5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Book Launch | Dean Acheson and the Obligations of Power

Dean Acheson is rightly remembered as the leading figure in the Truman administration in the years when the Cold War emerged, and, in particular, for his prominent role in the formulation of the American policy of containment. Yet Acheson’s contribution was more than that of Cold War statesman. His response to growing tensions with the Soviet Union was part of a wider and longer-term approach to international affairs. He embraced from a very early age the idea that the United States had international responsibilities. With its great economic and military power came duties. There would only be a stable international order if the major powers acted to promote stability. One of the central tenets of Acheson’s outlook was his belief that the British had provided this stability with the Royal Navy and the City of London, but that the First World War had ended Britain’s ability to wield this influence. By 1919, the United States had assumed the mantle of pre-eminent economic power. This new status required it to exercise the beneficent influence the British had displayed up to 1914. As a private citizen in 1939-1940 Acheson articulated this view, as he advocated support for the British and French in their fight with Nazi Germany. In office in 1941, he pressed a tough policy against Japan. At the war’s end he spoke in public and to Congress in favor of continued US engagement in the world. Acheson’s commitment to a policy of containment of the Soviet Union after 1947 was, therefore, a continuation of this larger vision of America’s place in the world. He believed that policymakers should recognize the obligations of power.

Michael F. Hopkins (Author) is Director of the MA in Twentieth Century History Program at the University of Liverpool. He is the author of Dean Acheson and the Obligations of Power (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). His other books include Oliver Franks and the Truman Administration (Frank Cass, 2003), and The Cold War (Thames & Hudson, 2011). He is the co-editor of Cold War Britain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and The Washington Embassy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). His articles have appeared in American Studies, Cold War History, Contemporary British History, Historical Journal, Intelligence and National Security, and Journal of Transatlantic Studies.

David Painter (Commentator) teaches international history at Georgetown University. His publications include Oil and the American Century: The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Oil Policy, 1941-1954; The Cold War: An International History; and Origins of the Cold War: An International History (co-edited with Melvyn P. Leffler); and articles on U.S. policy toward the Third World, U.S. oil policies, and the Cold War.  His current project is a study of oil and world power in the twentieth century. 

Charles Kraus (Moderator) is Program Associate for the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program.