My research analyses the League of Nations secretariat as an independent actor in international relations. Drawing on archival research in sites worldwide, I analyse the political, diplomatic, and legal precedents instituted by the secretariat, and interpret the different meanings of 'internationalism' in its institutional practice - exploring how that practice reflected different perceptions of what it meant to act as an international actor, from its creation in 1919 to the early 1940s, as it was caught between the declining liberal order and rising fascist challengers. More broadly, it investigates the history of internationalism, international law, and diplomatic practice as constitutive elements of the international system.
Examining how different internationalist practices and movements co-existed and struggled in the interwar period helps us not only understand how international organisations responded to the challenge then, but also how alternative internationalisms can - and do - shape the international system today.
My supervisor at Oxford is Professor Edward Keene.
The League of Nations Secretariat
The secretariat of the League of Nations (1919-1946) was created as the first international civil service in history, but what ‘international’ meant was very much open to interpretation. This lead to tension springing from the core of the secretariat, the Office of the Secretary-General. I focus especially on the creation of the secretariat as an institution and on the administration of Joseph Avenol, who was secretary-general between 1933 and 1940, examining how his interpretation of internationalism departed from the mainstream secretariat view, combining pro-fascist tendencies with a technocratic bent. Avenol’s attempts to reform the League in this direction shed light not only on the relationship between individual officials and organisations but also on the broader potential for international institutions to ‘switch’ internationalisms.
Internationalism is often thought of as a single ideology based cooperation, legalism, free trade, and peaceful dispute resolution - the opposite of nationalism. But this liberal-democratic internationalism only one variant from many possible internationalist movements and processes, some much closer to nationalist politics. Applying this insight to international organisations, particularly the League of Nations in the 1930s, I analyse how alternative visions of international organisation play out within political institutions and legal structures.
Among that plurality of internationalisms, one variety which has been traditionally ignored is fascist internationalism. Far from being a purely domestic movement, fascism in the 1930s and 1940s was a significant internationalist movement. It presented a serious challenge to liberal internationalism, and how (traditionally liberal) international organisations responded to this challenge is the subject of my research. Alongside the historical insight, this offers correctives to analyses of the current international system, which I argue should not be seen as being torn between internationalism and nationalism, but rather between different internationalisms. This process of contestation is not dissimilar from what happened in the 1930s, and we must examine alternative plans for international organisation then - to better understand not only that period but also our own.