Review: International Development, by Corinna R. Unger

1Final publication: Diplomatica 2 no. 1 (May 2020):  180-82.

International Development: A Postwar History, written by Corinna R. Unger (Bloomsbury, 2018). 232 xi pp.

Review by David Webster

“In historiographical terms, development is a particularly rich field,” Corinna Unger writes in the conclusion to her book on International Development, published in Bloomsbury’s New Approaches to International History series (p. 156). Reading the book, it’s hard to imagine there’s much in that historiography that Unger has failed to read, digest and include in her extensive footnotes. The book is a model for the type. Grounded in a deep familiarity with the secondary literature and offering clear linking insights, Unger has produced an excellent overview of the history of development, with a strong focus on the bulky midsection of the twentieth century, from the 1930s to the 1970s.

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HOBITs and Homophobia

Timor-Leste pride march, 2019

Timor-Leste pride march, 2019. Author photo.

Tackled, sprawled on the ground, being punched as the assailant shouted “fucking cocksuckers.”

Seeing  gay and bi kids excluded and marginalized in high school. Seeing trans people forced to justify their humanity on a daily basis.

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The African-Asian Conference Bulletin as historical source

AACB 9.1 coverOriginal publication by Canadian Network for Humanitarian History.

The Asian-African Conference Bulletin, published daily during the African-Asian conference at Bandung in April 1955, 65 years ago, is a significant and unused source in international history. In its pages, as much as in the conference hall around it, was born the idea of Asian-African solidarity and non-alignment. The Bulletin and other sources from the conference are now digitized as an e-dossier.

The creation of an idea of a “Third World” was one of the major themes of the 20th century. That “world” was born in Bandung, Indonesia, 65 years ago. Yet too few 20th century historians spend much time talking about the Asian-African conference and the world it gave birth to. The study is left to important networks outside the Western (and West-centric) historical mainstream, such as the Afro-Asian Networks project and the Bandung Spirit group, though there’s been an admirable revival in recent years with multiple perspectives on Bandung’s legacy – a literature too extensive to list here.

The conference was enormously important. It came at a time when the superpowers and their followers – Canada at the fore – were trying to divide the world into two sides. The Soviet Union’s chief ideologue, Andrew Zhdanov, spoke of “two camps.” So did the enormously influential US evangelist Billy Graham, using the same words. You were either with us, or against us. Or so thought the leaders of both camps.

AACB 9.7 AliSo when Indonesia, for instance, was seeking its independence from Dutch attempts to recolonize the former Netherlands East Indies, the issue turned on alignment. The United States supported Indonesian independence after President Sukarno crushed a communist uprising. Canada aimed to avoid US conflict with the Netherlands as NATO was being formed. The independent Indonesia that emerged and joined the United Nations in 1950 was supposed to be pro-Western despite the socialist leanings of its leadership. (The first prime minister, Sutan Sjahrir, spoke of living in “the sphere of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and imperialism, as I discuss in my book Fire and the Full Moon.) Canada’s Security Council representative even managed to do an end-run over a Soviet veto against the new Republic.

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How Canada helped China wreck human rights

China’s government wanted to weaken the UN’s human rights system. Canada’s Jean Chretien helped that happen. International human rights still haven’t recovered.

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First publication on medium.com. Condensed from an article originally published in Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. Free full-text of original article via Bishop’s e-repository.

In the 1990s, Canada helped China to gut the international human rights system. We’re now living with consequences of an eroded, weakened rights system after prime minister Jean Chretien’s government agreed with China to abandon multilateralism for toothless “dialogue.”

In the 1990s, amidst a debate about integrating human rights into a trade promotion agenda, the Canadian government undertook a new tactic: the ”bilateral human rights dialogue.” Ottawa opened dialogues with three countries targeted for Canadian trade initiatives which had problematic rights records: China, Cuba and Indonesia. This weakened the overall Canadian stance on human rights without much evidence of improved human rights as a result.

Canada and human rights

Contrary to the Heritage Minute portrayal, Canadian diplomacy before the 1980s was characterized by reticence to undertake international human rights advocacy. True, McGill professor John Humphrey penned the first draft of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Canada initially stood with the Soviet Union and South Africa in refusing to support it. It signed only under pressure from its allies.

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