World War I Alliance Politics: Lessons and Legacies

World War I was the defining event of the 20th century and spurred the modern study of international politics. Alliances arrangements have long been recognized as playing a critical role in the war's onset. Moreover, wartime shifting alignments and alliance management influenced the war's duration and eventual outcome. A new multi-work project looks at the role of alliances in the war's onset and conduct.


First, Woodrow Wilson campaigned on keeping the United States out of World War I, despite several earlier German naval provocations. Nevertheless, he ultimately chose to declare war on Germany in March 1917 and fight along side Britain and France as an "associate power". Wilson's experience (along with President Lincoln's decision to use force against the Southern states after promising not to do so) exemplifies when leaders choose to "back in" to a conflict after promising to stay out. In a co-authored paper published in the American Journal of Political Science, I and my colleagues explore what such "word-deed mismatches" teach us about "audience costs" and credible commitments.


Second, a new book project co-authored with Rosella Capella Zielinski is titled Grown from War: The Great War Origins of Global Economic Governance.


This project unpacks the legacy of allied economic cooperation during World War I. Of the various economic resources in need by the allied powers, food supply was deemed critical. The strain of war compelled the major allied powers to experiment with various forms of institutionalized food cooperation, including the creation of international organizations possessing supranational authority. It was through this experimentation that the allied powers created the "Wheat Executive" in late 1916.  This body then served as the template for subsequent allied economic organizations, which were then reconstituted at the onset of World War II.  Following the second World War, these economic institutions served as the blueprints for designing the international institutions that governed the global economy after 1945. Hence, the core features of prominent international institutions that operate in the modern global economy -- the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and even the World Trade Organization -- were first devised during World War I.



These slides present an overview of the book project and summarize our evidence pertaining to the European Coal and Steel Community.



Click here to see a very early paper on the project. If you wish to cite this paper (in order to cite the project), please cite it as:


Cappella-Zielinski, Rosella and Paul Poast. "The War Financing Origins of American Liberal Institutionalism: The Inter-Allied Purchasing Commission and American Entry into World War I". Paper Presented at the Chicago Compliance in International Security Institutions Workshop. Chicago, IL. May 5, 2017.



While this project is new, we have already presented components of it (using the above slides) at the annual meetings of the Peace Science Society and International Studies Association, and in seminars/workshops at the University of Southern California, University of Wisconsin, Texas A&M University, University of Illinois, University of Colorado, Dartmouth College, Yale University, and Boston University.  It has also already been featured in media outlets, such as in this article on the future of the "Liberal Order"


Third, I am also working on two papers exploring the military logistics of alliance war planning which draw on the alliances in existence just before and during World War I. More details on these papers to come!

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