After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars

By G. John Ikenberry | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
THE SETTLEMENT OF 1945

THE SETTLEMENT that followed the Second World War was both the most fragmented and most far-reaching of any postwar settlement in history. This was the first major war in history that did not end with a single com/ prehensive peace settlement. Peace treaties were not concluded with the major axis powers, Japan and Germany. The Charter of the United Na/ tions, unlike the Covenant of the League of Nations, was not attached to the peace settlement.1 And yet, in the years between 1944 and 1951, the United States and its allies brought about history's most sweeping reorga/ nization of international order.

World War II actually culminated in two major settlements. One was between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, and it took the form of Cold War bipolarity. The other was among the Western industrial countries and Japan, which resulted in a dense set of new security, economic, and political institutions, almost all involving the United States. The two settlements were interrelated. The Cold War rein/ forced cohesion among the advanced industrial democracies, and the breakdown of relations with the Soviet Union beginning in 1947 (and in/ tensifying after 1950) was critical in shaping the character and extent of the American security commitment to Europe. Marshall Plan aid and alliance guarantees, undertaken by the United States to stabilize and reassure post/ war Europe, were made politically acceptable because of the growing fears of Soviet communism. But although the Cold War reinforced Western order, the two settlements nonetheless had distinct origins and logics. One was the most militarized settlement in history, and the other was the most institutionalized.

Among the Western industrial countries, the settlement was particularly striking in its extensive use of multilateral institutions to organize a wide range of postwar relations, including the use of alliances to bind the United States and its European partners together. Between 1944 and 1951, the United States and the other advanced industrial democracies engaged in a flurry of institution building. The resulting institutionalization of postwar order was vastly greater in scope than in the past, dealing with issues of economic stabilization, trade, finance, and monetary relations as well as

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1
John W. Wheeler-Bennett and Anthony Nicholls, The Semblance of Peace: The Political Settlement after the Second World War (London: St. Martin's, 1972).

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