Should the negotiation of the post–World War II peace treaties in Europe have been pursued separately or should they have been approached within the framework of a general European settlement? The debate on this fundamental foreign policy issue, which has left only faint tracks in the documentary record, is fully explored here for the first time.
W. W. Rostow, in his second book in the Ideas and Action Series, describes a meeting that took place on the eve of the departure of Secretary of State James Byrnes for Paris to participate in treaty negotiations. The meeting was probably the only occasion during 1946 when the peace treaty issue as a whole was explicitly addressed at a high level with lucid alternatives on the table. The plan laid before Secretary of State Byrnes by his senior subordinates, Under Secretary Dean Acheson and Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Will Clayton, aimed to halt the movement toward the split of Europe and the emergence of hostile blocs. It outlined an all-European settlement, including economic and security institutions linked to the United Nations. Only one part of the proposal gained Byrnes's support and came to life: the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva. But the Acheson-Clayton proposal foreshadowed the Marshall Plan.
The book's larger theme is the process by which the Cold War came about. Rostow's interpretation differs from either conventional or revisionist views, emphasizing as it does the process of incremental deterioration that occurred in 1946 and the role of uncertainty and weakness in American policy.
This second volume in the Ideas and Action Series will interest general readers as well as those with a particular interest in World War II. It should be of special value to political scientists, economists, military historians, and policy makers, and may serve as a case study in a variety of courses.
W. W. Rostow (1916–2003) was Professor of Economics and History at the University of Texas at Austin.