Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Symposium on the League of Nations

The latest issue of the Leiden Journal of International Law features a symposium on "The League of Nations and the Construction of the Periphery." Articles include:

The 1937 International Sugar Agreement: Neo-Colonial Cuba and Economic Aspects of the League of Nations, by Michael Fakhri
To many in the West, the League of Nations was to establish political peace between nations. To the Cuban sugar-producing elite of the 1920s and 1930s, however, the League was an important socioeconomic institution used to augment many of Cuba's first modern state institutions. This article explores how and why Cuban delegates were the principals behind the 1937 International Sugar Agreement – one of the League's few operational economic treaties. This treaty sheds light onto how actors from the so-called industrial core and agricultural periphery used international law, institutions, and practice to negotiate and renegotiate their relationship with each other.
Empire des Nègres Blancs: The Hybridity of International Personality and the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–36, by Rose Parfitt
The ‘Abyssinia Crisis’ of 1935–36 – in which one League of Nations member (imperial Ethiopia) was annexed by another (Fascist Italy) – presents one of the clearest twentieth-century illustrations of international law's ‘progress narrative’. International lawyers are encouraged to draw a salutary lesson from the crisis: namely that Ethiopia's sovereignty – and, indeed, the peace of the entire world – might have survived the 1930s if only international law had been properly enforced. Yet, the assumption upon which this lesson depends – to the effect that Ethiopia's only discursive contribution to the crisis was passively to regurgitate the relevant clauses of the Covenant – is profoundly ideological. For this assumption effects a double suppression: erasing Ethiopia's strategic construction of a hybrid, partially Abyssinian international law from the discipline's memory; and concealing from scholarly view the possibility that Ethiopia's annexation might have resulted from actions that were in accordance with, rather than in violation of, interwar international legal norms regarding sovereignty and the use of force.
Transforming (Private) Rights through (Public) International Law: Readings on a ‘Strange and Painful Odyssey’ in the PCIJ Mavrommatis Case, by Michelle Burgis
Straddling both the centres of (European) power and the shifting dynamics of the post-Ottoman world in a quest to guarantee private rights through public international legal redress, the PCIJ Mavrommatis case provides a rich resource for interrogating the extent to which international law during the League period could speak for voices on the edge of empire. In this article, historical consideration of the regimes of empire and Mandate form the backdrop to an exploration into how international legal discourse (re)configured the relationship between the core and the periphery, especially for those peoples awaiting the promise of self-determination and sovereignty. The figure of a lone Greek investor and his dashed hopes in the newly created Palestine Mandate is the backdrop to this tail of ever-shifting interpretations of public and private rights, of speech as well as silence before and beyond the Peace Palace.
Creating and Recreating Iraq: Legacies of the Mandate System in Contemporary Understandings of Third World Sovereignty, by Usha Natarajan
This article explores the League of Nations' role in state formation in Third World or peripheral states and its legacy for contemporary understandings of Third World sovereignty. It examines Iraq under British Mandate, and UN and Coalition of the Willing interventions. This research was prompted by the international-law community's outrage when the Coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003. While the invasion was seen by many as an affront to international law, there was also something faintly familiar about the Coalition's reasoning for the invasion. This feeling of déjà vu escalated once regime change was followed by lengthy nation-building. The idea of recreating Iraq was not a new one. The British were tasked with something similar under the League of Nations Mandate System. UN interventions into failed states also attempt comparable transformations. Indeed, the more one contemplates international law's interventions in Iraq, the less shocking the Coalition's invasion becomes. It starts seeming foreseeable and even inevitable.
Fabricating Fidelity: Nation-Building, International Law, and the Greek–Turkish Population Exchange, by Umut Özsu
Supported by Athens and Ankara, and implemented largely by the League of Nations, the Greek–Turkish population exchange uprooted and resettled hundreds of thousands. The aim here was not to organize plebiscites, channel self-determination claims, or install protective mechanisms for minorities – all familiar features of the Allies’ management of imperial disintegration in Europe after 1919. Nor was it to restructure a given economy and society from top to bottom, generating an entirely new legal order in the process; this had often been the case with colonialism, and would characterize much of the Mandate System in the interbellum. Instead, the goal was to deploy a unique legal mechanism – not in conformity with European practice, but also distinct from most extra-European governance regimes – in order to resolve ethno-national conflict by redividing land, reshaping national identities, and unleashing new processes of capital accumulation.

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