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Reviewed by:
  • Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World
  • Andrew Hurrell
Akira Iriye , Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 246 pp. $40.00 cloth, $16.95 paper.

Akira Iriye's important book analyzes the multiple roles of interstate organizations and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the modern world. It makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on globalization in general and global civil society in particular. It provides a broad and extremely valuable historical overview of international organization in the twentieth century. Most of the recent accounts of global civil society in the fields of international relations (IR) and political science are non-historical. Either the analysts ignore history altogether and claim that the emergence of transnational civil society in the post-Cold War period represents a novel and unprecedented development (a view that Iriye's book will quickly dispel); or they refer to earlier instances of NGO activity and activism (for example the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century) but without giving any sense of how this aspect of international life developed through time and can be related to the [End Page 186] broader historical development of international and world society. Iriye's achievement is to provide precisely this kind of broad overview. In so doing he raises many questions that should serve as a catalyst for further research.

Iriye builds on his earlier work in arguing that "the exchange of ideas, cultures, and persons has served to develop an international community that was not completely identifiable with the world order defined by military power and considerations of national interests" (p.191). He is centrally concerned with challenging the view that the international history of the twentieth century can be told solely from the perspective of great-power geopolitical or ideological interaction and conflict. He wants to encourage a reconceptualization of modern world history by highlighting the historical development of transnational political, economic, and cultural connections among states, societies, and individuals. He focuses on six types of organizations: those dealing with humanitarian relief, cultural exchange, peace and disarmament, developmental assistance, human rights, and environmentalism. He includes transnational religious movements when their activities are secular rather than confessional or evangelical. For this reader at least, the analysis of cultural and educational exchanges and of private transnational networks in the field of relief and development work was the most novel and thought-provoking.

The book begins with a brief look at the golden age of internationalism in the pre-1914 period in which increased integration and exchange led many people to believe that "efforts should be made to ensure peaceful interactions amongst peoples of the world through transnational initiatives" (p.11). Iriye covers the beginnings of formal international organization and the expansion of NGOs in cultural and intellectual exchanges. He argues that "the activities of nongovernmental organizations, as well as of international organizations, were adding a new element to world affairs.... Globalization, as a state of mind and as an institutional expression, was dawning" (pp.15, 18). He traces, in the years following World War I, what he sees as the resumption of this earlier trend, and he is keen to underscore how the logic of international collaboration in such fields as public health, transportation, and communication continued to develop despite the intense international and ideological conflicts of the period.

In examining the evolution of the Cold War, Iriye again stresses the "survival of internationalism" amid conflict: "Intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations, whether engaged in cultural exchange or in relief work, were demonstrating that there were other themes in international affairs in the Cold War, that geopolitics defined only an aspect of the post-war world, and that visions of global community had not disappeared" (p.52). Iriye makes much of the expansion of transnational activity in the 1960s and 1970s. He believes that "self-consciousness about global community may have been a key aspect of international relations in the 1960s" (p.98), and he lays particular emphasis on economic development and foreign assistance. Moving on, he believes it is "beyond dispute" that the history of international...