Le Corbusier and the Idea of a Palace

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from Haakon Ikonomou:

What’s in a name? Marco Ninno (MA Student, Aarhus University) has written an intriguing piece on how the word ‘palace’ fundamentally influenced the search for an architect for the new League headquarters in Geneva, in this month’s blog post: A modernist in Geneva – Le Corbusier and the competition for the Palais des Nations.

You will find it here:
http://projects.au.dk/inventingbureaucracy/blog/show/artikel/a-modernist-in-geneva-le-corbusier-and-the-competition-for-the-palais-des-nations/

History of the Limited Test Ban Treaty: The Role of ACDA

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An interesting first-hand account by retired U.S. ambassador James E. Goodby of the origins and role of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in shepherding the Limited Test Ban Treaty may be found on the Hoover Institution’s website, here. This is the abstract:

“Public policy issues involving a complex mix of problems, exemplified today by climate change and the threat of nuclear war, require governance by institutions whose mandates and cultures embrace technological expertise as well as diplomatic and military skills. This paper is a case study of how such an institution operated during the Kennedy Administration to deal with the growing threat of radioactive debris in the environment and the threat of nuclear proliferation, and also put US-Soviet relations on a new trajectory. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty might not have been concluded during the Kennedy Administration had the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency not been established in 1961.”

Denmark and the League

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from Haakon Ikonomou:

Søren Friis (PhD Student, Aarhus University) has written a fascinating piece on
Denmark and the Early Years of International Studies under the League of Nations,
exploring some of the formative networks of so-called ‘intellectual cooperation’ in
the interwar years.

You will find the latest ‘The Invention of International Bureaucracy’-blog here:
http://projects.au.dk/inventingbureaucracy/blog/show/artikel/the-scandinavian-center-denmark-and-the-early-years-of-international-studies-under-the-league-of-na/

“Fake News”

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from Haakon Ikonomou:

Emil Eiby Seidenfaden (PhD Student, Aarhus University) has written a timely and intriguing piece on The League and the Combating of ‘False Information’, digging into the interwar discussions on what to do with Fake News.

You will find the latest ‘The Invention of International Bureaucracy’-blog here:

http://projects.au.dk/inventingbureaucracy/blog/show/artikel/the-league-and-the-combating-of-false-information/

Translators in the League

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from Haakon Ikonomou:

The latest blogpost of the “The Invention of International Bureaucracy” project concerns the Translation and Interpretation Service of the League Secretariat, and how they contributed, quite literally, to the common understanding of those showing up in Geneva. Interestingly, they hold a prominent place in the early memoirs and academic works of former League staff, as the truest internationalists of the Secretariat.

http://projects.au.dk/inventingbureaucracy/blog/show/artikel/an-international-language-the-translation-and-interpretation-service/

Gender and the League of Nations

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From Haakon Ikonomou:

Myriam Piguet (MA student, Aarhus University) has written a great piece on gender
distribution in the League of Nations, and the differences between ambitions and
reality in the early years of the Secretariat.

You will find the latest ‘The Invention of International Bureaucracy’-blog here:

http://projects.au.dk/inventingbureaucracy/blog/show/artikel/gender-distribution-in-the-league-of-nations-the-start-of-a-revolution/

What Diplomats Can Learn from Urbanists, and Vice Versa

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From Ian Klaus:

No matter where you sat — in a negotiating chair, as a representative of civil society, as a member of the media — the process that led up to the recent Habitat III conference on sustainable cities presented a trilemma.

The summit took place in Quito, Ecuador, in October, preceded by four months of formal political negotiations at the United Nations. However, to understand fully those talks, their subject matter and the potential impact of their outcome document, the New Urban Agenda, diplomats and participants needed at least three forms of well-developed knowledge.

First, given the issues in play, diplomats — of which I was one — and participants needed an understanding of urban dynamics. Second, given the setting, they also needed an understanding of United Nations politics, precedent and negotiating practices. And third, the well-informed negotiator or observer required a sense of contemporary geopolitical issues, from climate change to migration.

How many experts in modality negotiations, multi-modal transportation and multipolar geopolitics do you know? To find the practitioner-cum-academic who possessed two of these was difficult; three, a significant challenge. These are global, national and local geographic spaces that do not spend lots of time in practical dialogue with each other.

This intellectual and practical challenge does not mean, however, that multilateral institutions can simply ignore the challenges and opportunities presented by urbanization — that the global can simply ignore the local, or vice versa. As such, and with an eye to future multilateral negotiations in New York, Nairobi and elsewhere, it is worthwhile to reflect on the solutions that were found to this challenge in the Habitat III context, and to consider future work that will be needed.

Diplomats are not urbanists, so as the Habitat III process kicked off last year, there was catching up to be done. (Quickly — check out Edward Glaeser and Saskia Sassen from the library; email Genie Birch; and add Citiscope, NextCity and CityLab to your Internet bookmarks!) But given that there were so many issues that fell under the Habitat III umbrella — urban land, urban-rural linkages, the informal sector, urban culture and heritage, and so on — and that the negotiating teams were for the most part small, it became more realistic for negotiators to work at accessing expertise than to develop it themselves.

Accessing expertise

A series of approaches — some institutional, some informal, some hybrid — furthered this access. In advance of the negotiations, which got underway in May 2016, the conference managers released 10 technical “policy unit” papers and 22 “issue papers” focused on critical urban issues and written by international experts.

The admirable ambition was to provide diplomats and the wider international community with accessible expertise. And some of the better papers, such as Policy Unit Paper 4 on “Urban Governance, Capacity and Institutional Development” and Issue Paper 11 on “Public Space”, did just that.

The papers most helpful to negotiators linked the urban issue at hand — for example, public space — with questions of national and global governance. And they did so in a concise fashion, with the most useful papers more closely resembling traditional foreign-policy briefing papers than urban academic tracts.

Even with the policy and issue papers and supporting events at organizations such as the Ford Foundation, however, there were simply too many issues for a single diplomat or small negotiating team to absorb. (Citiscope receives support from the Ford Foundation.) As such, negotiators had to rely on and in certain instances trust experts or advocates.

In certain instances, the wider room of negotiators relied on the topical expertise that particular member states or negotiating party possessed. For instance, the European Union’s deep experience with regional urban development and South Korea’s keen interest in smart cities ensured that their interventions on those issues were well-received.

Another source of expertise was found in the civil society experts in the negotiating room. While the role and presence of civil society is a hotly contested political issue at the United Nations, the expertise added by the perspectives of practitioners, grass-roots advocates, academics and many others undoubtedly helped overcome knowledge gaps.

This channel of knowledge-sharing required a number of commitments. The United States and other like-minded member states had to negotiate for civil society to be included as observers in the negotiations’ modalities. They also had to stand up for that presence when challenged in the negotiating room, which happened on several occasions.

Meanwhile, civil-society representatives required the support of their respective organizations to spend the long hours in New York and elsewhere required to track developments in the negotiations.

And finally, negotiators and civil-society experts needed to develop relationships through which ideas and feedback could be shared. These relationships often were built on repeated informal interactions. The U. S. negotiating team, for instance, benefited from repeated exchanges with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations.

In the absence of a new generation of diplomats with backgrounds in urban planning, some of these practices should be considered in the future. Policy and issue papers are helpful, for instance, but linking the substantive issue with foreign-policy concerns and practices dramatically improves the effectiveness of such documents.

And with an eye toward solving knowledge gaps, member states must recognize that civil-society participation is not only a question of the politics of “who’s at the table” but also one of accessing expertise to produce better results.

Negotiating lessons

But educating and informing diplomats on urban issues, of course, is only one side of the coin.

Urbanists are not multilateral diplomats. While the subject of the New Urban Agenda was urbanization, many of the forces that shaped it were diplomatic. Just as diplomats need to bolster their urbanist chops, urbanists would do well to develop a better understanding of the multilateral landscape.

With that goal in mind, I’ve attempted to provide answers to three questions we received from many at the Habitat III conference, with the hopes of developing a more rounded set of lessons to be carried forward.

First, why did we spend so much time arguing about previous U. N. negotiations? The answer here is simple if discomfiting: Every new international agenda, agreement or accord affords the opportunity to reinterpret, if not renegotiate, those that preceded it.

In the 18 months leading up to Quito, the international community for the first time set out to develop a universal framework for development, an approach that raised the stakes for the Quito negotiations. This new framework included the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the third International Conference on Financing for Development, finalized in July 2015, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted two months later.

U. N. negotiations place great importance on precedent. But a shared recognition of the importance of precedent does not guarantee a shared interpretation of its appropriate use. To the contrary, it can encourage liberal interpretations, misrepresentations and cherry-picking.

In Paragraph 6 of the New Urban Agenda, the member states agreed that the previous outcomes mattered. But the fraught negotiations over numerous subsequent paragraphs, including many of which are no longer in the document, showed disagreement over the spirit and authority of those documents.

As negotiators from the U. S. Department of State, for example, we had to ensure that references to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda were consistent with the spirit of that document as understood by the U. S. Treasury Department, which participated in its adoption. In other words, negotiators are never going to be free to focus only on the issue at hand — rather, to effectively operate in the present, they also must keep an eye on the minutia and context of their negotiated pasts.

Geopolitics vs. urban concerns

Second, why does the New Urban Agenda mention “as appropriate” so often? In a 24-page document, the phrase appears 17 times.

Perhaps more than any other U. N. outcome document, the New Urban Agenda makes clear the importance of local governments and actors. In this regard, Paragraph 87 of the New Urban Agenda is particularly noteworthy: “We will foster stronger coordination and cooperation among national, subnational and local governments, including through multilevel consultation mechanisms and by clearly defining the respective competences, tools and resources for each level of government.”

This was an accomplishment. But such language that helps establish a precedent for the importance of local governments and authorities came with a cost: “as appropriate”. In the end, Habitat III was not a communal constitutional convention. Member states did not enter into the negotiations with the authority or goal to reconsider their respective political or legal orders. In an age of populism and nationalism, the question of national prerogative will continue to be a challenge for related U. N. negotiations going forward.

Third, what’s with the obsession over “red lines”? These are policy issues that if left unresolved can prompt a member state, or perhaps many, to break consensus on an agreement or outcome document. Any misrepresentations of the Paris Agreement on climate change, for example, were red lines for a number of member states, and could have potentially prompted the United States to break consensus.

Yet such issues are rarely the concern of mayors, so what why did these take up so much time in an urban-focused debate? It is true that very few of the red lines identified by member-state negotiators pertained to traditionally urban issues. Instead, they were often matters of geopolitics and the business of international relations, including sanctions and internationally recognized rights. At its worst, this could be interpreted to mean that negotiators prioritized geopolitical issues over urban ones — but that would be to draw, as many urbanists now recognize, a false dichotomy between the local and the global.

The issue of migrants in the New Urban Agenda provides a useful example. The Syrian refugee crisis has brought a regional and geopolitical issue to bear on the social fabric and budgets of cities. As such, the question of guaranteed access to services for migrants “regardless of their migration status” was not simply an abstract question of rights but also a pressing, crisis-driven issue that proved fraught because of the convergence of the global and the local.

Moving forward, “red line” issues increasingly will be issues playing out in cities around the world. Urbanists and civil-society advocates could strengthen their voices in multilateral settings if they understand the geopolitical dimensions of the challenges they face in their cities every day.

Learn your modalities

Diplomacy and urbanism are sexy — in concept. In practice, they are crafts of discipline, duration, detail and charisma.

In Quito, I saw a number of riveting presentations on subjects ranging from urban compaction in London and Berlin to the networking of South African cities. Among the most important offered by U. S. officials, in my opinion, was a presentation to civil-society members from U. S. State Department experts on modality negotiations — hardly riveting stuff, to be sure, and less conducive to flashy slides, but important all the same in building bridges and ensuring the presence of experts and advocates.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more excited to learn about multi-modal than about modalities, about ride-sharing than red lines. But if local issues are to have their hearing at the United Nations, we all have to develop a familiarity with both discourses, and ensure the ongoing connection of experts and practitioners from both disciplines.

Our Second Conference

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From Giles Scott-Smith:

Borders, Networks, and Organisations through the 20th Century
2nd Conference of the New Diplomatic History Network
Centre for Modern European Studies, University of Copenhagen
24-26 November 2016

In November the NDH network took its conference to Copenhagen for the follow-up to the inaugural gathering of the network at Leiden university in 2013. Once again, the three-day event demonstrated how rich and varied the current state of the field really is. Framed around three top-level keynotes, the conference consisted of 14 panels and a roundtable on social media and diplomacy. Speakers came from universities in nineteen different countries, and, encouragingly, the appeal of the network’s theme was confirmed with the attendance of many younger scholars and PhD students.

sam_0413
From left, Noe Cornago, Iver Neumann, and Geoff Pigman.

The keynotes set the tone for the three days, and I will concentrate on them for this report. Iver Neumann (LSE) provided the perfect start on Thursday with a perspective on the evolution of diplomacy. Noting that evolution is often seen as a loaded term of overweighted significance, Neumann argued for applying the notion of ‘tipping points’ (a term used in sociology since 1958 but which has the most application in climatology) and the identification of ‘punctuated equilibria’ (Eldridge & Gould, 1972) to designate moments when behaviour changes in fundamental ways. Placing this on to the development of diplomacy reveals key moments such as the development of complex polities, the arrival of permanent representation (not Renaissance Italy but the official contacts between Eastern and Western churches from 292AD onwards), the emergence of diplomatic systems, and institutionalism (forms of multilateral governance). The lecture generated some good debate, notably on the fact that evolution has not progressed linearly at the same speed but has seen many off-shoots and dead-ends (can we also see this in diplomatic practies?), and over the wider influence of technology as a decisive tipping point. Central to Neumann’s overview is the idea of progressive change, since tipping point in a climatological sense indicates a minor alteration that leads to an irreversible change in the system as a whole. Does diplomacy really evolve in those terms?

sam_0420
Geoff Pigman giving the keynote.

On the Friday Geoff Pigman’s keynote, entitled ‘Go Big or Go Home’: The Challenge for Trade Diplomacy in Europe and Worldwide, provided a perfect follow-up to the evolutionary opening of Neumann. Taking the starting point to be trade-as-diplomacy, Pigman traced a series of transformations as trade interactions adapted to and in turn altered the international environment in which it was operating. This took us through the industrial revolution (as the moment when the need for trade, due to the excess of goods, exceeded mere trade for diplomacy) and the first trade liberalization treaties (dating back to the Anglo-French Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860). Institutionalisation followed, with the 1902 Brussels Sugar Convention (that opposed the use of export subsidies) as a key marker, leading to the creation of GATT after WWII and the progressive locking-in of gains from free trade over time, and for an expanding community of participating nations. This ceded to the era of judicialisation, exemplified by the WTO’s dispute settlement system and the application of trade laws above the jurisdiction of the nation-state. Yet this era has been relatively short-lived, since the collapse of the WTO’s Doha Round in 2015 has signaled a new shift towards the arranging of trade deals outside of the major sites of post-WWII multilateralism. The Silk Road project led by China is a perfect example, with trade as diplomacy being focused along a specific vector, in so doing reviving the old trade routes of the past. This adds an interesting counter-point to the evolutionary argument, since it points towards diplomatic change as being circular rather than linear (and this also being highlighted through non-Western initiatives).

On the Saturday Noe Cornago of the University of the Basque Country rounded off the event with an intriguing investigation into the ‘diplomatic incident’. These happen everywhere, and while they can represent different levels of seriousness, they all indicate some form of contravening diplomatic practice and protocol. The only title devoted solely to this issue is Bely’s L’Incident diplomatique (2010), which nevertheless begins with the deflationary comment that ‘An incident is by definition not so important.’ Diplomatic incidents can often be seen as trivial, anecdotal, and semi-humourous, but at the same time they may well represent critical events that could have led to war. Their ultimate meaning therefore remains inconclusive, and while they may seem like fleeting moments, they hold a long history as a distinct category. Political Science has developed various models for describing the sequence of events that take place during a crisis, and this approach has fed into Event History Analysis. But this approach only treats diplomatic incidents as international crises, leaving aside the apparently more minor triviata that nevertheless still can be accorded that title.

It is the role of the historian to create a narrative of what happened in ’the past’, and diplomatic incidents can, after some examination, be identified as having collectively shaped the diplomatic system itself. International law recognises diplomatic incidents as moments of transgression of norms and formal rules that have been accumulated over time, such as concerning rank, protocol, reciprocity, immunity, and so on. Cornago then went on to provide a series of examples for when such transgressions occurred, ranging from Ben Franklin refusing to wear ambassadorial uniform when in Paris, to de Gaulle’s ebullient but misjudged ‘Vive le Quebec Libre’ from 1967. Other incidents indicate more serious cleavages in the intricate patterns of diplomatic norms, such as the repeated discrimination against African diplomats and statesmen in the segregated US South during the 1950s and 1960s, and the storming and occupation of embassy sites by mobs, most notably the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the ensuing holding of hostages. In this way incidents force the diplomatic system to respond ‘in order to ensure its own sustainability. As Bely put it, ‘incidents make transparent the relationship between the diplomat (in closed universe) and the society in which they operate’.

Cornago’s keynote was the perfect closure to the conference, because it was not a closure at all – instead, quite deliberately, it raised essential questions concerning the ways in which diplomatic practice (and diplomatic studies in turn) maintain their ‘shape’ while faced with constant tensions and threats to their established behaviour. This summed up the conference well – diplomatic studies as a field is facing an excess of approaches and perspectives, fuelled by innovative cross-disciplinary studies from the humanities and the social sciences. The New Diplomatic History network represents one of the few sites where these kinds of studies are encouraged to interact and exchange ideas. As a ‘state of the field’ event, Copenhagen therefore gave every reason for optimism. What needs to be considered next – as I mentioned at the opening of the event – is the extent to which the NDH network itself needs to define what it is about. Perhaps the network itself has reached a tipping point and should evolve in new directions. With this important thought in mind, I would like once again to thank my Danish colleagues for making the Copenhagen event possible: Karen Gram-Skjoldager, Dino Knudsen, Haakon Ikonomou, and Marianne Rostgaard.

New Project at Aarhus

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From Haakon Ikonomou:

The Department of History and Classical Studies at Aarhus University has begun a new project called The Invention of International Bureaucracy. This is a summary of the project:

“Over the last 100 years, the international political scene has become increasingly organized. More than 5000 international organisations now regulate global and regional political, economic and technical affairs. As a consequence international bureaucracy, i.e. international executive bodies that function autonomously from nation states and deal with international affairs, has become an important and increasingly contested feature of world politics.

Even so, the history of these non-elected executive bodies is underresearched. This project aims to shine a light on the roots of international bureaucracy and its particular institutional and socio-cultural characteristics by exploring the principles, practices and formative effects of the League of Nations Secretariat. With theoretical inspiration from political sociology and based on extensive multiarchival research, the project will explore the institutional norms and practices of the League Secretariat and investigate its exchanges and connections with national diplomatic and bureaucratic structures, internationalist networks and institutions and subsequent international bureaucracies of the 20th century.”

The project also contains a lively blog, the first three entries of which may be seen here:

Connecting the micro and macro of the League Secretariat by Torsten Kahlert

Between Internationalism and National Socialism – Helmer Rosting in the League of Nations Secretariat by Karen Gram-Skjoldager

L’esprit de Genève 2016 – Or: My First Meeting with the Archives of the United Nations Office of Geneva by Emil Eiby Seidenfaden