Truth Seekers or Power Brokers?The League of Nations and its Commissions of Inquiry

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Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
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Award date2019
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Abstract

During its lifetime, the League of Nations aspired to gather reliable facts and produce accurate knowledge that could transform the conduct of international politics. Inquiry was one of many techniques the League actively deployed to find more rational means in which diplomacy was conducted and political decisions were made in Geneva. Truth Seekers or Power Brokers investigates the purpose and significance of international inquiry commissions in the inter-war years and asks to what extent they lived up to the high expectations of impartial knowledge created in a politicised environment. The thesis takes four thematically different case studies, concerning opium production in Persia, slavery and forced labour in Liberia, the Manchurian crisis that took East Asia by surprise, and the territorial dispute that emerged between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Chaco Boreal, to argue there is both coherence and reason behind the
League’s repeated reliance on the inquiry technique. The thesis situates international inquiry and the League ‘experiment’ in a wider frame of imperial
internationalism, which aids to explore a scientific cosmology of developmentalism underscoring the various fact-finding methods, as well as a civilisational lens and imperial modes, idioms and repertoires that are prevalent in the case study material. The imperial internationalist framework is explored by means of three dimensions, namely the ad hoc institutional setting in which inquiry was embedded, the multi-level context of competing powers, contestation and rivalry in which investigations took place, and the myriad manifestations of personal and state agency, by way of truth seeking, technical innovation and the defence of national sovereignty, against attempts of
foreign tutelage and territorial expansion. The thesis explains how inquiry, as a technique, brought about a softer face of empire in the inter-war years, through Western expertise and assistance, but equally was meant to preserve and reinvigorate the imperial hierarchies that underscored the post-war international system

Keywords

  • League of Nations, inquiry, knowledge production, empire, internationalism