Historical accounts of the Cold War usually relegate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to footnotes, if they acknowledge the GATT at all. This article examines the impact of the Cold War on the institutional development of GATT, showing how geopolitical considerations influenced decisions about whether to grant membership in GATT to Communist and non-aligned countries. The accession debates in GATT also reveal the multicentered dynamic of the Western alliance, exposing a variety of views about whether the Cold War was a battle to be waged or a condition of global international relations to be accepted. But if the GATT could not evade the Cold War, its secretariat also manipulated Cold War circumstances, beliefs, and priorities to strengthen the institution. The result of the GATT accession debates was to reposition the GATT as a forum and instrument of the Western alliance, rather than the universal organization it was supposed to be, and to impart new meaning to the process of liberalizing world trade.

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