Sunday, January 29, 2023

James E. Cronin's "Fragile Victory"

James E. Cronin is research professor of history at Boston College and a local affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Global Rules: America and Britain in a Disordered World. He splits his time between Watertown and Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cronin applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works quite well in giving readers a sense of the book’s argument and its approach to making the argument. Page 99 is in a section of the book that discusses the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan in 1947, the Berlin blockade of 1948 and efforts to craft a German state, and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Its central paragraph reads thus:
In his Inaugural Address in 1949 Truman promised a “collective defense arrangement” linking the US, Canada, and Europe. The logic leading from the Marshall Plan to military alliance was powerful, and by early 1949 the effort had gained serious momentum. On April 9, 1949, the treaty setting up NATO was signed in Washington. The decisions that produced the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the new West German state were countered with parallel moves by the Soviet Union. The Soviets began making bilateral trade agreements with the states of Eastern Europe in 1947 and these were turned into a regional grouping, Comecon; and the German Democratic Republic was founded on October 7, 1949. The Warsaw Pact, which was hardly necessary given the looming and commanding presence of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe, did not come into being until 1955. Still, the symmetry seemed appropriate, even though cooperation and alliances in the West were largely voluntarily, if often the fruit of argument and at least subtle manipulation, while those in the East were simply coerced.
The first sentence of the next paragraph summarizes the main point being made:
Taken together, the Western initiatives were a dramatic reversal of previous policies and long- standing traditions.
The argument of Fragile Victory is that liberal order was a creation that required great effort and inspired policy-making to bring it into being and continued effort and vigilance to maintain it. It was not inevitable, and although for a time it seemed to become the norm, it was always in need of tending and adjusting. The plans that Roosevelt and others bequeathed to the world in 1945 assumed peace and international cooperation. The Cold War soon made those assumptions appear naïve. The response, by Truman and his allies in the US and Europe, was to reshape the vision by adding greater economic cooperation, as with the Marshall Plan, and a more serious security dimension, as with NATO.

The result was that the liberal order, once understood as universal, would be confined to the West and its allies, but it would be embedded in a broader and relatively stable Cold War order. Liberal order would only become a global project later, when the Cold War ended. The last three chapters of Fragile Victory assess that post-1989 project and the present serious challenges to liberal order. An additional “Note to Readers: The Invasion of Ukraine and Liberal Order” at the beginning of the book brings the assessment closer to the present.
Learn more about Fragile Victory at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue