World War II ushered in the age of globalization. While the proliferation of information-technology has increased the speed of globalization to breakneck pace in the last two decades, the foundations of the tightly interconnected world we live in now were laid in the early days of World War II by leaders hoping to prevent the next Great War.
Having lived through two cataclysmic world wars, the overriding concern for leaders of the day was engineering an international system that would increase state interdependence, both in an effort to limit conflict and encourage cooperation in the face of crises.
In many ways, the discussions about how to order the international system at the end of World War II reflect the discussions currently under way in the debt-ridden Euro-zone. Then, as now, the largest and most powerful states faced a choice: recognize that a new era of global interdependence required strong and resolute action to stave off future disaster, and that truly we are all in this together, or retreat back towards a policy of isolationism and disengagement and blithely hope that when the storm comes it does not reach your shores.
As in 1944, we cannot allow ourselves to be seduced through fear or greed by the short, narrow and selfish view.
The following was taken from remarks made by the British Minister of State Richard Law at London’s Caxton Hall on October 28, 1943. This passage was published in War and Peace Aims: Extracts from Statements of United Nations Leaders, Special Supplement No. 3 to the United Nations Review, April 30, 1944.
We and our Allies are completely interdependent. This is a world war, and the peace, which will follow will have to be a world peace. Neither we nor any of our Allies can fight this war single-handed. Neither we nor any of our Allies can make peace single-handed. This is the lesson, which by this time, I hope, we shall have thoroughly learned. We shall have learned it through the mistakes of the past and through the triumphs of the present and future.
We shall have to create international institutions or codes of rules, which will sustain the enormously complicated and delicate structure of international security. It is true that we must never again find ourselves in the positions, in which we found ourselves at the time, for example, of the Munich agreement, when there was no collective organization for peace on which we could rely and when we had not the physical strength to defend ourselves. That was a shameful period in our history, a period of blindness and folly, and we must never repeat it. But we must realize that, no matter how strong we may be ourselves, we shall still need the strength of international organizations to buttress political and military security.
I think that is generally recognized not only in this country, but elsewhere. Recent debates in both Houses of Congress show how generally recognized it is in the United States. But there is another aspect of international security, which is not, I think, recognized so widely. It is this. If we make political and military arrangements to secure the peace, and at the same time pursue economic policies which can only lead to war, you will get no peace, but war. Your political and military arrangements will break down.
Man does not live by bread alone, but bread is very important to him. When the war is over, not only this country, but everyone of our Allies will be faced with the same appallingly difficult problem of the demobilization of industry. Every country will be faced with the possibility of shortages or the hardships of unemployment during this period of transition, If we or any other country seek to solve the problem by means of economic warfare, if we seek to protect ourselves against the impact of unemployment by putting it on somebody else’s shoulders, we shall find we have taken the first sure, certain and irretrievable step towards the next war.
I have been made very conscious of the danger in various international discussions covering the economic field in which I have taken part during the past twelve months. I learned from these talks that if we act carefully, if we can show some measure of restraint, if we can look a little bit beyond our noses, there are enough riches in the world greatly to improve the conditions of all of us.
Taking the long view, there is no reason to doubt that we shall be able in this country and others enormously to raise the standards of living and improve the whole condition of the people.
It is the short view I am afraid of. I am fearful lest the short, narrow, selfish view should prevail during the immediate postwar period. That is the time when we shall have to keep an eye on ourselves. That is the time when we must avoid the temptation, which will be very strong, to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We have got to realize, and other nations have got to realize it too, that international co-operation is just as important, perhaps even more important, in the economic field than in the political and military field.
Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.