Cold War story with no heated discussion

International Relations since 1945
November 26, 2004

The old firm of Young and Kent (formerly Kent and Young) is back in business. International Relations since 1945 offers itself as “a general account of the nature and development of the postwar international system with the origins, nature, and end of the Cold War at its centre”.

The authors aim to tell the tale and at the same time to analyse it, or at any rate to signpost the boundaries of the interpretative field. They are not loath to lay claim to novelty and controversy. Their pitch is to the tutor stonewalled in silence and the student hungry for ideas. “For those teachers eager to get students thinking for themselves and contributing ideas to seminars and tutorials this should be a provocative book which outlines different ideas as well as providing basic information. As such, it should offer something to students seeking to discover and reflect on new interpretations rather than simply discovering the facts and the so-called correct explanations.”

Set against these advanced expectations, the result is something of a disappointment. A provocative textbook is a tall order. That is not what is delivered here. In fact, the chief merit of the work is its even tenor. International Relations since 1945 is a global tour d’horizon . (“The Cold War: A Global History” might have been a more accurate title.) There is a certain amount of interpretative huffing and puffing, a periodic tilting at what might be called vulgar realism, a proliferation of qualification and a reluctance to arbitrate among competing explanations.
The book is not lacking in crisp judgements or interesting arguments - about the idea
of containment, for example, or the one-eyed question of motivation, habitually addressed to
the other side - but the overall impression is of a somewhat flattened history and historiography alike: a long story skilfully digested, rather than a strange brew of peril and paranoia and a cat-fight of competitive discourse.

John Young and John Kent do not make a drama out of a crisis - not even the Cuban missile crisis, which unfolds meekly in a melange of action and explanation, where the grammar is at greater risk than the blood pressure.

The writing is often rather stilted. (“As 1963 began the Cold War might be said to have been entering a new phase.”) And it is hard to avoid the feeling that the authors have not been well served by their publishers: the copy-editing is lamentable, the index is inadequate, there are no maps at all and the referencing is not as clear and helpful as it might be. All this may well provoke student readers, but if it is global history since 1945 they are after, then the first recommendation in the bibliography, David Reynolds’s One World Divisible (2000), is hard to beat.

Alex Danchev is professor of international relations, Nottingham University.

International Relations since 1945: A Global History. First edition

Author - John W. Young and John Kent
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 743pp
Price - £24.99
ISBN - 0 19 878164 4

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