Institutionalizing Peace: Rethinking John Foster Dulles, International Law, and the Origins of a Cold War

Monday, January 5, 2015: 9:10 AM
Concourse H (New York Hilton)
Ryan Irwin, University at Albany (State University of New York)
The United Nations was supposed to be better. It was supposed to be a workable, effective alternative to the League of Nations and an instrument to create and maintain international peace. But “the realities of the nascent Cold War intruded,” historian Paul Kennedy writes, “showing up first in the early use of the veto by the USSR” and then spreading to other organs of the U.N. system. Kennedy’s premise—that the Cold War destroyed the United Nations’ potential and rendered it irrelevant in global affairs—has permeated historiographies about international society after World War II. However, it is a deceptive starting point to reflect on the intersection of internationalism and empire. My paper uses John Foster Dulles to reconsider the relationship between anticommunism, sovereignty, and the United Nations during the early Cold War. The essay lingers, in particular, on Dulles’s ideas about international law and explores the continuity in his thinking from 1920s through his time as Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State in the 1950s. Although Dulles is remembered today as the anticommunist hawk who accelerated the growth of America’s military-industrial complex, his ideas were deeply informed by his background in and understanding of international law. By framing Dulles in this manner—contextualizing him within the histories of Miguel Jerónimo and Natasha Wheatley—this paper argues for a new way to think about the United Nations in the early Cold War. Dulles’s realism in no way negated his commitment to internationalism. Rather it was Dulles’s commitment to the United Nations order — and to international law more broadly — that informed his ideas about the stakes and meaning of the superpower contest.
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