramatic turn taken in the 1980s will necessitate an examination of the mounting crises of the 1970s that seemed to overwhelm Britain and the United States domestically and internationally. These crises, part of a more systemic challenge to the Cold War order that prevailed during the quarter-century after 1945, led to the political triumph of more conservative parties and politicians who chose to pursue a crusade for markets and market-oriented democracy. The success of this "neoliberal" turn in the U.S. and the U.K., and its capture of international institutions and the ideas that governed them, goes a long way toward explaining just how consequential these policies and the vision informing them were, not in winning the Cold War but in imposing a new framework to govern national and international politics and the world economy after its ending. Understanding these origins should make it possible to analyze, tentatively of course, the effectiveness of the new paradigm and institutional structure in dealing with the often unexpected problems of the new and more thoroughly globalized world that has emerged after the Cold War.
The beginnings of the story therefore lie in the 1970s, when Britain and America both found that the policies that had brought stability and prosperity since the late 1940s no longer worked and that something new was required. The old approach, the set of beliefs and institutions and policies that had been crafted with such care in the 1940s and worked well enough, indeed very well, up until the 1970s, had three distinct features. The relations between states were formally governed by the United Nations, founded in 1945 on the ruins of the League of Nations and gradually expanded to include most of the world's states. In practice, the world was split into rival camps – one structured around the United States and Great Britain, the other around the Soviet Union – and military alliances, primarily NATO and the Warsaw Pact but also regional compacts cobbled together by the United States. Belonging to one camp or another did not completely dictate the character of domestic policies and politics, but nearly so: the core states in the Soviet orbit had party and state structures, and economies, that mimicked those in the Soviet Union; in the U.S. sphere of influence the norm for the major countries was political democracy and a form of capitalism tempered by more or less generous social provision and a far greater degree of state intervention in the economy than had been the case before 1939. Economic policy was largely, if not completely, Keynesian in inspiration. Democratic politics, firmly established at the center of the "Western" alliance, were less common on the periphery of the system and by definition the European empires were not democracies. Decolonization would proceed rapidly in the postwar era, however, and in theory the process would spread democracy along with self-determination. The reality, of course, often failed to live up to the rhetoric or the theory.
Excerpted from Global Rules by James E. Cronin. Copyright © 2014 Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
1 Remaking the World, Again 4
2 Vietnam to Helsinki: A Seventies Trip 22
3 Detente, Human Rights and Economic Crisis 55
4 Thatcher, Reagan and the Market 92
5 Market Rules and the International Economy 121
6 Cold War Ironies: Reagan and Thatcher at Large 148
7 Ending the Cold War and Recreating Europe 180
8 The Shaping of the Post-Cold War World 217
9 Order and Disorder after the Cold War 244
Epilogue: Global Rules in Question 289