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Two Stages of Transition from a Region of War to a Region of Peace: Realist Transition and Liberal Endurance


  • Author's note: I am grateful to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library's Institute for National and International Affairs for supporting this research. I thank Emanuel Adler, Steven Bernstein, Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, Aaron Hoffman, Axel Hülsemeyer, Pat James, Korina Kagan, Ned Lebow, André Lecours, Joe Lepgold, Jack Levy, Michael Lipson, Ed Mansfield, Benjamin Miller, Csaba Nikolenyi, Ido Oren, John Owen, T. V. Paul, Galia Press Bar-Natan, Matthew Rendall, Leander Schneider, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and/or advice on earlier drafts of this paper. I also thank Melanie Anestis, Jamil Aouiti, Martin Bergeron, John Kenney, Anna Kisielewska, and Adam Wygodny for their research assistance.


How do war-prone regions stabilize? This article tests realist, liberal, and constructivist hypotheses against the paradigmatic case of regional peacemaking, Western Europe after World War II. It concludes that none of the three theories perfectly explains the process of Franco-German reconciliation after 75 years of bitter conflict. Instead, the transition to stability occurred in two stages. The first stage, the transition, was driven by realist factors, principally the existence of a common Soviet threat and active American hegemonic participation. In the second stage, however, stability and cooperation were entrenched by liberal mechanisms, notably the institution of democratic political regimes and cooperative international institutions. I thus inductively arrive at the novel theoretical position that realist mechanisms may initially be required to compel regional rivals to put aside their differences, at least temporarily, and cooperate on the grounds of realpolitik, but liberal mechanisms are ultimately useful to sustain and deepen regional peace.