VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1914, June 28)
VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945
A. Global and Comparative Dimensions
Two world wars and a worldwide economic depression of great magnitude provide the global background and foundation for developments in the first half of the 20th century. The globalization of political, economic, and cultural life intensified in a context of the continuing relative domination by the West. However, the core of the West itself spread beyond Western Europe and increasingly, Western Europe became a less central part of the modern industrialized world. By midcentury, world affairs came to be dominated by the two great superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. The changing dynamics of world relationships can be seen in two different areas: (1) the emergence of significant patterns of global connections in political, ideological, economic, and sociocultural structures; and (2) the further intensification of international and interstate relationships on a global scale.  1
1. Emerging Global Relationships
Important changing patterns of global connections developed in three areas in the first half of the 20th century: (1) the development of global structures of interstate, economic, and sociocultural relationships; (2) the emergence of globally competing sociopolitical ideologies for shaping the nature of societies in the modern era; and (3) significant experiences with global dimensions in economic life, social transformation, and culture.  2
a. Developing Global Institutions and Structures
From the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II, many different types of global relationships developed. Three important types of structures emerged: (1) political organizations and relationships among states; (2) multinational economic and business structures; and (3) nongovernmental organizations for cultural, religious, and humanitarian purposes. In all of these areas, foundations had been laid before 1914, but during the era of the two world wars and the “interwar period” there was a significant development of global institutions and relationships in many different areas.  3
1. 1914–1946. Interstate Institutions
At the beginning of the 20th century, relations among the major states primarily represented alliances based on treaties and agreements reflecting relatively temporary arrangements among blocks of powers rather than continuing international institutional structures. Few permanent interstate organizations existed. However, the destructiveness of World War I led to major efforts to create permanent international organizations for the regulation of interstate relations or conflict resolution, as well as for the coordination of international services.  4
World War I negotiations. In 1914, there was no permanent organization for assembling the prospective antagonists. The existing International Court of Justice in The Hague had neither jurisdiction nor power. During the war, occasional efforts at mediation were made, but the war came to an end with a series of armistice agreements that were negotiated often on a bilateral and temporary basis. The major agreements were the armistices between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire (at Mudros, Oct. 1918), Austria-Hungary (Nov. 3, 1918), and Germany (Nov. 11, 1918). The PEACE CONFERENCE AT VERSAILLES (See 1919, Jan. 18) began in January 1919 and defined the main lines of international relations for the world war settlement. The Treaty of Versailles (signed June 1918) defined the conditions of the peace settlement.  5
The LEAGUE OF NATIONS (See April 28) was created by the Treaty of Versailles to deter war and provide an administrative structure for managing international relations and conflict resolution. The League came into being with a permanent secretariat in Geneva in 1920 (Sir Eric Drummond, first secretary-general). In the context of the operation of the League, a number of interstate organizations for coordinating important services were created, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), created in 1919 as a part of the League of Nations to improve global labor conditions, and the International Commission for Air Navigation, created in 1919 to assist in international civil aviation.  6
The Permanent Court of International Justice was created in 1921 in accord with the League's Covenant and established in The Hague as a continuation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  7
Existing international institutions like the Universal Postal Union, the International Institute of Agriculture, and the International Meteorological Organization worked in collaboration with the League of Nations in the continuing process of coordinating important international services.  8
MULTINATIONAL CONFERENCES continued to be an important instrument for international relations. These enabled major powers to act without the constraints imposed by League of Nations procedures. One major theme for such conferences was arms control and the possible renunciation of war. Some of the most important of these were:  9
Washington Conference (1921–22), which defined Great Power relations in the Pacific basin and in China, as well as set limits on naval armaments.  10
Locarno Conference and Treaties (1925) provided for border guarantees in Europe (See Oct. 5–16).  11
KELLOGG-BRIAND PACT, signed in Paris in 1928, involved renunciation of war but made no provision for sanctions.  12
London Naval Conference (1930) (See 1930, Jan. 21–April 22) dealt with submarine warfare and other naval armament agreements signed by Great Britain, the U.S., Japan, France, and Italy.  13
Disarmament Conference in Geneva (1932) was attended by 60 states and produced no effective agreements. By the mid-1930s, such major conferences were effectively replaced by the Great Power negotiations that were part of the buildup to World War II.  14
Other major conferences were held on a variety of subjects. Many were held in the context of European powers' working out the economic implications of the Versailles Treaty and German war reparations. Others defined international cooperation in many nonpolitical areas. Important examples of these are the Madrid Conference (1932) of the International Telecommunication Union, which merged the Telegraph Convention (1865) and the Radiotelegraph Convention (1906), and the Havana Conference (1928), creating the Pan American Convention on Air Navigation.  15
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.