Over the past three weeks, we’ve covered a lot of ground, from territorial disputes in 1919 to the current efforts by the UN to facilitate international cooperation. I’m now back in Glasgow here at the university. And I’m going to speak to my colleague Peter Jackson. Peter is a professor of global security, and he’s an expert on international relations and on the inter-war period in particular. And I hope we can get him to comment on some of the broader themes underlying our cause. Peter, it’s great to have you here for the interview. Peter, the first theme I would like to raise with you is that of internationalism. You’ve worked on internationalism in detail.
And in some way, this course has been about internationalism. How would you explain to our readers and listeners the appeal of internationalism? And why was it so prominent in 1918, 1919? Well, that’s an excellent question, Christian. I think the appeal of internationalism at this time was because it offered an OPT in alternative and an optimistic vision of the future of international relations. The idea was to replace competition and the balance of power in alliance politics as regulators of the international system with cooperation. The idea was, in fact, to facilitate cooperation among states as a way forward. And this is particularly attractive in 1918 given what the world had just been through.
In especially Europe, the first World War had caused unprecedented levels of human suffering, deaths both from combat and from illnesses, from the, for example, the Spanish influenza, which had swept across Europe and North America in the immediate aftermath of the war. And I think there was great enthusiasm for a new approach to international relations. And internationalism as an ideology aims specifically at the creation of institutions beyond the state to serve as mechanisms for facilitating this cooperation, this new cooperative approach to international relations. But Peter, the way you describe it, internationalism, almost feels like a philosophy. Or as you say, an ideology. Now that as an ideology or as a philosophy, it has a century old tradition.
What is the relevance in the centuries of development of major events, like the Paris Peace Conference, for the development of internationalist thinking? Well, I think the peace conference was important because it was a moment where the world came together after this international global cataclysm. In 1918, much of the world had been– the old world that we’d come to think of as old Europe and the European dominated international system lay in ruins. And out of the Paris Peace Conference, we see the development in the history of internationalism of institutions, the kind of institutions I spoke of.
The International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the Permanent Court of International Justice, as well as other institutions and agencies that were set up, other internationalist agencies, for the protection of minority rights, to combat human trafficking, to combat drug trafficking. So much of the apparatus of international civil society that we take for granted today emerges out of the Paris Peace Conference. And all that created in the space of a few weeks, or in Margaret MacMillan phrase, if you want, in six months of world government. Do you think the peacemakers just took on too much? Did they try too hard to overhaul, if you want, international relations comprehensively in one go? Well, I think that that’s probably true, Christian.
But we also have to ask ourselves, what was the alternative? So much had been broken. So much had been destroyed by the war. There were massive questions that needed to be resolved. The collapse of the four great empires– the Prussian, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empire. The collapse in particular of czarist Russia into revolutionary chaos. And the homeland for a new internationalist ideology of its own preaching class war and subversion. The entry of the United States into world politics. And the haemorrhage of power that we see toward the latter stages of the First World War as Europe ceases to become the hub of world politics.
And there’s a transfer of power across the Atlantic to this new, young democracy that was also the world’s greatest industrial and financial power. Many thanks.