top of page
Science Museum Space Exploration

Managing Conflicts in the Age of Global Governance: Insights from Twentieth-Century History

Online Workshop 1: 12th-13th May 2021

Online workshop 2: 11th-12th November 2021

BISA Annual Conference Panel: 15th-17th june 2022

The Research Idea

In our conflicted multipolar world, external states often manage humanitarian and political crises without deeper understanding of the historical context of the affected region, and they rarely act in ways that go beyond their national interest. Initiatives led by the United Nations, in turn, tend to focus on relieving human suffering while avoiding political entanglement. Yet in view of the planetary challenges that dominate the early twenty-first century — environmental changes, mass migration, and global inequality — there is dire need for both context-sensitive and effective multilateral approaches.

In this collaborative project, we aim to use historical cases of multilateral crisis management — from interwar Austria and post-WWII China to humanitarianism and global migration policy, Kashmir, the Middle East, the Congo, and East Pakistan during the Cold War — to help experts and policymakers assess more accurately the chances and risks of foreign involvement — and of non-involvement. Moreover, we intend to promote socially relevant interdisciplinary research by bringing international historians into dialogue with scholars of international relations, international law, security studies, and peace and conflict studies.

Funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF), three meetings aimed to bring together the panelists with different experts. In the first workshop (May 2021), the discussants were academic peers from disciplines beyond history. The second workshop took the shape of a roundtable conversation with practitioners (sometimes also academics) with experience 'in the field'. At the BISA Annual Conference of 2022, the historians will present their research before other international historians.

This research project aims to bundle the diverse research strands of five international historians to add a historical dimension to existing approaches of global governance. While maintaining diversity of topics and research agendas, we intend to focus on three aspects of foreign intervention and global governance:


a) The process of foreign involvement, including changing dynamics between planning, decision-making, practical measures, public justification of action, and local effects.


b) The historical context as a transformative stage for interveners and people affected, including the availability of resources, cultural practices and mind-sets, and the role of local actors.


c) The ‘agency’ of conflicts and their potential to transform global governance.

Conceptual Innovation

The five research agendas address these three dimensions in different ways.


Volker Prott’s work, ‘Exploring, Overreaching, Giving Up? The UN and Global Governance in Kashmir, Congo, and East Pakistan’, examines the recurring setbacks the UN experienced in the Congo and South Asia from the late 1940s to the early 1970s and the long-term effects for global governance.


Sara Cosemans and Trinh Van Vinh’s work, ‘To Be or Not to Be a Refugee? How UNHCR's Humanitarian Aid Inhibited Refugee Recognition in Vietnam between 1973 and 1979’ resulted from their collaboration in the Vietnamese National Archives Centeres No. 2 (in Ho Chi Minh City) and No. 3 (in Hanoi). In their paper, they investigate the tension between UNHCR’s humanitarian involvement with the different Vietnamese parties in North and South Vietnam that started after the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and the expectation that UNHCR would play a role in protecting Vietnamese escaping the country after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Martin Ottovay Jørgensen’s investigation, ‘Insecurity, Precarity and Local Labour in United Nations Peacekeeping: Towards a Research Agenda’, focuses on the precarious positions of locally-hired UN staff in  the post-conflict settings of the three first UN interventions the 1950s and 1960s (the Gaza Strip, Congo and West Papua), thus highlighting the pivotal role the local context plays for the success of UN missions.

Barbara Warnock will explore in ‘The Operation of the “First Bailout”: The Social and Economic Impact of the League of Nations’ Programme for Austrian Reconstruction 1922–26’ the ways in which League of Nations’ financial reconstruction scheme in Austria work to both stabilise and destabilise the new Austrian republic.


Yarong Chen's work, ‘UNESCO’s Fundamental Education in China, 1945–1950: Between the Geopolitics and Idealism of Post-War Global Governance and Chinese Nationalism’, examines the short-lived UNESCO-China cooperation on fundamental education under the pressures of civil war and rising Cold War tensions, and its long term implication in Cold War development regime.

Research Contributions

Read them here


We intend to use multi-archival research to explore not just the publicly-visible aspects of past multilateral conflict management but also the planning, decision-making, and actions that were hidden from the view of contemporaries. This approach will allow us to draw a more complete picture of these cases, which in turn will form a thorough empirical basis for a historically-grounded assessment of the chances and risks of global governance and multilateral conflict resolution today.


Developing a new, historically-mindful comparative framework for the study of global governance will be useful not just for policymakers and social scientists, but it will also help build bridges between them and professional historians, whose studies provide invaluable but hitherto mostly unexplored insights for our understanding of the current challenges of global governance and international politics.

bottom of page