Abstract: World Peace through World Trade: IBM's Corporate Diplomacy before and after World War II

Corinna Schlombs


This paper analyzes IBM's corporate diplomacy in the decades surrounding World War II. It investigates the activities of the company's leadership in international governmental and non-governmental organizations such as the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the International Chamber of Commerce. Examining the changing meaning of the slogan ''World Peace through World Trade,'' it argues that World War II marked a shift in IBM's relations with international organizations. Before World War II, the work of IBMs charismatic chairman Thomas J. Watson, Sr., for the International Chamber of Commerce suggested that free trade and reduction of tariff barriers would create a peaceful global order independent of intergovernmental organizations. After the war, Watson sought the support of intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations for regulatory frameworks that enabled the pursuit of international corporate operations. Thus, the meaning of the slogan ''World Peace through World Trade'' subtly shifted to ''World Peace for World Trade.'' This paper is based on the analysis of IBM employee magazines as well as secondary literature on IBM. Building on Michael Porter's analysis of local and national government interventions to promote national competitiveness, it provides insights into the growing role of inter-governmental organizations for international competition.