Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan

Nunan, Humanitarian Invasion (Book Cover)

Timothy Nunan
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Follow on Twitter @timothynunan

How did Afghanistan in 2016 end up, yet again, as the graveyard of empires? Not only do Taliban franchises control much of the countryside outside of Kabul, but the start-up Islamic State battles them for influence. Tens of billion of dollars of aid have gone missing. Many Afghans are voting with their feet, forming one of the largest refugee diasporas in the world (a title they held until the Syrian Civil War).

Yet as my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) shows, tortured attempts to develop Afghanistan have a long history. Sure, events like the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) have left a deep imprint on how outsiders view the place. But for much of the twentieth century, neutral Afghanistan wasn’t at war with any of the superpowers. And when the Soviets went into Afghanistan, they did not annex it into some “Soviet empire.” The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was a dues-paying member of the U.N. General Assembly, and Kabul played host to international conferences touting the regime’s solidarity with the Third World. Continue reading “Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan”

Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After

1946_Churchill's-'Iron-Curtain'-speech

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

The 5th of March marks the seventieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he declared that an ‘iron curtain’ had descended across Europe. Delivered in the presence of US President Harry Truman, who had been instrumental in securing the former Prime Minister his invitation to speak, the address is well known as a landmark in the onset of the Cold War. Yet it is rarely considered in its full historical context. For the speech – formally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’ – was not merely a criticism of Russia. It was the means by which Churchill publicly enunciated his vision for a new world order. Continue reading “Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Album_cover_shoot_for_Aladdin_Sane_1973_Photograph_by_Brian_Duffy__Duffy_Archive
Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photography by Brian Duffy.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From how the Cold War shaped David Bowie to lessons from Japanese Canadian internment, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Debating the History of Humanitarianism

Human-Rights

Andrew Thompson
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History
University of Exeter

Humanitarianism developed at the intersection of Decolonization, the Cold War, and new & accelerating forms of Globalization. Decolonisation was about much more than the ending of colonial relationships: what was at stake was the dismantling of an entire global order: an old world of imperial states was replaced by a new world of nation states and this ushered in new patterns of cultural, political and economic relations. In the existential struggle that was the Cold War, the control of overseas territory mattered intensely to each side’s sense of security and power.

Capitalist West and socialist East competed to convince nearly and newly independent African and Asian states to adopt their models of humanitarian and development aid. As a result it became more difficult to distinguish aid given to further state interests from that given according to recipient needs. Globalisation meanwhile expanded the range of voices to which humanitarians had to listen while radically differentiating them. Aid agencies intensified their use of the international media, yet were exposed to greater pressures from their donor states and publics.

Together these 3 geopolitical forces − Decolonization, the Cold War, & Globalization − raised far-reaching questions about the relationship of international organizations and NGOs to state power; the basis upon which humanitarian needs were identified and prioritized; and the interaction of humanitarians with non-state armed groups. Continue reading “Debating the History of Humanitarianism”

Soviet Internationalism in Latin America

SovietInternationalism

Tobias Rupprecht
History Department, University of Exeter

‘This is a great conservative system,’ reported the visitor following his trip to Moscow, ‘there is no lack of order, no anarchy, no lack of discipline! Everyone respects the authorities!’ While the liberal leaders of the materialist and soulless West allegedly no longer took up a stance against decadent art, degenerate music, and immoral sexual libertarianism, the leaders in the Kremlin, he claimed, heroically defended traditional family values and a ‘healthy patriotism’.

The tone of this argument will sound rather familiar to a contemporary observer of Russia’s reactionary domestic policies and its regression to Cold War style foreign intervention. A swashbuckling Vladimir Putin has attracted the tacit, and sometimes open, admiration from many Europeans who no longer feel represented by what they see as the liberal mainstream in politics and media. Continue reading “Soviet Internationalism in Latin America”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

From the Intercept
From the Intercept.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From inside Iran’s revolutionary courts to today’s secret Scramble for Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Britain, France, and their Roads From Empire: A New Talking Empire Podcast

fight or flight thomasMartin Thomas’s path-breaking book Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire tells how the world’s two largest colonial empires disintegrated dramatically after the Second World War. Although shattered by war, in 1945 Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, with imperial territories stretched over four continents. And they appeared determined to keep them: the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers and writers who promised in word and print at this time to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. Yet, within twenty years both empires had almost completely disappeared.

The collapse was cataclysmic. Peaceable ‘transfers of power’ were eclipsed by episodes of territorial partition and mass violence whose bitter aftermath still lingers. Hundreds of millions across four continents were caught up in the biggest reconfiguration of the international system ever seen.

In this new Talking Empire podcast Professor Thomas talks about the book with Professor Richard Toye.