Wednesday, 17 June 2020

MA International Relations Postgraduate Study Trip by Morgan Kelly Wines Phillips

The January study trip to Brussels and the Hague was a large reason why I decided to attend Oxford Brookes University. Since I recently graduated with a Bachelors in Political Science and European Union Area Studies, I was very excited by the thought of going to some of the world’s most important and influential institutions when it comes to International Relations. When our lecturer, Lucy Ford, announced that this year we would be the first to visit NATO in Brussels, I became even more enthusiastic about the trip.

During the four days in Brussels and the Hague, we visited the International Criminal Court, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the DG for Migration within the European Commission, the European Parliament, and NATO. All of these organizations focus on various aspects of International Relations, such as international law, politics, military, migration, and economics/trade. Each meeting brought forward various experts within their respective fields, new and fascinating talks, and a sense of awe. 

Although these organizations all focus on different and essential aspects of International Relations, they all discussed their reliance on the trust and cooperation between the member states and how those virtues are essential to conducting their duties. The representatives of the OPCW and NATO specifically stated that the trust between their organizations and the 193 or 29 members, respectively, is vital. The OPCW trusts that each member has destroyed or is in the process of destroying any chemical weapons within their possession, whereas, NATO trusts that each member state will provide any resources necessary when the time comes, especially if Article V is enacted.

The OPCW and NATO are not the only organizations that rely on trust to operate. The ICC relies on the cooperation of its member states, and sometimes others, to help conduct investigations against defendants, arrest those who violate international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and even help staff the organization itself. It relies on its member states to be able to enact the ICC’s mandate in maintaining international order, International Human Rights Law, and International Humanitarian Law. Without trust and cooperation, the ICC would be ineffective and unable to follow its mandate. 

The European Commission and the European Parliament also depend on trust to conduct their individual duties. The DG on Migration within and into the EU is dependent on every member and some non-members to help take in as many refugees as they can and help integrate them until it is safe to return to their home nation(s). The level of trust and cooperation needed for these highly sensitive cases is very high because it has to follow through successfully without harming or putting the refugees or asylum seekers in danger. The European Parliament also needs high levels of trust and cooperation to be able to create and agree on policies that have the best interests of every state in mind. The MEPs are not just fighting for the opinions and interests of their constituents in their hometowns but also their individual nations and the rest of the EU. The decisions of the MEPs allows the EU to grow and change for the better.

The field of International Relations is extremely dependent on allies and positive relationships between nations. It is how policies are created, laws are upheld, economies boom, and peace endures. Without trust and cooperation organizations like the International Criminal Court, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, NATO, the European Commission, and the European Parliament, will be unable to operate under their given mandates and International Relations may not be feasible. I loved meeting with every representative who took time out of their busy schedules to educate us about their specific organization, their respective roles within the organizations, and what they have learned during their tenure. It taught me that it is crucial to find ways to cooperate with various states in a range of issues from migration to trade and from law to military means. The trust and cooperation these organizations experience is what allows them to continue to ensure peace, stability, and economic and/or political success on a global level. It was amazing to learn about it firsthand, and it has fostered my wish to work within the discipline of International Relations.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Women, Publicness and the Versailles Treaty by Molly Cochran

Few people today realize that a women’s peace organization was the first public body to offer commentary on the Treaty of Versailles.[1] The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom [WILPF] convened as an international congress in Zurich just five days after Germany was presented with the draft treaty on 7 May 1919. Jane Addams, WILPF’s International President, obtained a copy of the draft treaty en route to Zurich from Paris and its terms were at the center of WILPF’s congress agenda. The women of WILPF contributed to the international politics of the Versailles Treaty, engaging in public criticism of both the treaty and draft Covenant of the League of Nations and they participated in critique that flowed from many quarters ranging from those who thought the treaty too harsh to those who believed it was not harsh enough. Among the former, WILPF’s liberal internationalism was unique for its feminism and radical social ethics.  

Image result for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The organization that became WILPF was convened in April 1915 by internationally-networked suffrage campaigners, whose work had been hampered by the formidable impasse of world war.[2] WILPF formed the first international women’s peace organization. The resolutions of its 1915 Hague Congress protested not only against the madness of war generally, but also the “odious wrongs of which women are the victims in times of war”.[3] The Congress concluded that women “have a special point of view”[4] on the subject of war and can contribute to “the work and ideals of constructive peace”. Thus, the Hague report asserted that it was “essential, both nationally and internationally to put into practice the principle that women should share in all civil and political rights and responsibilities on the same terms as men”. [5] In calling for the establishment of a “Society of Nations” in one of its Hague resolutions, the Congress demanded that women take part.

WILPF also acted on the basis of a humanist belief system[6]. Their own struggles for equality and protection against violence generated a sense of responsibility to the what they called the “human claim”. The touchstone for their activism was a commitment to the equal respect for persons - irrespective of race, religion, gender or class – and the belief that this principle was crucial to foster international peace. WILPF’s concept of peace was linked to an expansive idea of justice. Peace for WILPF was grounded in cosmopolitan claims of justice for individuals, not only in relation to civil and political democratic entitlements, but with respect to economic, social, and cultural requirements too. Their peace politics was a politics of recognition in relation to both the equality of persons and the economic redistribution necessary to meet basic human needs globally. WILPF reconfigured 20th century liberal internationalism as a transnationalism that understood individuals, and not only states, to be subjects of global justice. WILPF’s international advocacy over the inter-war years would go on to challenge the hegemony of sovereign state discourse, and its privileging of the principle of national self-determination over the democratic autonomy of individuals. The substance of WILPF’s critique of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations was democratically exacting, and at more than one level.
Along with liberal internationalists, WILPF voiced the need for a new diplomacy, one committed to international law and institutions and to democratically controlled international policy-making. However, WILPF’s idea of post-war international diplomacy was distinctive for its unstinting commitment to transnational relations inclusive of individuals. WILPF’s advocacy promoted “publicness” – a generalized and equal concern for persons – as an alternative inter-societal value to that of state sovereignty and the dominance of a state-based normative order.
WILPF’s agenda was not without political foundation. The practice of sovereignty was undergoing a process of re-invention during the Paris peace conference.[7] The principle of ethnic national self-determination did important work in the peace settlement, but so did a second principle articulated in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech of January 1918: “justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak”.[8] Publicness was invoked in the establishment of both an internationally governed Mandates system with responsibility for the “well-being and development” of the peoples living in mandated territories, and in an internationally governed Minorities system that guaranteed the civil and political rights of minorities living in the new and expanded states of Central and Eastern Europe created by the Versailles Treaty. The invocation of ideas of self-determination, popular sovereignty and the equality of persons are all expressions of a moral concern for the democratic autonomy of individuals. However, the relationship between the three was under-specified in the Treaty and further undermined by their application in a normative order of states whose leaders continued to hold racist beliefs and economic, strategic and imperial designs. The counter-posing of publicness as a basis of international peace and order gave WILPF’s critique of the Versailles Treaty the quality of an emancipatory politics, setting their post-war international activism apart from like-minded, voluntary international organizations.
A delegation of Addams and five other WILPF members made direct representations to the Paris Conference, reporting their Zurich Congress Resolutions to Colonel House (among others). The Congress Resolutions focussed in the main on the draft Covenant of the League of Nations, understanding peace to be best secured when “the common interests of humanity” were held uppermost and believing a League of Nations to be the most likely forum for generating this potential. However, the proposed Covenant of the League of Nations was disappointing, in their view, for omitting elements critical to publicness as an inter-societal value, and WILPF urged far-reaching democratic amendments.
The Congress resolutions pressed for radical forms of political and economic inclusion at the international level to be realized through the League of Nations. Like many liberal internationalists, they advocated adherence to the principles of self-determination unfettered by secret treaties and the strategic interests of Allied and Associated Powers, as well as protection of the civil and political rights of minorities and the promotion of the development of “all backward races”. However, WILPF went a step further in demanding a “right of direct presentation to the League of Nationalities and Dependencies within any government of their desires as to self-government”.[9] They also argued that democratic inclusion should be extended to women too, with the establishment of full equal suffrage and the adoption of a Women’s Charter acknowledging the ways in which the status of women “is of supreme international importance”[10]. More generally, conditions for transnational democratic inclusion facilitated through the League of Nations required that the executive power of the League be democratically elected and that the national ratification of treaties be performed by an elected legislative body. Economic inclusion required that the League should promote universal free trade as well as free access to raw materials for all nations on equal terms. WILPF also wanted to see a plan for the production and distribution of the necessities of life at the smallest cost, and for the League to seek the abolition of the protection of investments of one country’s capitalists in the resources of another state. Finally, WILPF appealed for amendment of the Covenant to be made easier. 

WILPF’s Zurich Congress could not agree to endorse the League of Nations as provided for the Versailles Treaty, but the women found understanding on one other point: WILPF would continue in the programmatic activity it had begun from its Geneva headquarters, operating on the shared belief that the League was “in process”, and could potentially be open to the influence of international public opinion and pressure from WILPF to influence a critical counter-politics for the transnational management of international problems. WILPF shaped publicness into a radical form of democratic intent, which during the inter-war period challenged the League of Nations to make matters of vital international concern into ones of equal human concern.

This piece first appeared in IHAP newsletter of the American Political Science Association, which also contains other contributions about the Versailles Treaty and is available here 

[1] Emily Balch, A Venture in Internationalism (Geneva: WILPF Maison Internationale, 1938), p. 9-10.

[2] The International Committee of Women for a Permanent Peace was the international organization created from the 1915 International Congress of Women at The Hague, which became WILPF in 1919.

[3] International Congress of Women at the Hague -  April 28 -May , 1915: President’s Address, Resolutions Adopted, and Report of Committees Visiting European Capitals, (Amsterdam: N.V. Concordia, 1915).

[4] The 1915 Congress Report says it has no “original theory” to offer as to why women are hit “with particular emphasis” by the waste of human life in war, yet the will summoned by over 1000 women to meet as they did in wartime is noteworthy.

[5] International Congress of Women at the Hague, 20.

[6] Helena Swanwick, British Section President writes in the The Future of the Women’s Movement (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1913), p. xii that it is a shame that “humanism” had already been appropriated for general purposes since it would “far more properly connote the women’s movement than the word feminist”.

[7] Leonard Smith, Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[8] Nearly three years earlier at the Hague Congress, WILPF called for the institutionalization of “principles of justice, equity and good will” in a Society of Nations such that “the struggles of subject communities could be more fully realized and the interests and rights not only of the great Powers and small nations but also those of weaker countries and primitive peoples” could be met.

[9] This anticipates criticisms that will disturb the veil of legitimacy the League Secretariat and Council wished to lend the Minorities and Mandates systems in creating a petitioning mechanism to air individual grievances with the League’s oversight. Grounds for self-governance were not petitionable.

[10] International problems requiring the attention of the League according to the Women’s Charter include: protections within international law against slavery and traffic in women; access to education and professional training; rights of women to earnings, property, guardianship of children, and to retain and change nationality; adequate economic provision for the service of motherhood and recognition of responsibility for children born out of wedlock on fathers as well as mothers.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Networking among Women, a positive approach to address gender disparity in academia by Jasmin Dall'Agnola and Sarah Whitmore

On September 13th 2018, the launch of the first Eurasian, East and Central European Studies Women’s Academics Forum (EECES Women’s Academics Forum) took place at the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society at Oxford Brookes University. The one-day workshop attracted a global audience and united early-career and established female academics from more than 10 different countries, researching the former Communist space. In addition, the workshop tackled the issue of gender disparity in academia. 

The Forum kicked off with a short introduction by the main organizers Dr. Sarah Whitmore and Jasmin Dall’Agnola, both from Oxford Brookes University. Afterwards, Prof. Mary Buckley (Fellow at Hughes Hall, Cambridge University) elaborated on her personal experiences as an established female academic, researching former Soviet countries, in her insightful keynote speech “Looking back and looking forward”.  Later, the stage belonged to the various panels, which provided a platform for early-career female academics to exchange ideas and discuss their research with other female scholars, who are at different stages of their career. In addition to research related topics, gender specific questions, such as safety issues in fieldwork and the reconciliation of motherhood and academia, were raised during the discussions. To finish, we held a roundtable where established female academics shared their experiences of “Gender disparity in academia” with the audience.

The main task and aim of the EECES Women’s Academics Forum was “networking”, “networking” and “networking”, which all delegates did with huge enthusiasm. As feedback demonstrated, this went well. For example, it united two participants who had not seen each other since their undergraduate studies in Germany (10 years ago). The whole day was accompanied by a lovely, positive atmosphere, as one of the more senior attendees remarked. It is exactly through this positive ambience that this new global Women’s network operates. As a result, the network does not limit itself to the issues of Sexism and Feminism but rather, promotes the visibility and profile of female scholars’ research within the various academic subfields of the studies related to the former Communist space.

As part of the EECES Women's Academics Forum, the first Agenda Meeting for the BASEES Study Group for Early Career Female Scholars took place. Committee members were elected and a first draft constitution was agreed, which needs to be approved by the BASEES executive committee meeting in November 2018. In the near future, the network seeks to expand its membership on the global scale through the organization of social and professional networking events between early-career and established female academics.

One of the next items of its agenda is the successful organization of 2 panels, consisting of early-career female academics, for the BASEES annual conference in Cambridge on 12th–14th April 2019. The panels will promote the quality and impact of Women’s research for the understanding of the former Communist space. 

For membership enquiries, please email

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Populism, cynicism and “the people” by Tom Crook

Scholars continue to labour over the ideological credentials of “populism.” At best, populism is ideologically emaciated; at worst, nothing more than a style of politics—a mode of posturing, speaking, signifying. But few dispute that a core part of its appeal is an ability to mobilize popular cynicism about the conduct of mainstream parties and politicians, left and right. Even self-consciously minimal definitions insist that a defining feature of populism is its depiction of “elites” as essentially self-serving and self-interested. As most liberals would agree, it is entirely right that we should be sceptical, even cynical, about those who govern us. But populism thrives on something more extreme and visceral: an often rage-fuelled conviction that we’re all being ripped off, lied to, preyed upon, ignored and neglected by the establishment. “Drain the swamp!” the crowds yelled at Trump’s rallies back in the autumn of 2016, capturing one of the few readily identifiable ideologicalor stylisticprops of populism.
This is not all, of course. The other key element of populism is “the people,” which is pitted against a corrupt elite and in whose name the populist leader operates. The two operate together, making for the master distinction of populism. As is often pointed out, if criticizing elites was the hallmark of populism, then most political actors, of whatever ideological affiliation, would qualify as populist. But the populist leader goes further and adds a crucial anti-pluralist twist by claiming that he and he aloneand it’s commonly a male protagonistspeaks for “the people.” The democratic appeal of populism is thus easy to grasp. Democracy has somehow been subverted and captured by self-interested, liberal elites, when really, as democracy dictates, power should reside with the people—and it’s this situation that the populist leader claims he will reverse, returning power to where it rightfully belongs.       

More might be said about this crucial facet of populism, however ideologically grounded or not. Who, after all, are “the people”? Are they really as homogeneous as the rhetoric would imply—is it not just a fictitious referent? There is a rich literature now on the sociological mystifications of populism. Nonetheless, it is here where the cynicism of populism is said to stop. Some scholars indeed have argued that populism turns upon a peculiar idealization of “the people,” which, defined in more or less exclusive nativist and/or class-based terms, is held up not just as the true source of sovereignty but of a fundamental moral decency and common sense. Small wonder, perhaps, that some have sketched the conceptual roots of populism back to Rousseau’s notion of “the general will.”

It is true that populism thrives on a distinction between a corrupt “elite” and a morally wholesome, if perhaps na├»ve, “people.” But it doesn’t necessarily follow that populism is any less cynical about those it claims to defend and represent. Nor again that it is any less cynical when it comes to the conduct of politics, or even the very meaning of politics.

This is most apparent in the way “the people” functions as one of populism’s core referents, which involves a two-fold manoeuvre that is at once overtly cynical and more subtly so. In the first place there is the altogether limited way populists conceive of “the people” and their grievances, where there is a striking absence of any sense that “the people” have, or should have, any additional responsibilities or democratic capacities than they already possess. Instead, they are presented as those who have, in one way or another, suffered because of the apparently rampant self-interest of others, principally immigrants or elites, or some combination of the two. It follows that what “the people” want is not the better mediation of interests or their distribution and managementthe old-school “elite” solutionbut the swift and brutal assertion of their own much-neglected self-interests, whether in the form of their cultural resources and identity, access to welfare, or share of national wealth. In policy terms, what populists offer can often be boiled down to a simple formula: life must be made much harder for those who are not truly of “the people” (immigrants, minorities and elites) and much easier for those who are—a cynical, low-grade politics of spite and revenge on the one hand, and entitlements and material comfort on the other.

Perhaps this is not too unusual. After all, tax cuts and enhanced access to welfare have long been part of the politics of established parties. But populism is distinguished by a second and more subtle, if again quite cynical, manoeuvre which completes the first and, in a remarkable twist, seeks to dignify it. This, too, concerns the people, and in particular the way populism seeks to reduce democracy to a matter of mere counting. Crudely, “the people” are the numerical majority and therefore, as democracy dictates, in a position of political authority: their interests and needs carry the most weight. And yet, this very same people, so populism suggests, is also defined by an aversion to politics and democratic association. It is this latter facet that completes the picture, for this is also what endows “the people” with an unassailable moral goodness: composed of average, ordinary and common folk—so-called “real people”“the people” have no desire to engage in the dirty and convoluted world of politics and collective deliberation, beyond voting in secret now and then. Put another way, what populism offers is indeed an “anti-political” politics, as scholars suggest; but more than this, it quite cynically asserts its superior democratic credentials on the basis of an altogether impoverished conception of democracy as the aggregation of self-interested selves.

The above is but a sketch and a crude and abstract one at that; and there are of course multiple other manifestations of the cynicism of populism, not least its casual conspiracism and dismissal of uncomfortable facts and counterarguments as the product of biased, self-interested perspectives (“fake news”, etc.). But the key point is that this pervasive cynicism might help to explain why populism is so ideologically thin and superficial, and why scholars grasp after paradoxes in order to characterise its peculiar qualities (as in an “anti-political” politics).

At any rate, “the people” of populism are decidedly not the same as those imagined by Rousseau’s “general will,” which envisaged a perpetual becoming of patriotic, engaged citizens. Nor do they bear any resemblance to “the people” idealized by interwar fascist and communist movements, which invoked transformational images of a “New Order” and a “New Man.” Rather, they are much closer to Richard Nixon’s “silent majority,” whose moral authority lay not just in their majority status, but also in their quiet silence and subservience: they were unsullied and uncorrupted by politics and a desire for more expansive forms of citizenship.

Tom is currently writing a history of political corruption in modern Britain. He co-organised (with Barrie Axford and Rico Isaacs) the “Populism 2.0” symposium held in January of this year.