Charles S. Maier
Beyond the superpowers, nations and groups and classes within nations pursued their own interests and ideals. They set constraints upon what the Great Powers could do or they helped shape the latters’ interaction with one another. In turn, the United States and the Soviet Union had to devise policies that accommodated, modified, or crushed these longings for autonomy and self-expression.
The United States had immense power at the end of the Second World War, but it could not and did not simply impose its will on its partners in the Western alliance. According to the Norwegian historian Geir Lundestad the American empire was an “empire by invitation,” an empire beckoned by others as well as designed to further US interests.* Historians like John Gaddis and Charles Maier have adopted this model of analysis and have used it to differentiate the “Pax Americana” in Western Europe from the Soviet empire that emerged in Eastern Europe.
In this essay Maier seeks to assess the structure of coordination in the Atlantic alliance. Shared values among elites were critical to the success of US policy, and Maier shows that American officials worked hard to cultivate an ideological consensus around the theme of productivity, that is, around the notion that economic gains would allay class conflict and minimize redistributive struggles. But US officials had to do more than forge an ideological consensus. They had to grapple with the unique problems within various European nations, and they had to accommodate national aspirations such as France’s insistence on con-
* Geir Lundestad, “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945-1952,” Journal of Peace Research, 23 (September 1986): 263-77.