Conference 2016

Last year’s inaugural conference was a complete success! Attendees heard papers delivered on several interesting topics, ranging from Anglo-American relations in Rhodesia in the 1970s to the rights of self-determination of peoples. We hope this year’s conference is just as good!

Below is a list of the titles of the papers given along with abstracts:

Keynote: Professor Nick White, ‘Entrepreneurship, the Cold War and Decolonisation: Australia’s “Mystery Millionaires” and Malaya’s Iron Ore’.

Panel One: The First World and its legacy in international relations history (chaired by Dean Clay)

‘What We Owe to the Monroe Doctrine’: Maintaining and Reframing the Monroe Doctrine During the First World War – Alex Bryne (University of Nottingham)

The Monroe Doctrine has continuously shaped the conduct of United States foreign policy since its enunciation in 1823 and it frequently served as a lens through which Americans understood the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. In the period between the Spanish-American War of 1898 and its centennial anniversary in 1923, however, the doctrine was subjected to an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and debate, which ultimately fractured its meaning. This paper seeks to position the First World War within this wider debate over the Monroe Doctrine and will argue that the war significantly complicated the ways in which the doctrine was understood within the United States. The doctrine became a central facet of the United States reaction to the war as Americans sought to reconcile its principles with the course of neutrality, belligerency and the peace-making process.

By the outbreak of the war in 1914, the Monroe Doctrine had become an important topic of intellectual and political debate, catalysed by the provocative work of historian Hiram Bingham who had demanded its abandonment in 1913. Given its prominence within the national consciousness, the doctrine was lauded for having kept the United States out of the conflict as the empires of Europe became engulfed in war. However, as the war developed, the preparedness movement chose to invoke the doctrine in its demand for naval expansion, encouraged by the possibility of a German threat to United States interests. The conflict invigorated demands for the doctrine’s Pan-Americanisation and it raised questions regarding the doctrine’s applicability to Canada. The doctrine was additionally a vital component of the debate over United States membership to the League of Nations, with its varied reinterpretations serving as bases for three competing visions of the United States’ place in post-war international relations.

“The Colonial Heritage of the Right of Self-Determination of Peoples” – Tom Phillips (University of Liverpool)

The right of peoples to self-determination is one of the rallying cries frequently adopted by liberation movements across the globe. This paper seeks to demonstrate that although the modern roots of self-determination lie in radical Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the right quickly came to be utilised as an instrument for and a justification of colonialism.

Woodrow Wilson’s version of self-determination started life as a method of promoting democracy abroad and fashioning new states out of the ruins of post-war Europe. Although it was applied unevenly, the principle was capable of transcending European state borders and attaching to specific populations and territories.

Later, self-determination became a political principle that justified imperial reorganisations in the Mandated Territories. The proffered excuse was that the peoples of Iraq and Syria and elsewhere were too backward to stand on their own two feet, and required a period of administration under the benign tutelage of colonial powers such as the UK and France. As the International Court of Justice noted in a 1971 Advisory Opinion, “There is little doubt that the ultimate objective of the sacred trust was the self-determination and independence of the peoples concerned”. Indeed, there is evidence that British officials saw self-determination as a kind of Monroe Doctrine for Arabia.

Although it was primarily third world states with the support of the USSR that pushed for the inclusion of self-determination in the human rights Covenants, the application of the right during the period of decolonisation rectified colonial borders and sanctioned the denial of sovereignty to pre-colonial societies.

Through the principle of self-determination, international law made decisions about the allocation of sovereignty. Some of those decisions continue to haunt us.

‘Among the great powers: Imperial Japan’s quest for equality at the Paris Peace Conference’ – Preston Arens (University of Waterloo)

In 1919, the triumphant powers convened in Paris to forge a new politico-legal world order following the Great War. For the emerging Japanese Empire, this was the opportunity to achieve parity as a great power in recognition of their contributions to the Allied war effort. But in crafting their requests the Japanese delegation required both caution and discretion. The old order had been severely damaged but many of its intellectual foundations remained intact. Though the political consensus behind European power had broken down, its racial and economic consensus – though damaged – survived the conflict. The lack of political consensus was an opportunity for Japan to increase its imperial legitimacy as a politico-legal entity. Gaining control of former German colonies then, was in part a means of establishing the territorial legitimacy necessary for attaining political ‘modernity’ as a self-made Asian Empire. Yet territorial gains alone were no guarantee of parity with the Western empires. To ensure a place among the great powers, Japan would also need to confront institutionalized notions of economic and racial superiority which were not subject to negotiation.
This paper investigates the claims and strategies of the Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference as they made their case for inclusion as a great power. The Japanese used Wilsonian rhetoric on national self-determination to temper their claims for equality in the face of perceived European racial and economic dominance, by recasting these demands in more legalistic terms. However, the delegates were more successful in their juridical-legal backed territorial claims, which exploited the lack of political consensus in Europe without challenging the racial and economic aspects of European hegemony. Exploring the dynamics of these negotiations sheds light on both the heterogeneity and continuity of European discourses of power, as well as the skill of Japanese delegates as they responded to the uneven terrain of the European diplomatic landscape.

Panel Two: Britain, the Commonwealth and diplomacy in the developing world, 1948-1979 (chaired by Dan Feather)

‘British propaganda and the threat of communism in China 1948-50’ – Katie Griffiths (University of Nottingham)

By 1948 it was becoming apparent that under the leadership of General Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would soon claim victory against Chiang Kai-shek’s National Party (Kuomintang) in the Chinese Civil War.  Britain, which had so far kept its distance from Chinese internal politics, began to reconsider its policy towards China and its recognition of the National Party as the rightful government.

As the Foreign Office closely monitored the situation in China, its own Information Research Department (IRD) was tasked with implementing anti-communist propaganda operations, as the parameters of the Cold War began to solidify. Such anti-communist publicity however became a source of acrimony for the Embassy and Information Officers in China, who regarded such an operation as redundant and even provocative in the climate of the Civil War.

Whilst the importance of propaganda to foreign policy in the Cold War has been well established in literature over the last thirty years, there has been relatively little work that explores the role of early British propaganda efforts in the Far East. This is despite the fact that it was to become the ‘hottest’ theatre in the global Cold War.

This paper therefore proposes to outline the activities of British propaganda in China from 1948, with the formation of the IRD, to 6th January 1950 when Britain took the decision to recognise the CCP as the de jure government. It will explore how Britain’s propaganda policy developed and was shaped during this period. It will question the traditional historiography in regards to Britain’s involvement in China, the perceived threat and Soviet association with the CCP, and the hierarchy and power that exists between the Foreign Office and Embassy.

‘‘Threats, bribes, promises and lies…’: Britain, America and the ‘poison chalice’ of progress in Rhodesia, 1977-79’ – Todd Carter (University of Oxford)

Stretching from the Ian Smith’s infamous Unilateral Declaration of Independence, on Armistice Day 1965, up until the birth of Zimbabwe in April 1980, the problem of Rhodesia hung like an ancient mariner’s albatross round the necks of successive British policymakers, its weight increasing with the years. Before long, it grew into a substantial issue in transatlantic relations too, so much so that, to one British Foreign Office official, it constituted “an essential part of our co-operation in world affairs”. Yet, despite this, the story of Rhodesia’s road to independence, a plot that intertwines so many of the dominant themes of the 1970s – decolonization, racial liberations, the Cold War, and civil rights – has been widely overlooked by scholars of the ‘Special Relationship’. Availing of the latest documentary material, this paper will not only prove how closely Washington and London collaborated over Rhodesia; it will also refute many of the errant claims made by Cold War historian Nancy Mitchell, in her benchmark study of President Jimmy Carter’s role in bringing Rhodesia to settlement. In so doing, it will catalogue the ways by which the State Department and the British Foreign Office sought to play a constructive and cooperative role in brokering a solution to the Rhodesian crisis, and sheds light on the role that personality and human relationships played in promoting (and occasionally obstructing) that objective. In addition, it uses Rhodesia as a case study to argue – as many other scholars are doing so currently – for far greater study of the 1970s decade (especially so in the study of the ‘Special Relationship’). Lastly, it also builds upon the scholarship of Peter Jones and Kenneth Morgan in challenging the commonly held assumption that maintaining a strong alliance with the US was consistently and chiefly the concern of Conservative Party governments in Britain.

Panel three: Perceptions and realities of British diplomacy, 1967- 2014 (chaired by James Brocklesby)

‘From hope to uncertainty’, Britain’s first year in the EEC, January to December 1973 – Lindsay Aqui (Queen Mary University)

It was with high hopes that Prime Minister Edward Heath took the UK into the European Economic Community (EEC) on 1 January 1973. It was a moment that signalled an acceptance of Britain’s role as a European, rather than global power, and drastically altered the Community. However, within twelve months it was clear that the UK’s relationship with its European partners was in trouble. Most historians argue that the UK’s challenges during the first year of membership were caused by poor timing, as Britain’s entry coincided with the Year of Europe Affair and October Yom Kippur War. But, is this a sufficient explanation?

This paper will explore Britain’s adjustment to Community membership during the year 1973, with a specific focus on Britain’s budgetary contributions. It will examine attempts to reduce the impact of Britain’s budgetary contributions on the balance of payments through the modification of existing Community policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy. In doing so, this paper will evaluate the strategies that Britain’s politicians and diplomats adopted for negotiating in the Community. It will explore the perception of British diplomacy held by the French government and the European Commission. It will ask what impact Britain’s adversarial political culture had on the ability of its diplomats to adjust to the Community’s way of conducting political business.

Ultimately, this paper will argue that the combination of unsustainable terms of membership and a strong institutional attachment to the ‘Westminster model’ contributed to Britain’s difficult transition to Community membership. It will offer conclusions about the nature of the UK’s relationship with European integration, particularly in the context of Britain’s characterisation as the awkward partner. For entry did not settle Britain into Europe, and the high hopes for Community membership held by Britain’s political elite were left largely unfulfilled.

‘No homosexuals should apply’, the sexuality bar at the FCO, 1967-1991 – James Southern (Queen Mary University/FCO)

In 1991, Conservative Prime Minister John Major announced that it would no longer be illegal to be a gay or lesbian British diplomat. What Major did not reveal in his statement, however, was that the lifting of the homosexuality bar had been the result of decades of intense internal debate at the Foreign Office (FO), as diplomats scrutinised the legitimacy of the policy from every conceivable political practical and ethical standpoint. Ever since homosexual acts between men were partially decriminalised in 1967, the FO had remained a citadel of exclusive heterosexuality – citing as its main argument the risk of blackmail from Soviet spies who, it was supposed, would extract state secrets from gay diplomats under threat of a public exposure of their sexuality.

This paper uses hitherto-unreleased files, held at the FO archive, to chart internal discussion about the homosexuality bar from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s. Analysing chronologically the contents of the files, it teases out the changes in social attitudes in Britain and in the international diplomatic community that developed over the second half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, it will explore the ways in which diplomats’ opinions and arguments reflect broader political discourse in each period – from the liberal early 1970s to the politically partisan 1980s.

Ultimately, the paper seeks to ask: what can historians learn from a study of the sexuality of diplomats? It argues that cultural histories of diplomatic organisations can enrich and refresh scholarly understanding of the mores, norms and mentalities that ultimately govern behaviour and practice in the international community.

‘Popular understanding of leadership in British conflict since 1982: Evidence from the Mass Observation Report’ – Matt Jones (Keele University)

This paper explores the narratives of leadership that are present within Mass Observation Project discourse between 1982 and 2014 and finds a relationship between recent overseas conflicts and political/diplomatic leaders that is complex and fluctuating. It suggests that, while the Falklands War was widely interpreted by observers to have been ‘Thatcher’s War’, frequently this link was severed by observers who instead focused on the failure of the foreign office in anticipating the crisis or discussed the conflict purely in national terms, detached from specific individuals or parties. This relationship is then largely absent through the 1990s, both in a Gulf War that is rarely linked to the Prime Minister or any individual, and in a Kosovo intervention where New Labour is referred to in passing. It is the onset of the Iraq War which once again sees conflict linked to leadership, though this time observers are repeatedly and unequivocally critical Tony Blair’s leadership. While moral or political legitimacy is an important factor in observers’ perceptions of legitimacy, knowledge of the past and an increasing criticism of the dominance of the United States form important underlying themes throughout the period.

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