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E.H.

Carr and the Failure of the Inter-War


International System

MA International Relations and World Order


M13 Theories of IR 7515
Jo Majerus
Student Number: 129047454
Due 17 June, 2013

Peace and international cooperation may not be sustained on a


permanent basis simply by virtue of the illusory belief that states will
invariably seek to preserve these ideals merely because they allegedly
benefit the international community as a whole. Neither will their presumed
adherence to a superior code of morality ultimately suffice on its own to
protect the international order from major disruptions caused by the actions
of one of its constituent sub-units.
As E.H. Carr remarked, ethical standards cannot exist independent of
politics, in particular not without setting them in proper relation to the less
abstract determinants in international relations, notably power.1 It was such a
separation of power from morality which led politicians of the inter-war
period to believe that international cooperation could be perpetuated solely
through the establishment of institutions designed to resolve inter-state
disputes within an international society whose members supposedly all
shared the same goals, even though in reality they clearly didnt.
Still, as Carr acknowledged, attempts to root moral ideals within the
international order need not necessarily suffer the same fate they did in the
run-up to World War II.2 Importantly, however, one must first become alive
to the highly sensitive constellation of power and morality ultimately
required to prevent the international system from giving rise to such forces
as might before long prove a potential source of its own instability.
By drawing on a critical engagement with E.H. Carr's work as well
as on some particularly illuminating cases in recent modern history in which
the promotion of moral ideals arguably led to the creation of a more
substantive and enduring order of international peace and cooperation, the
essay seeks to make the argument that 'moral ideals' are indeed not per se a
lost cause in international politics, albeit only when morality is essentially
considered a function of power and not vice versa as Carr noted,3 and, what's
more, when they likewise also succeed in enhancing their practical appeal
by providing individual state actors in due time with adequate incentives for
1

E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of
International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1939), p. 19.
2
Peter Wilson, 'The Myth of the First Great Debate', Review of International Studies, Vol. 24
(Dec 1998), pp. 12-13.
3
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 62.

conceiving of international cooperation as a viable alternative to war and


aggression for effecting changes in their favour.

Historical analysis of the failures and inherent deficiencies of the


inter-war international order has undeniably produced a wealth of interesting
and instructive scholarly literature,4 yet E.H. Carrs work still stands out as
one particularly insightful and conclusive study on it. In essence, Carr
attributed the collapse of that order to the presumably unavoidable
confluence of a number of conflicting forces and tendencies which
combined to lay bare with a vengeance the misguided illusion that the
dictates of power politics on individual state behavior could be rendered
immaterialprobably even redundantthrough the mere presence of
institutional arbitration and cooperation alone.5
Arguably most detrimental to lasting peace and international stability
was the intrinsically erroneous view that the peculiar balance of power by
which European countries had accommodated each other for nearly 100
years before it was eventually shattered by the First World War might in a
less power-driven form be restored by encouraging the belief that
compliance with international norms and conventions would invariably
work towards the common good of all nations.6 Such presumptions, however,
failed to appreciate that the 19th century political order had actually never
even in the first place rested on a universal validity of rational principles and
ethical standards; rather it had been primarily the result of a distinct and, by
implication, non-transferable constellation of historical contingencies, 7 a
balance of forces peculiar ''to the economic development of the period and
4

See, for instance, Frank McDonough (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War (London:
Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011); R. Boyce, The Great Inter-war Crisis
and the Collapse of Globalization (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Donald Kagan,
On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace (New York: Doubleday, 2009), pp.
281-436.
5
As Peter Wilson noted, it was precisely this analytical quality of E.H. Carr to identify the
correlative nature of both domestic and international issueswar, revolution, social justice,
self-determination, economic distress and power politicswhich enabled him to critically
examine major developments in international politics. Peter Wilson, 'Radicalism for a
Conservative Purpose: The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', Journal of International Studies,
Vol. 30:1 (2001), p.135.
6
On the subject of Great Power Politics prior to World War I, see Norman Reich, Great
Power Diplomacy 1814-1914 (New York: Mcgraw Hill Book Co, 1992); Paul W. Schroeder,
"The Nineteenth Century System: balance of power or political equilibrium?", Review of
International Studies, Vol. 15 (1989), pp. 135153; and Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of
the Great Powers. Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000 (New York:
First Vintage Books, 1989), pp. 143-255.
7
Wilson, 'The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', p.127.

the countries concerned.''8


Failure to recognize that reality then eventually found its most
glaring expression in the concept of the so-called international harmony of
interests, i.e. the assumption that collective security, free trade, the sanctity
of treaties and international arbitration would always serve nations' common
interests.9 Yet unfortunately that doctrine contained one particularly flagrant
imperfection, namely that it only provided for the settlement of international
disputes within the legal framework of the established order, without at the
same time, however, also allowing for far-reaching revisions of its own
inherent failings and shortcomings.10
In consequence, the proclaimed harmony of interests missed to
extend the advantages shared by its most powerful exponents to such nations
as ultimately did not see their concerns sufficiently addressed by it. 11 Quite
to the contrary, these countries didn't believe that the preservation of the
status quo helped them advance their own interests and ambitions. 12 In a
world facing a serious political, social, economic and moral crisis which not
only took issue with the distribution of power among nations, but, moreover,
also questioned the very basis of its theoretical underpinningsdemocracy,
laissez-faire economics, liberalism and self-determinationit was indeed
overly optimistic to presume that a professed harmony of interests would
ensure peace and security without first re-interpreting its own moral
foundations and adapting them to the era's prevailing circumstances and
arrangements.13 Accordingly, the reluctance of satisfied nations to effect the
necessary amendments for accommodating the needs of dissatisfied powers
as well only further hardened the latter's conviction that international
morality and solidarity were ultimately but idle platitudes employed by
privileged nations to ''justify and maintain their dominant position'' 14 by
masking their ''own interest in the guise of universal interest for the purpose

Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 29.


Wilson, 'The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', p. 126.
10
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, pp. 182-184.
11
Robert W. Davies, "Edward Hallett Carr, 18921982", in: Proceedings of the British
Academy, Volume 69 (1983), p. 486.
12
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis', p. 57.
13
Graham Evans, 'E.H. Carr and International Relations', British Journal of International
Studies, Vol. 1:2 (July 1975), pp. 82-84.
14
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 75.
9

of imposing it on the rest of the world.''15Before long, their vexation with the
international system then translated into open hostility and aggression,
setting them on an arguably inevitable collision course with its defenders
that would eventually see their societies pitted against one another in
historys most devastating and atrocious conflagration.
In general, E.H. Carr was certainly right that international law and
institutions cannot be relied upon to act as a universal remedy for redressing
inter-state grievances, in particular not within the constraints of an
international order whose members didn't identify the interests of the whole
community with their own. 16 In that event, such institutions might even
constitute a potential root cause for international conflict, if only because
differing perceptions with regard to moral precepts and the constitutive
nature of the international system stand to result in different strategies
adopted by states for handling their relations with other nations.
Accordingly, the mere advocacy of such noble principles as universal peace
will hardly ever suffice to persuade dissatisfied nations of their alleged
suitability for generating mutual advantages. It was precisely this divorce of
morality from the far more practical exigencies of states, notably their
dependence on certain elements of power to further their most fundamental
national needs which Carr accurately identified as one of the most
significant flaws in inter-war 'utopian' thought.17
It is only when international law and institutions are widely held of
assisting, or at least of not substantially interfering with national objectives
that they might place the international system on a less fragile and volatile
foundation.18 Dissatisfied states are reluctant to adhere to moral ideals not
because they are less appreciatory of their potential merits; rather they
simply judge them less helpful and conducive in advancing their own
interests as well. 19 All states aspire to meet certain indispensable needs,
15

Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 71; Wilson, 'The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', pp.
126-127.
16
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 57.
17
Lucian M. Ashworth, 'Where are the Idealists in Inter-War International Relations?',
Review of International Studies, Vol. 32:2 (April 2006), p. 302.
18
Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, pp. 42-43.
19
A particularly instructive confirmation of that reality is, for instance, offered by the 1928
Kellogg-Briand pact to renounce war as a legitimate instrument of national policy, even
though it was already at the time perfectly realised by more perceptive statesmen, notably
US Foreign Secretary Frank Kellogg himself, that such solemn commitments could
ultimately not hinder states from still seeking recourse to war in self-defence if they
believed circumstances to demand such action. Frank Kellogg, cited in Ruth Henig, The

notably political independence, national security and, as far as possible,


economic autarky and prosperity. What distinguishes them, however, are the
at times very different means applied for realising and/or preserving them.20
As Carr noted, powerful nations with the necessary wherewithal routinely
seek to perpetuate their pre-eminent standing by maintaining the status quo
at the expense of potential challengers, 21 whereas countries with less
sophisticated methods for procuring vital resources and directing
international capital movements in their favour might accordingly more
easily be tempted to revert to less peaceful devices for asserting their
demands, notably in the form of territorial expansion and bellicose
aggression towards other nations.22
It is on account of these fundamentally opposite strategies employed
by states in relation to their respective power that for as long as there do not
exist appropriate opportunities and incentives for all of them to more readily
forego military violence in their conduct of foreign affairs, appeals to
preserve peace for the common good will never be able to deter inter-state
conflict on their own. Hence, institutions such as the League of Nations were
indeed ill-equipped to meet that noble aspiration, notably as dissatisfied
nations were loath to abide by the norms and regulations of an international
organization which they perceived unwilling of curing its own ills and
inequities. Accordingly, the League thus not only neglected to adequately
account for the element of power in international politics, 23 but it was
likewise a fallacy to believe that merely because it presumed to pass
international judgements, resentful nations might in the event more readily
comply with its instructions. As Carr remarked, global peace would
basically remain an elusive enterprise while there still persisted an overly

League of Nations: An Idea before its Time?, in: Frank McDonough (ed.), The Origins of
the Second World War (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011), p. 40.
20
In a sense, it is thus not so much a question over whether states differ in regard to the
outcomes they wish to achieve than rather about their differences in strategies for attaining
them. See Robert Jervis, 'Realism, Neoliberalism and Cooperation: Understanding the
Debate', International Security, Vol. 24:1 (Summer 1999), pp. 50-51; and Robert Powell,
'Anarchy in International Relations Theory', International Organization, Vol. 48:2 (Spring,
1994), pp. 318-321.
21
Typically they try to do so through their often extensive capital exports as well as their
privileged access to and/or control of foreign markets. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p.
114.
22
Charles Jones, E.H. Carr and International Relations: A Duty to Lie (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 29.
23
Jonathan Haslam, The Vices Of Integrity: E.H. Carr, 18921982 (London/New York:
Verso, 1999), p. 70.

idealistic belief in the ''normative power of morally decent but ultimately


irrelevant bodies'' such as the League of Nations. 24 Unable to generate a
common interest capable of not only encouraging states to acquiesce to its
institutional regulations, but of also overriding their more self-centred
ambitions, recourse to war consequently never ceased to be regarded by
vengeful nations as an expedient alternative for satisfying their own
interests.25
By implication, however, it also follows that self-help and aggression
do not a priori mandate the foreign policies of individual state actors. 26
Hence, 'Wilsonian ideals' of enduring peace, security and cooperation might
indeed be able to receive greater currency if states were not to conceive of
international politics primarily as a global and self-fulfilling zero-sum game
in which one actor's gains automatically entail losses for another one. By the
same token, the exercising of aggressive power must not solely be put down
to a presumed absence of moral ideals in inter-state relationships, but
arguably even more so to their perceived hollowness and inherent double
standards.27
In that context, responsibility for maintaining peace and international
cooperation will indeed primarily rest with dominant powers' willingness to
effect a constant re-evaluation and re-adjustment of the status quo, notably
by addressing unjust practises of the international system of their own
volition instead of unwisely handing over the initiative for doing so to
revisionist challengers of it. 28 In particular, they need to avail themselves
more systematically of their 'soft' powers 29 to convince other nations that
peace and cooperation are more than merely artful institutions to further

24

Michael Cox, 'E.H. Carr and the Crisis of Twentieth-Century Liberalism: Reflections and
Lessons', Journal of International Studies, Vol. 38:3 (May 2010), p. 528.
25
S. Brown, The Causes and Prevention of War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994), pp.
123-124.
26
Opposite views are in particular advanced by prominent offensive realists such as John
Mearsheimer in John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 2001).
27
In Carr's appreciation, these principles not only failed to provide any absolute and
disinterested standard for the conduct of international affairs, yet were, moreover, also but
unconscious reflexions of national policy based on a particular interpretation of national
interest at a particular time. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 111.
28
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, pp. 152-153.
29
For Joseph Nye, 'Soft Power' is essentially about co-opting and shaping the preferences
of
people rather than coercing them. Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in
World Politics (Cambridge, M.A.: Perseus Books Groups, 2004), p. 5.

their own self-enrichment.30 Such need for allowing peaceful change to take
place should, however, not only be enjoined upon state actors by moral
considerations, as Carr duly remarked,31 but also because already for purely
practical reasons any such measured modifications are ultimately much
preferable to a potentially far more radical and violent upheaval in
international politics.
Accordingly, Carr was right that ''to establish methods of peaceful
change is[]the fundamental problem of international morality and of
international politics''32 and that its solution ''must be based on a compromise
between morality and power.''33 Above all, however, international relations
need to be characterized by a widespread compliance with the principles of
'self-sacrifice' and 'give-and-take', i.e. of attaching equal value to the
grievances of both strong and challenging nations.34
Conciliation and mutual accommodation are therefore key to the
longevity of any international order, and the instruments or institutions most
suited for doing so might arguably indeed best be found along the path of
economic reconstruction.35 However, there is one significant qualification to
be made here, one which Carr only insufficiently addresses himself.
Undeniably he is right to argue that seeking ''the consent of the governed by
methods other than coercion'' can help 'Wilsonian ideals' acquire a more
universal validity in international politics.36 Still, that approach nevertheless
fails to specify that it is ultimately just as important to consider the factors of
not only when to offer such conciliation and cooperation, but essentially also
of whom to extend it to. Accordingly, Carr might have been a bit hasty to
dismiss ideological differences between disparate modes of societal

30

Carr above all draws attention to the proclaimed Sanctity of Treaties as an especially
sophisticated implement used by the ruling nations to maintain their supremacy over
weaker nations on whom the treaties have been imposed. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p.
174.
31
Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, p. 191.
32
Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, p. 202.
33
Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, p. 192.
34
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, pp. 149-150.
35
By 'economic reconstruction' Carr does not only mean the granting of relief credits to
distressed nations or the provision of foreign loans for stimulating their export trade, but on
a more fundamental note also the widespread acceptance that in order to permanently
achieve the ideals of international peace, stability and security, national policies will out of
principle have to take into consideration the welfare and societal content of other countries
as well. Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, pp. 218-220.
36
Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, p. 217.

organization, notably between Fascism and Democracy.37


Admittedly, conciliation of resentful nations such as Germany and
Japan could have gone a long way towards preserving international peace
and stability as Carr maintained.

38

Importantly, however, a genuine

willingness of dominant powers to not merely employ the League's


institutions for their own ends, but to also actively help dissatisfied countries
redress their economic and political grievances as well, was ultimately but
one part of the solution. As a brief historical survey will show, it is important
to remember that resentful nations may actually not always be pacified by
the prospect of international equality or common gains. After all, much also
depends on a nation's domestic character, given that its distinctive political
make-up will basically determine the degree of international cooperation
deemed suitable by its rulers for assisting their country achieve its primary
objectives. Thus if cooperation should for whatever reasons rather be judged
inimical to the realisation of its projects, than conciliation might likewise not
deter that nation from resorting to more aggressive power politics.
Accordingly, Carr incorrectly believed that appeasement would work
irrespective of whom it was ultimately addressed to. 39 Put differently, he
failed to perceive that the Allies were dealing with two different Germanys
during the inter-war period, one in general responsive to international
conciliation, while the otherpervaded by nationalistic fanaticism
categorically refused to even consider in the first place such an option,
notably as it was on principle deemed utterly unfit for accomplishing their
leaders long-term schemes and intentions.40
Undeniably, the international order established by the treaty of
Versailles was one that dissatisfied nations rightly believed to operate at
their disadvantage, a condition only made worse by the League's apparent

37

Jones, E.H. Carr and International Relations, p. 29.


Jones, E.H. Carr and International Relations, p. 31.
39
As Richard Crossman had observed early on, Nazi-Germany was not simply a classical
power seeking systemic change, but rather had set out to radically transform the very
nature of the international system itself. Wilson, The Myth of the First Great Debate, pp.
3-4.
40
Nazi-Germany's true ambitions were after all not only borne out by the conduct of its
foreign policy in the 1930s, but even before that the belligerent mind-set of its leaders was
hardly veiled in secrecy, notably in Hitler's own writings Mein Kampf and the unedited
Zweites Buch'. On Hitler's premeditated international objectives, see in particular J. Noakes
and G. Pridham, Nazism 1919-1945. Volume 3: Foreign Policy, War and Racial
Extermination (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997), p. 8.
38

incapacity for rectifying its own deficiencies. 41 As a result, such views


basically undermined the credibility and legitimacy of the very institutions
and laws it sought to promote. Importantly, however, it was not a foregone
conclusion that further accommodation with Germany, notably in the field of
rearmament, couldn't have led to a more benign approach of its leaders in
foreign affairs. While such concessions might indeed have prompted them to
push for still greater demands, they could nevertheless also have
substantially boosted the political reputation and position of the Weimar
government, above all that of its Chancellor Gustav Stresseman, the
arguably most genuinely peace-minded figurehead in German politics.42
In that context, it is important to understand that the principal reason
why Germany wished to rearm was not because it was per se bent on
pursuing a more aggressive foreign policy43at least not in military terms,
but rather on account of the perception that its international competitors
were actually not willing to comply with the arms limitation terms they had
agreed to in 1919 either.44 That failure of the Allies to follow suit on their
self-declared objective for general disarmament as a result only reinforced
the impression of revisionist countries that the League of Nations was
ultimately less an organization of all nations than merely one of its primary
beneficiaries.45
That is why political observers such as Winston Churchill were only
partially right in maintaining that Germany was actually more after the
recovery of lost territories than obtaining equality of status.46 The truth of
the matter is that its government above all hoped that a compromise on
disarmament issues would provide it with the very diplomatic success it so
desperately needed in view of public opinion for suppressing the harmful

41

Michael Cox, 'E.H. Carr and the Crisis of Twentieth-Century Liberalism', pp. 527-528.
Accordingly, the fact that his foreign policy ultimately failed to win widespread approval
within German society, but instead increasingly came to be met with harsh criticism and
resentment, can thus not solely be put down to the volatile nature of the international order,
nor to the major economic slump that soon was to upset it. Ruth Henig, 'The League of
Nations', p. 41.
43
In that regard, it is thus highly debatable whether Germany would in any event have
become an aggressive power by the end of the 1930s as John Mearsheimer contends.
Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, p. 199.
44
Ruth Henig, 'The League of Nations', pp. 43-44.
45
John W. Coogan, 'Wilsonian diplomacy in war and peace', in: Gordon Martel (ed.),
American Foreign Relations Reconsidered 1890-1993 (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 85.
46
Z. Steiner, The Lights that failed: European International History 1919-1933 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 786-792.
42

fascist disease that was presently running rampant within its society. 47
According to Carr, Allied intractability to thus help Stresseman secure an
acceptable revision of the Versailles Treaty consequently greatly assisted the
rise of Social-Nationalism in Germany.48
Yet once Hitler had seized power, any attempts to appease him were
arguably a vain and fruitless enterprise from the start.49 Granted, the mere
fact that that approach ultimately failed to preserve peace must not detract
from its at least theoretical potential for doing so as Carr rightly believed,
albeit if and only if, as he failed to discern, it had been directed at the right
time at the right political leaders.50 The tragedy with appeasement was not
that it was a misconceived policy per se, but rather that its underlying
promise to maintain peace and inter-state cooperation basically lacked the
willingness of all parties involved to commit themselves in equal part to the
unequivocal observance of these high-minded principles. In consequence,
the entrenchment of these ideals failed to precede the ascent of
intransigently resentful enemies which, in marked contrast to their
predecessors, clearly preferred aggressive power politics over peaceful
reconciliation for achieving their goals. 51 To that degree, Carr rightfully
blamed unfair international structures for courting Germany's growing
embitterment and thereby abetting the spread of fascism. Importantly,
however, a more conciliatory international environment, one in which peace
and cooperation truly benefited the entire community of states, could only
have secured international stability when dealing with a Germany that was
likewise genuinely interested in the pursuit of these ideals. As HitlerGermany, however, clearly wasn't, it is therefore difficult to imagine how
short of substantive territorial concessions it could have been placated to a
satisfactory degree. In other words, it was thus essentially less a question
over whether appeasement could ever have worked at all than basically one
47

Ruth Henig, 'The League of Nations', p. 43.


Haslam, The Vices of Integrity, p. 59.
49
Jeffrey Record, Appeasement: A Critical Evaluation Seventy Years On, in: Frank
McDonough (ed.), Origins of the Second World War (London: Continuum International
Publishing Group, 2011, pp. 223-237.
50
Carr would later admit that he had at the time failed to see Hitler-Germany's true
intentions. Davies, Edward Hallett Carr, pp. 483-84.
51
For a balanced appraisal of appeasement policies during the inter-war period, see in
particular R.A.B. Dimuccio, The Study of Appeasement in International Relations:
Polemics, Paradigms, and Problems, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 35:2 (March 1998).
pp. 245-259; and Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British
Road to War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).
48

10

of how, when and, above all, with whom it might have done so.
The same observation also holds true for pre-WWII Japan, a country
in which there had never developed any pronounced affinity, let alone
identification with the international order. Importantly, however, the
translation of its frustration with international politics into open hostility was
likewise not so much a pre-determined inevitability than but the effect of
foregoing developments which, on balance, greatly accelerated the country's
international defection. In particular, one must not confound the especially
militaristic form of Japanese nationalism that caused millions of innocent
people in Far-East Asia such indescribable pain and suffering in the 1930s
with a putatively innate or premeditated desire of its society to inescapably
follow such despicable a course of action irrespective of its internal political
composition.
Above all, one must not disregard the fundamental break that
occurred in Japanese politics during the inter-war period, a deviation from
previous policies which although it may have stood in some continuity with
deeper, long-term strands of modern Japanese history, 52 still cannot be
interpreted as but the logical and natural evolution of its distinct political
system. Once again, intense nationalism was essentially but the symptom of
larger historical trends at work in the background, 53 a disease which
undeniably the Japanese government itself lacked the determination to blight
as early and rigorously as it might have, yet one which the international
community as well only insufficiently helped to prevent from gaining in
strength in the first place.
International practices such as the extremely ill-received decision to
deny Japan racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations,54 for
instance, considerably increased domestic perceptions that the country was

52

See in particular M.G. Sheftall, 'An Ideological Genealogy of Imperial Era Japanese
Militarism, in: Frank McDonough (ed.), Origins of the Second World War (London:
Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011), pp. 50-65.
53
The emergence of popular imperialistic movements was in no small measure a direct
corollary of the increasingly acute perception shared within large parts of the Japanese
population that the western model of democracy and free-market economics was by nature
rife with grave social injustices and economic malpractices, leading to rising rates of
unemployment, corporate corruption and, as a result, the gradual erosion of Japan's
capability to satisfy its most basic national needs and interests. John Toland, The Rising
Sun. The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 (New York: Pen &
Sword Military Classics, 1971), pp. 5-6.
54
Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (New York:
Random House, 2003), p. 321.

11

basically asked to conform to the rules of an international order which by all


accounts rather sought to perpetuate than do away with the double standards
and preferential treatment of a few privileged nations in international
politics. 55 Thus when the perceived dissonance between national interests
and continued compliance with international norms came close to breaking
point in the early 1930s, it ultimately took but one final decisive straw such
as the non-sanctioned incursion of Japanese forces in northern China to once
and for all set the country on a far less peaceable course. 56 Belief in
advancing matters of important national concern through peaceful
accommodation had by that point already reached such low levels of
approval that the idea of satisfying these needs by different, more radical
avenues was now able to find favour with much broader parts of the
country's ruling elite, or at any rate not meeting any sizeable opposition from
it.57
It may arguably indeed have been a one-way street from the invasion
of Manchuria to the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, given that Japan was from
that moment onwards irrevocably in the grip of militaristic Imperialism.58
Yet notwithstanding that fact, it is on the other hand an altogether different
matter whether the country was also of necessity bound to tread that utterly
fateful and destructive path from the very beginning,59 in particular though if
it might not after all have been possible to induce it to subscribe on a more
permanent basis to the ideals of international peace and cooperation by
attempting to align its national concerns more systematically with
international standards at a time when there actually still existed some
55

A sentiment arguably most fittingly conveyed by the words of Foreign Minister Makino
Nobukai upon saying that we are not too proud to fight but we are too proud to accept a
place of admitted inferiority in dealing with one or more of the associated nations. We want
nothing but simple justice. Quoted in Paul Gordon Lauren, Power And Prejudice: The
Politics And Diplomacy Of Racial Discrimination (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press,
1988), p. 90.
56
As is well known by now, neither the officially elected Japanese government nor the High
Command of its armed forces had instigated the aggressive action taken single-handedly by
the Kwantung Army's renegade leadership in Manchuria in 1931. John Toland, The Rising
Sun, pp. 8-9.
57
John Keegan, Fateful Choices. Ten Decisions That Changed the World 1940-1941 (New
York: The Penguin Press, 2007), pp. 139-140.
58
Keegan, Fateful Choices, pp. 141-142.
59
Prior to the radicalization of Japanese politics by nationalist elements following the
Manchuria incident in 1931, the 'Washington Agreement' signed in 1922 between Japan,
China and the major western powers to guarantee the over-all stability of the greater Far
Eastern region was after all widely upheld by a more conciliatory Japanese government.
Akira Iriye, The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (London/New
York, 1987), pp. 2-4; Ian Nish, Japanese Foreign Policy 1869-1942 (London, 1977), pp.
133-42.; Keegan, Fateful Choices, pp. 138-139.

12

prospect for reconciling those in charge of its foreign policy to a non-violent


and peaceful amendment of the order they operated in.
That ultimately is the quintessential prerequisite for achieving longterm peace and cooperation in international relations. The need for
institutions to provide states with practicable reasons to equate power and
national interest with the observance of international norms and universal
ideals,60 starting with the rationale that the latter's allure needs to form the
cornerstone upon which international institutions are built instead of merely
trusting them to develop that appeal in the process. It was precisely such
failure to endow 'Wilsonian ideals' with the practical capacities for
accomplishing a true international harmony of interests which ultimately
discredited them in the eyes of dissatisfied nations. The Allies were not
wrong to endorse these principles in the first place, and their advocacy alone
certainly didn't cause the breakdown of the international order. What did,
however, was their own inherent corruption as a result of the international
system's unwillingness to extend their benefits in equal measure to other
nations as well, so that they eventually even no longer came to be seen as
'ideals' at all.

'Wilsonian ideals' such as peace, cooperation and self-determination


can help to create a more stable and secure international environment.
Importantly, however, their successful implementation not only calls for
visionary thinking to enshrine these ideals in the operations of the
international system, but also for the unremitting resolve of an unoppressive
ascendancy to see them vindicated through an exemplary conduct of its own
foreign affairs.61
The ability to forge such a link between power and morality, of
actively encouraging the idea that the pursuit of economic power through
institutional interaction rather than military aggression can indeed lead to
mutually beneficial gains, accounts in no small measure for why the postWWII world order envisioned by the United States ultimately proved of
such long-lasting permanency. In accordance with E.H. Carr's understanding
60

Andrew Linklater, 'The Transformation of Political Community: E.H. Carr, Critical


Theory and International Relations', Review of International Studies, Vol. 23:3 (Jul. 1997),
p. 332; E.H. Carr, The Future of Nations: Independence of Interdependence (London:
Macmillan, 1941), p. 55.
61
Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 217.

13

that the best prospects for international conciliation lie along the lines of
economic reconstruction,62 American statesmen not merely sought to rebuild
a world likely to be perceived by other countries of serving but their own
national ends, but rather one which was equally capable of meeting the
latter's requirements as well. Instead of openly challenging them, ever more
nations now came to appreciate the structures and workings of the
international system,63 if only because they were offered ample opportunities
for achieving their own goals within it as well.64 In addition, initiatives such
as the Economic Recovery Programme (Marshall Plan) likewise
strengthened the belief that domestic survival and prosperity would
ultimately best be ensured by embracing international cooperation.65
However, economic re-construction does in itself arguably still not
go far enough in attempting to entrench 'Wilsonian ideals' more firmly in
international politics. If peace and cooperation are to thrive and mature on a
truly permanent basis, they require not only a redress of previous ills and
failures; far more importantly they essentially also demand a pre-emption of
the very same to begin with. In other words, not so much an economic reconstruction as basically an economic pre-construction.
That conception, in principle, lay at the heart of the European
integration process following WWII. 66 Earlier plans for institutionalizing
inter-state cooperation in Europe had ultimately remained largely 'utopian' in
character precisely because they had failed to reconcile the seemingly ever

62

Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, p. 218.


For instance, the UN provided international arbitrationhowever limitedfor settling
territorial disputes; institutions such as the IMF offered financial relief to economically
hard-pressed countries; and the worldwide system of open markets not only gave countries
access to vital resources previously outside their immediate domestic reach, but also
enabled them to translate their economic power into substantial capital profits. Paul
Kennedy, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations
(New York: Random House, 2006); and Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, The Wise Men:
Six Friends and the World They Made (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986).
64
Following the tradition of the 'English School', one might say that the international
system gradually began to approach, though arguably not yet fully attain, a state in which
the maintenance of the rules and arrangements established among nations came to be
understood as a mutually shared objective. On the basic theories and assumptions of the
'English School' or 'Liberal Realism', see Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of
Order in World Politics (London: MacMillan, 1984); Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (eds.),
The Expansion of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); Barry
Buzan, From international to world society? English school theory and the social structure
of globalisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
65
Tony Judt, Post-War. A History of Europe since 1945 (London: The Penguin Press, 2005),
pp. 89-99.
66
On European integration, see further Judt, Post-War, pp. 153-164; and Desmond Dinan,
Europe Recast: A History of European Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
63

14

elusive ideal of a true and perennial European peace with the more practical
and utilitarian considerations of individual state actors. By accordingly
meeting these more functional needsnotably territorial security, protection
from foreign aggression as well as the opportunity for increasing their
economic power by engaging in a fully integrated continental market
systemthe ECSC and its successor organizations then substantially helped
to reduce tensions between former enemies not so much because adherence
to international arrangements was by default recognized as the most
conducive instrument for furthering national interests, but rather because
cooperation was in fact early on perceived as a powerful mechanism capable
of not only assisting states achieve their own objectives and thus establish a
truer international harmony of interests, 67 but of likewise also providing
them with the necessary structures for guarding against the pernicious forces
(nationalism, international strife) and notoriously unstable conditions that
any non-integrated international system was otherwise likely to experience
in the absence of a higher governing authority.68
Ultimately, that process of political rapprochement thus not only
constituted a reaction to past failures and deficiencies in inter-state
relationships, but rather its underlying twin concept of economic re- and preconstruction simultaneously also laid the foundations for an era of
unprecedented peace, prosperity and cooperation by seeking to eliminate at
the outset all those influences that frequently tempt state actors to pursue a
more selfish foreign policy. To a degree, such pre-emptive strategies were
thus by and large consistent with E.H. Carr's own proposals for regional
integration, for instance when he called upon Britain to help re-structure
international relations in Europe so as to avert another devastating
nationalist war. 69 Regardless of the UK's eventual involvement in the
European integration process, it still more or less reflected his own
67

In that context, it should be remembered that Carr was not per se opposed to the idea of an
international harmony of interests. Importantly, however, it would first be necessary to
consciously create a new one reflective of the fundamentally changed political environment
of the 20th century. Peter Wilson, 'The Myth of the First Great Debate', Review of
International Studies, Vol. 24 (Dec 1998), p. 13.
68
The extent to which that early cooperation would eventually expand into a continental
organization capable of influencing states' interests, loyalties and strategies could of course
not have been foreseen by its initiators. In a sense, it may be said to have been a positive
'spillover effect' of the very institutions they had helped to establish for the purpose of
cementing ties between individual nations. Robert Jervis, 'Realism, Neoliberalism and
Cooperation', p. 59.
69
Wilson, 'The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', p. 133.

15

recommendations in terms of the basic structures and conditions required for


constructing a truly peaceful international order, notably political pluralism,
functional differentiation and economic interdependence.70
Finally, a similar approach for fostering international cooperation by
allowing for peaceful change to happen in a timely fashion also widely
informed the 'Clinton Doctrine' on democratic enlargement in the 1990s, 71 at
whose heart stood the belief that expanding the scope of democracies and
free-market economies would best guarantee long-term international
stability.72 In so doing, it was, however, perfectly understood that democratic
systems could not merely be transplanted into a political vacuum from one
country to another, but rather that it necessitated the presence of specific
conditions in order for them to take hold and flourish in the first place. 73 In
analogy to Carr, it was thus realised that the mere right to self-determination
would by itself not be able to achieve international peace and security.74
Accordingly, the 'Clinton Doctrine' basically aspired to create a
favourable international environment in which potentially destabilizing
forcesoften the consequence of previous failures to integrate disfavoured
regions more durably into the international community by letting their
citizens benefit as well from the cherished ideals of freedom, liberty and
economic prosperitywould essentially not even be allowed to arise in the

70

More precisely, Carr demanded the establishment of a much broader and inclusive form of
political organization, characterized not only by a devolution of national powers, but above
all by a firm commitment to reduce socio-economic inequalities among nations. Carr, The
Future of Nations: Independence of Interdependence (London: Macmillan, 1941), p. 54;
Wilson, 'The Peculiar Realism of E.H. Carr', p. 135.
71
The principal tenets of the 'Clinton Doctrine' were repeatedly outlined in a number of
successive reports on American National Security Strategy. See in particular B. Clinton, A
National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement (Washington D.C.: The White
House, February 1996), http://nssarchive.us/NSSR/1996.pdf [accessed 14 May 2013]; B.
Clinton, A National Security Strategy For a New Century (Washington D.C.: The White
House, December 1999), http://nssarchive.us/NSSR/2000.pdf [accessed 14 May 2013];
and B. Clinton, Remarks by the President on Foreign Policy, San Francisco, Feb. 26.
1999, https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/clintfps.htmD.C. [accessed 14 May 2013].
72
In that context, emphasis was primarily placed on attempts for dealing with the underlying
grievances of distressed countries by actively encouraging regional integration and
establishing better trade relations with them. See National Security Advisor Anthony Lake,
From Containment to Enlargement, Sept. 21, 1993,
https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/lakedoc.html [accessed 14 May 2013]; and Douglas
Brinkley, Democratic Enlargement: The Clinton Doctrine, Foreign Policy, 106 (Spring
1997), pp. 120-121.
73
Above all economic prosperity, rule of law, judicial accountability, free and fair elections,
equal access to public resources and institutions, etc. Ronald Dahl, On Democracy
(Harrisonburg, Virginia: R.R. Donnelly, 1998), pp. 83-99.
74
Michael Cox, 'E.H. Carr and the Crisis of Twentieth-Century Liberalism', p. 527.

16

first place.75 After all, it were ultimately not only material dangers that might
threaten peace, but also forces of a less tangible, yet possibly just as
subversive and destructive order, notably in the form of aggressive
nationalism in a politically and economically unstable, recently disintegrated
former communist bloc in Eastern Europe. 76 Following that premise,
Clinton's foreign policy consequently aimed to provide countries with
sufficient incentives to view the networks and institutions through which
they work as the most practicable means for satisfying their own national
interests and ambitions as well.77
In a sense, the over-all process of European integration thus
ultimately constituted the sort of political internationalism that E.H. Carr
believed to form an indispensable prerequisite for encouraging nation-states
to relinquish at least part of their sovereignty for determining affairs within
their own territories. 78 By coupling national self-determination, in Carr's
view an inherently dangerous conception when operating on its own, to
economic interdependence and the expansion of the political community,
international integration did indeed not suddenly override national
affiliations, but it was certainly instrumental in ending the ''destructive phase
of nationalism.''79

The fact that efforts to further peace and international stability


through institutional cooperation couldn't prevent the breakdown of the
inter-war political order does not mean that these ideals are by definition illsuited for organizing international relations along less detrimental lines. As a
close reading of E.H. Carr will reveal, it was less the creation of
international institutions as such, but rather the way in which they were

75

Anthony Lake, Laying the Foundation for a Post-Cold War World. National Security in
the 21st Century (Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 24 May 1996),
http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/offdocs/tl240596.htm [accessed 14 May 2013].
76
Charles Krauthammer, The Unipolar Moment, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70:1 (America and
the World 90/91), pp. 32-33.
77
In the process, the United States granted Russia substantial credits to facilitate its
transition to a full-fledged capitalist democracy; led the way in expanding NATO; and,
through the latter's enlargement, also actively sought to assist Europe's newly free nations to
accomplish the overall objective of an even greater European integration. Brinkley,
Democratic Enlargement: The Clinton Doctrine, pp. 122-125; Bill Clinton, My Life (New
York: Random House, 2004), pp. 780-786. On NATO enlargement, see in particular R.D.
Asmus, Opening NATOs Door: How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 20-29.
78
Linklater, 'E.H. Carr, Critical Theory and International Relations', p. 329.
79
E.H. Carr, Nationalism and After (London: Macmillan, 1945), pp. 56-59; 67.

17

misappropriated by powerful nations that he found fault with. If moral ideals


are separated from states' practical exigencies or believed of satisfying but
those of privileged nations, then their endorsement surely won't be able to
avoid inter-state conflict. The pivotal question is therefore not if institutions
can produce international peace and cooperation but rather how and by what
means they may do so. Hence, status quo powers should indeed not only
take into consideration other nations' well-being as well as Carr advised,80
but also seek to counteract pro-actively those forces that might readily
exploit a country's perceived international discrimination for turning it
directly against dominant powers themselves.
Attempts to only subsequently redress systemic injustices may after
all not only prove costly, but arguably even impossible when dealing with
regimes which by their very ideological nature favour offensive power
politics over mutual accommodation, so that not even a truly conciliatory
international environment might deter them from seeking recourse to war
and aggression. Consequently it is imperative for international structures to
affect political actors' preferences in such ways that they ultimately won't
contribute themselves to the rise of nationalistic or belligerent influences.
That is why the conditions of peaceful change need to be social and
economic before legal and political, sub-structural rather than only superstructural. 81 If moral ideals are capable of thus anticipating national
grievances instead of being judged to inhibit the pursuit of domestic interests,
they might indeed help to establish a less unidirectional harmony of interests
and thereby make inter-state relations less vulnerable to international strife
as Carr maintained.82 Failing such a quality at pre-emptive accommodation,
'Wilsonian ideals' alone arguably cannot protect the international community
from similar disasters as the one that brought the inter-war period to such an
abrupt end. It is only when their practical implementation lives up to the
very morality they profess that they may ultimately receive a more universal
and permanent standing in international relations as some specific historical
developments have shown.

80

Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, pp. 219-220.


Peter Wilson, 'The Myth of the First Great Debate', pp. 12-13.
82
Notably in the later chapters of The Twenty Years' Crisis as well as in particular in
Conditions of Peace. E.H. Carr, Conditions of Peace (London: Macmillan, 1942).
81

18

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