Peace and Security in Times of Transition: The Socialist and Post-Socialist States in International Peacekeeping since 1945

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference “Peace and Security in Times of Transition: The Socialist and Post-Socialist States in International Peacekeeping since 1945”, which will take place on October 29-31st, 2020 at the German Historical Institute Moscow. The call for papers is open till December 1st 2019, you can find it here. We talked with one of the conveners, Andreas Hilger, deputy director of the GHI Moscow, about the upcoming conference.

You are one of the conveners of the upcoming conference “Peace and Security in Times of Transition: The Socialist and Post-Socialist States in International Peacekeeping since 1945” – how did you come up with the concept for this conference?

The conference brings together several discussions in the field of international and global history: While the history of international organizations by now seems to be a well-established field, impacts of socialist countries and their changing international approaches and understandings on fundamental interconnected processes and conceptions in international, transnational, and global developments after 1945 are yet to determine. In the case of peacekeeping, the wide spectrum of socialist positions or traditions on different levels of decision-making and implementation regarding various kinds of crises and operations is more or less ignored: they ranged from use or non-use of the veto to contributing observers, police, and military personnel, from competitive or cooperative conceptual designs of world order, justice and peace to participation in negotiations on the ground, to name just a few options. Secondly, interpretations of international developments after World War II in exclusive Cold War-terms have lost influence. Therefore, the cesura of 1989 has lost some of its rigidity. This raises new questions about continuities of international challenges and answers during, among others, complex international transition periods that cannot neglect developments in predecessors of current international protagonists. In this context, interactions between domestic transformations in countries of the former Second (and Third) Worlds and international changes come into the broader picture. So, the conference may contribute to differentiating of our understanding of international developments, organizations, and interconnections since the second half of the 20th century. To a certain degree, the multiple contextualization reflects my research interest in the international history of the USSR as well as in international history in general.

The call for papers mentions that the contribution of socialist states and their successors to international peacekeeping remains an understudied field – how do you explain the lack of research in this particular area?

In general, historical research on peacekeeping focuses on a few crises and contributors and one could name other regional/political gaps in this field. Regarding socialist countries, there seem to be several reasons for the lack of research or even interest; incidentally, this applies to other blank areas of their international history after 1945 as well. First, until the 1990s, the archival situation was extremely difficult and in some important post-socialist cases it remains unsatisfactory. Secondly, apart from Yugoslavia, socialist countries did not very actively contribute to classic UN-operations of the 1950s and 1960s. This restraint as well as increasing socialist interest since the 1970s, thirdly, was understood almost exclusively in Cold War-terms. Then, the different post-socialist experiences and activities were interpreted in the context of a broader picture of post-Cold War integration of former socialist countries (like Poland), new estrangement or new competition (as in the cases of Russia and China), that is with a clear focus on traditional power politics contexts and interpretations. These overarching views from the outside are well established. Innovative questions and perspectives that have challenged a lot of other “truths” of earlier Cold War and post-Cold War histories often emerged and emerge in other parts of the world and at first addressed/addresses other areas. In this regard, the conference may connect different schools of international history, test the productivity of a broad range of concepts for an international history of socialist countries and their successors and at the same time may introduce socialist/post-socialist perspectives, developments and understandings in discussions and analyses of processes of global history.

The planned conference will try to reintegrate spaces of Eastern Europe as well as Cold War-socialism and its successors into the emerging picture of interwoven and interconnected international histories since 1945 – how can this shape future debates on international peacekeeping?

The understanding of peace and security was never static. Consequentially, priorities, methods and instruments of peacekeeping equally underwent important changes. Tensions between sovereignty of states and international concerns, preconditions and definitions of international peace, relationships between individual needs and rights and collective programs, the balance between different norms and their importance for international peace as well as other fundamental questions concerning desired orders, legitimate international actors, and possible instruments accompany the history of international peacekeeping. Here, explorations of interventions of socialist states (beyond mere propaganda efforts) as well as research on specific perspectives of countries with very distinct ideas and traditions regarding international mechanisms, rules, and aims may provide necessary background for the understanding and assessment of different focuses of argumentation in current and future debates about tasks, chances, and limits of international peacekeeping, thus strengthening universalism and acceptance of international peacekeeping efforts.


Andreas Hilger studied in Cologne and Volgograd and graduated in 1998 with a PhD thesis on German prisoners of war in the USSR 1941-1956. His habilitation dealt with the Sowjet-Indian relations from 1941-1965/66 and was submitted at the Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg in 2015. He is currently the deputy director of the German Historical Institute Moscow and his research interests include the history of international relations and the German, Russian and South Asian history after the 19th century.


Citation:  Peace and Security in Times of Transition: The Socialist and Post-Socialist States in International Peacekeeping since 1945, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 26.11.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/20603.


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