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The Beginning(s) and End(s) of the International Order

Courtesy of caratello/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 22 May 2017.

These days, the pulse of the world’s political health is running fast. The general prognosis is terminal, the end of the international world order, as we know it. But determining what order we are on the verge of losing could do with more diagnosis, including tracking the symptoms of the disorder (and order) back to their beginnings. One of the useful roles that historians can play in this regard is to offer a longer view of what we have lost, or, at least, the international order that seems to be disappearing from view.  So bear with me as I offer a “Cook’s tour” of two centuries in search of the point where the end possibly began, in order to understand better the history of the aims—or “ends”—of international order itself.

1814?

European historians have long assumed that the early nineteenth century made “international” politics possible: In 1814, after decades of continental wars against French hegemony, a coalition led by Russia, including Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and Britain (as well as some smaller now non-existent sovereignties) emerged victorious and established what became known as the “Congress system.” At its most basic, this comprised negotiations through discussion—famously identified with the Congress of Vienna—and transnational cooperation in the interests of permanent peace. In the years that followed, ambassadorial conferences in London, and occasional conferences around the smaller towns of the European continent, became a method for managing territorial and ideological flashpoints.  Within a few years, the British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh confidently reported to his Prime Minister the practical value of this transformation of European politics:

how much solid good grows out of these Reunions, which sound so terrible at a distance. It realy [sic] appears to me to be a new discovery in the Science of European Government at once extinguishing the Cobwebs, with which Diplomacy obscures the Horizon – bringing the Whole bearing of the system into its true light, and giving to the Counsels of the great Powers the Efficiency and almost the simplicity of a Single State.[1]

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Politics of Monuments and Memorials

The German occupation monument in Budapest

The German occupation monument in Budapest, courtesy Tim Venchus/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 12 July 2016

In March 2014, Budapest’s Liberty Square became home to the newest controversial monument in the city. The now-notorious German occupation monument consists of two parts: an angel and an eagle. In the middle of ivory columns lined up in a wedge, Archangel Gabriel stands with his arms wide open. His right hand is holding a golden orb, an element of the Hungarian royal insignia. His eyes are gracefully closed, as if he is fully aware of his destiny. A giant, pitch-black eagle—the symbol of Imperial Germany—ominously flies overhead. Its three-pronged claw swings as if it will snatch the orb from the angel’s hand.

Immediately after its construction, the monument was met with fierce criticism from home and abroad. Civil organizations denounced the Hungarian government, saying it was “falsifying the Holocaust” by erecting a monument that glosses over Hungary’s collusion with the Nazis. The monument comes as another expression of surging nationalism in the country, which the current government has stoked by granting voting rights to foreigners based on their Hungarian ethnicity, disseminating anti-immigrant questionnaires filled with leading questions, building fences along the country’s borders with Serbia and Croatia to block the influx of refugees, and making openly xenophobic statements against non-Christian migrants.

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Historical Memory and its Impact on Sino-Japanese Relations

Nanjing Massacre Bronze Head

Yesterday marked an important anniversary in the history of modern China. In keeping with Western Europe, the United States and others, the country commemorated the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second World War and remembered its war dead. Beijing declared September 3 to be a national holiday, so that all Chinese citizens could take part in events. However, the rhetoric and tenor of the Chinese commemorations was different in many respects from the somber, understated and generally uncontroversial American and European ceremonies. » More

Turning Back Time: Putting Putin’s Molotov-Ribbentrop Defense Into Context

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (left) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (right) agreeing on a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Image: unknown uploader/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radion Liberty on 16 May, 2015. Editor’s note: Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Russian President Vladimir Putin got the world’s attention on May 10 when, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he unapologetically defended the infamous 1939 nonaggression pact between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — named after the two foreign ministers who signed it in the late-night hours of August 23, 1939 — was formally a nonaggression pact. But it also encompassed a secret protocol under which the two dictatorships agreed to carve up Eastern Europe. » More