In August 1944, representatives from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States gathered at the Dumbarton Oaks mansion in Washington to lay the foundations of the postwar global governance architecture. Coinciding with the liberation of Paris by Allied forces, the meeting set the stage for many of the international and regional political, security and economic structures on which the global order has been based since 1945: the United Nations and subsequent multilateral organizations, as well as international agreements on trade, tariffs and currencies.
Under the auspices of these arrangements, states were willing to cede some sovereignty in order to forge a more resilient international system able to prevent global war and economic depression. They also supplemented these institutions with alliances and multilateral partnerships in order to deter enemies and foster shared concepts of security and governance. In short, states identified ways to further national interests in a mutually beneficial manner.
Multilateral institutions and alliances are far from a panacea, but in the years since 1945, they have contributed significantly to keeping the peace and providing millions of people with the opportunity for a better life. With the end of the Cold War, the need to manage global security in a suddenly unipolar environment offered new opportunities and challenges for these institutions. The U.N. Security Council’s role in authorizing the use of military force was reinforced, and regional organizations came to play a more prominent role in international politics. The center of gravity, however, remained with states, and peace and security largely depended on the conflicts that occurred either between or within them.