In This Review

Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World
Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World
By Akira Iriye
University of California Press, 2002, 246 pp.

Iriye offers an ambitious, sweeping reconceptualization of twentieth-century world politics that places transnational and nongovernmental groups at the core of global developments. Traditional accounts that give primacy to states, diplomacy, and war miss what Iriye argues is the most important force at work: the growth of networks of shared interests that cut across borders. These transnational organizations, spurred by deeper globalizing forces of technology and politics, have created an alternative world society that coexists with sovereign states and nations. Thus the decades before 1914 did not just pave the "road to war" but saw the flowering of social and cultural internationalism, which in turn set the stage after 1919 for agreements in areas such as maritime safety, nature conservation, education exchange, and labor rights. The Cold War decades were not simply a long peace produced by nuclear stalemate but an era of democratization, consumerism, economic integration, and colonial liberation. The resulting transnational society was only dimly related to the East-West struggle. At each historical turn, Iriye contends, states and empires were destroying the peace and dividing up the world while transnational organizations, embracing a sort of "global consciousness," struggled to preserve the vision of one world.