Humanitarian Intervention: A History (2011)

Brendan Simms & D. J. B. Trim (eds.)

The dilemma of how best to protect human rights is one of the most persistent problems facing the international community today. This unique and wide-ranging history of humanitarian intervention examines responses to oppression, persecution and mass atrocities from the emergence of the international state system and international law in the late sixteenth century, to the end of the twentieth century. Leading scholars show how opposition to tyranny and to religious persecution evolved from notions of the common interests of ‘Christendom’ to ultimately incorporate all people under the concept of ‘human rights’. As well as examining specific episodes of intervention, the authors consider how these have been perceived and justified over time, and offer important new insights into ideas of national sovereignty, international relations and law, as well as political thought and the development of current theories of ‘international community’.

Publisher website here.


The History and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention and Aid in Africa (2013)

Editors: B. Everill & J. Kaplan (eds.)

The history of humanitarian intervention has often overlooked Africa. This book brings together perspectives from history, cultural studies, international relations, policy, and non-governmental organizations to analyze the themes, continuities and discontinuities in Western humanitarian engagement with Africa.

Publisher website here.

History of Aid to Laos: Motivations and Impacts (2009)

Viliam Phraxayavong

From publisher website here.

History of Aid to Laos is the first comprehensive publication on development assistance to the aid-dependent country of Laos. Written by a former senior Lao official in international cooperation, the book investigates the situation of a country dependent on foreign aid for more than half a century and the ways in which donor nations have shaped Lao development and political relationships through the aid process. The story has involved a wide array of protagonists and antagonists, including Lao players of different factions (Right, Neutralist, Left Neutralist, Left and Royalist) and the Cold War rivals and their allies, who gave substantial support.

The book traces foreign aid to Laos beginning with the French administration in the 1950s, through American military-dominated assistance targeted to defeat communism, the communist bloc’s economic rescue and the related political upheaval, the increasing dominance of financial institutions and Western bilateral donors as Laos’s economy opened up, and finally, the ascendant influence and assistance of neighboring countries, notably China, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Malaysia and Korea, which have rushed into Laos’s open market economy to exploit its natural resources and eco-tourism potential.

After decades of foreign aid, Laos is left with a continuing dependence on development assistance, a status as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and a host of new and old problems such as human trafficking, drug addiction, corruption, acute lack of human resources, and environmental degradation from mining, dams, and other “fruits” of economic development.

About the Author

Viliam Phraxayavong earned his PhD from the University of Sydney and is currently an associate of the Australian Mekong Resource Centre. He was director of international economic cooperation in the Royal Lao Government’s Ministry of Economic Planning and Cooperation from 1964 to 1975.

Videos from the International Committee of the Red Cross Conference on Buddhism and International Humanitarian Law, Sri Lanka (2019)

The conference featured alongside monks and generals, historians and religious studies scholars, some of the video presentations can be watched on the site. Mike Charney’s from SOAS, connected history to look for Burmese Buddhist thinking conducive to the tenets of International Humanitarian Law.

Colonial and Post-Colonial State-think and the Problem with University Education in Southeast Asian Countries (2021)

Michael W. Charney

SOAS, the University of London

Comments made on 8 January 2021 as part of FORSEA’s “Suppression of Academic Freedoms by ASEAN universities” Webinar

The full video for the event is here:

In reference to the decision by NUS Press’s decision to cancel Pavin’s book contract, the problem here is not a university press per se NOT publishing one academic’s book, this happens to academics all the time — books are constantly rejected on the basis of peer review, incompatibility with the mission of the press and so on. An abandonment after selection and contract would seem to indicate that a university press responded to undisclosed “stakeholder” concerns. This seems to fit a pattern that has overtaken the evolution of universities across Asia. Professionally, I advocate the role of historians in trying to explain the background of contemporary problems and that policies could be better informed if they are made with an understanding of the history behind them, and this is what I will try to encourage briefly here. 

Across the long history – and I look beyond the first university at Bologna to early proto-universities at Nalanda and Gundishapur as well, so thousands of years – universities were actually given to parochialism, the teaching of religion, the education of noble sons to do and think exactly as their fathers had done and their peers would do, the university was a place where thinking was structured according to what I call state-think— I am here applying James Scott’s concept of state space to the patterns of thinking[1]  — in a way that made thinking easy to conform to the state, to run the state, to lead the state. [2]

The unspoken part of this process was learning how to control, suppress, and exploit the vast majority of the population. Colonial authorities knew this when they introduced colonial universities in the decades up to and just after World War I. These were to teach the colonial mother tongue, European ideas and values, and both obedience and the figurative whip through the provision of certain kinds of knowledge and behaviour. Select Southeast Asian youth of means and merit, would walk in elite children and walk out colonial bureaucrats, military officers, and intermediary elites. They saw or were meant to see the world as sharply defined, hierarchically stacked ethnic minorities, right and wrong moral sexual behaviour, the legitimacy of the huge global and racial disparities in wealth and just why Southeast Asians on the whole deserved to be servants and peasants, and why the indigenous mode of thought was inherently inferior to the western mode of thought.

But the 1920s and 1930s were when that beautiful moment happened, when Southeast Asians found in their education all the things the colonial state did not wish them to see, learned about revolutionary ideology, why the global disparity in wealth was a result of slavery and exploitation, and why their own modes of thought were not inferior.  Universities in Southeast Asia continued to train the governing and commercial elites, but they also produced the revolutionaries and thinkers who would effectively lead their countries to victory in Burma, in Vietnam, Indonesia, and against absolute kingship in Thailand in 1932.

Here I will make three, very specific points. 

1. Southeast Asian Universities have been designed for state-think

First, Southeast Asian universities like universities in many former colonies have been designed to be places for state-think. Universities in the region were usually founded by colonial states or post-independence states, not to encourage free and critical thought, but to service the state and populate a gentleman’s club of bureaucrats, officers, and business leaders.

The primary mission of these universities remains for them to be centres not of the development of critical thinking but merely places to teach their students what to think rather than how to think, to reinforce an imaginary in which certain political and economic elites are dominant as the only possible and acceptable world in which to live, and to supress any deviation from conformity. 

2. As a historical Phenomenon Southeast Asian Universities are Battlegrounds for contesting state-think

My second point is this, Southeast Asians everywhere as students and academics have always struggled in universities to carve out spaces to challenge these efforts, to explore, experiment, to question. The “Southeast Asian” university if it is successful, not as a state project, but as a historical phenomenon, is a battleground where the state-think can be challenged and students whether they leave as conformists or revolutionaries have at least had the opportunity to question the order of things and change, even just a little, they come out better able to make their own choices as a result.

This is the historically conditioned role of universities and this development is one of many features of the arrival at a free and open society. Yes, the attempt to impose state think in universities is true in these as well because it comes out of bureaucratic rationality not social morality.  So, I am not worried about states trying to determine what universities teach, again there are historical reasons why this EXPECTATION by governing elites is valid.

3. Rising Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia today seeks to close the intellectual counter-spacesproduced by academics and students

Third, while governments in democratic and democratic aspiring societies have one version of state think that can tolerate a fairly high level of contravention, authoritarian and military governments have less tolerance, none. The 1960s to 1980s saw many of these regimes, in some countries somewhat longer and then a return to earlier civilian governments and the universities returned to normalcy. The retreat of Democracy in the last half decade across the region, or the return to authoritarianism we have seen in Myanmar since 2017, however, has created the trend I am most worried about today. 

What is working against the historical role of universities across Southeast Asia today is the increasingly effective closing up of what we can call the intellectual counter-spaces of both students and academics by the invisible hands we’ll call for the moment “stakeholders.”[3] This is the critical moment when universities go from saying this is what the state wishes to teach you to this is what the state limits your understanding to be. And they cancel the contract for a book that showed a different way to view one of the societies in the region. Worryingly, I think this is the trend, especially with the apparent success of many authoritarian states in controlling covid-19. 

What students and academics in universities globally need to do, not just in the West but in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere is to help students and academics in ASEAN universities defend their intellectual counter-spaces in their own universities through pressure such as the reviewing boycott launched by Pavin and by providing, even just virtually, intellectual lifelines that reach over the military picket and the invisible shields of the authoritarian-minded “stakeholders.”

[1] James Scott discusses his ideas about state space in James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) and in idem, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). 

[2] I am using state-think here not to refer to ideology or political support for the state per se but the introduction or reinforcement of structures of thought that do limit thinking to certain avenues and blind the mind to alternative routes, drawing the intellectual inextricably into a particular intellectual framework in which the state’s ideas can make sense, ensuring that while the university product may support many different political choices in later life, alternatives that would fundamentally change the political order, do not even show up on the university graduate’s intellectual register.

[3] Observers often confuse as intellectual counter-spaces the many high-profile research centres that have popped up at well-founded universities in the region in the last thirty years. Some states are savvy that international reputations are not built like this so cloak the core of a university with high profile links with elite institutions elsewhere, by creating nominal centres for critical thought, often brining in internationally-famous academicians, but these appendages very soon succumb to the colonial mode of university education like the rest of the institution and the famous personages they import flee, if they can, to Oxford or Kyoto, but never to another Southeast Asian university ever again. This game is about pretending to encourage critical thinking only to win higher ratings on international university rankings. 

Rewriting the Past: The Global South in Human Rights History (2019)

Charlotte Steinorth

Global Policy


The current age of global inequality, in which life expectancy is overwhelmingly determined by geography, doesnot bode well for the relationship between human rights and the Non‐Western world. While history does not provideany guidance on how to create a more just world order, it does show us that human rights are not a fixedconcept, frozen in time.

Full link on Wiley for subscribers here.

The Long Road to Paris: The History of the Global Climate Change Regime (2019)

Julia Kreienkamp’s Policy Brief at the Global Governance Institute at UCL from November 2019 available here for free download.


The adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement has been widely celebrated as a ‘monumental triumph’ (UN News 2015). It enshrines a ‘new logic’ of global cooperation, representing a decisive shift away from the top-down regulatory approach that had previously underpinned the international climate change regime (Falkner 2016). This shift can best be understood in light of the historical evolution of the legal and institutional framework for global collaborative climate action. This policy brief provides a comprehensive overview of the development of the global climate change regime. It documents how climate change – initially a purely scientific concern – gradually entered the wider international public and political debate, leading to the establishment of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the adoption of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and, eventually, the Paris Agreement. It focuses primarily on multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC while also highlighting the growing role of non-state actors in the post-Paris era of ‘hybrid global climate governance’ (Kuyper, Linnér and Schroeder 2018).

History and Identity in the Construction of China’s Africa Policy (2008)

Chris Alden  & Cristina Alves

Published in the
Review of African Political Economy Volume 35 – Issue 115


One of the most notable features of the forging of China’s new activist foreign policy towards Africa is its emphasis on the historical context of the relationship. These invocations of the past, stretching back to the 15th century but rife with references to events in the 19th century and the cold war period, are regular features of Chinese diplomacy in Africa. Indeed, it is the persistence of its use and the concurrent claim of a continuity of underlying purpose that marks Chinese foreign policy out from western approaches which have by and large been content to avoid discussions of the past (for obvious reasons) or insisting on any policy continuities. However, beneath the platitudes of solidarity is a reading of Chinese historical relations with Africa emanating from Beijing that is, as any student of contemporary African history will know, at times at odds with the historical record of Chinese involvement on the continent.

This article will examine the use and meaning of history in the construction of China’s Africa policy. It will do so through first, a brief discussion of the relationship between foreign policy, identity and history; second, a survey of Chinese foreign policy towards Africa from 1955 to 1996; third, an analysis of the implications of Beijing’s approach for its efforts to achieve foreign policy aims regionally and globally.

Link to full article at Taylor and Francis here (for subscribers)