Woodrow Wilson and the Post-Cold War Order
WHEN the Cold War ended, professional observers of international politics began an informal contest to describe the new post-Cold War world. This was known as the "Kennan competition", for the goal was to do for the new era what the American diplomat George Kennan had done for the post-World War II period in his influential 1947 article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." In that essay he identified the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union as the centerpiece of international affairs and coined the term "containment" to describe American policy toward its chief adversary.
In the course of the first post-Cold War decade an impressive array of books and articles about the new world order appeared--one of the most influential of them, Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History?", in the pages of this magazine--but none gained acceptance as definitive. The answer to the question of how to characterize the world after the Cold War, however, was hiding in plain sight. The key lies in the ideas of the most controversial and least successful of all American foreign policymakers, the twenty-eighth president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.
Both the controversy and the failure center on Wilson's plan, unveiled at the Paris Peace Conference following World War I, for an international organization to keep the peace. The League of Nations was established but the United States did not join, and the organization did not prevent the outbreak of World War II two decades later. One reason for the American rejection of the League was the president's incompetence in lobbying the U.S. Senate in favor of American membership. Both at home and abroad, Wilson was a poor statesman.