Diplomacy by the People: Non-state Actors in the Practice of Foreign Policy

AHA Session 31
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 312 (Hynes Convention Center)
Akira Iriye, Harvard University
Erez Manela, Harvard University

Session Abstract

Over the course of the last twenty years, historians of international relations and foreign policy have increasingly turned their collective focus from high-level, state-to-state and diplomat-to-diplomat relations to explore the many other levels at which countries interact. As a result, there's been a greater recognition of the role that low-level groups and individuals can play in affecting foreign relations. This panel explores the role of non-state actors and nongovernmental organizations in U.S. foreign relations in three, very different postwar settings: in Hong Kong in the 1950s and early 1960s, in Europe and the United States in the 1960s, and in South Africa in the late 1960s. Together, these papers offer suggestions for new ways to understand and interpret diplomatic history. The term “non-state actors” is, by necessity, very broad. Depending on the time and place, it can mean very different things. In studies of public diplomacy, it refers to anyone not formally engaged in government employ that joins in the effort to influence public opinion; in human rights dialogue, it can refer to dissidents and organizations that offer a voice apart from that of the state. In these papers, we see a wide range of individuals and organizations attempting to exert influence on United States actions, from the very connected Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals, whose founder was a member of the U.S. Congress but which operated independent of the U.S. government; to the engaged citizen activists who wrote letters for Amnesty International in Western Europe and the United States. The term includes transnational organizations, which are not of any one state, but operate to influence it; the panel will also examine the United Nations and individuals whose affiliation with that organization supercedes their commitment to their country of origin. That was the case with Enuga Reddy and the U.N. Apartheid Committee. Exploring the agendas of and advocacy by these actors offers new and interesting perspectives on how the United States chose to interact with the world. These three papers will show how non-state actors and nongovernmental organizations were vital to the formation and development of U.S. policies toward decolonization, refugees, and human rights. These issues in turn were critical to in the formation of the modern world in the Cold War and beyond. Moreover, by building upon research conducted in the archives of states, NGOs, and individuals across languages and continents, these papers also demonstrate the exciting new international orientation of diplomatic history.

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