UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Michael Riemens

Dr. Michael Riemens (1964) is an Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Groningen.
Previously he published Een vergeten hoofdstuk. De Nederlandsche Anti-Oorlog Raad en het Nederlands pacifisme tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog (Groningen, 1995) (‘A forgotten chapter.
The Dutch Anti-War Council and Dutch pacifism during the First World War’) for which he received a high academic prize in the Netherlands.
He also published articles on the history of the peace movement, the foreign policy of the Netherlands, political culture, and, earlier this year, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 1905 Bertha von Suttner (see: http://www.vredespaleis.nl/showpage.asp?pag_id=409).
Contact: m.j.riemens@home.nl or m.j.riemens@rug.nl.

The author wishes to thank the Permanent Delegation of the Netherlands at UNESCO for supplying a generous grant that made his trip to Paris for the symposium ‘60 Years of UNESCO’s History’ possible.

Round Table 1: From a “Community of minds” to UNESCO

 Multilateral intellectual co-operation in the interwar period seen from the Netherlands

My book De passie voor vrede. De evolutie van de internationale politieke cultuur in de jaren 1880-1940 en het recipiëren door Nederland (Amsterdam, 2005) (‘The passion for peace. The evolution of the international political culture in the years 1880-1940 and its reception in the Netherlands’), that will appear on 20 October 2005, discusses the new style and forms of international politics and diplomacy after World War One. The early 1920s saw diplomacy by conference with its populism, rhetoric and special form of sociability between the political leaders of especially the great powers, that coincided with the juridification of international relations through the League of Nations. In this study, the League is considered the most important institutionalised and parliamentary form of the international political culture after the Great War. With the help of the cultural approach the world organization is studied in its own right rather than only with respect to its political failure in the 1930s. There is a special focus on the development of the spoken and unspoken rules of the international political game, on the capacity and characters of its players, the nature and workings of the Secretariat, Council and Assembly, and on the practices, procedures, ideas and formulas that the delegates ‘invented’ through a creative process of cultural transfer. The traditions and cultures that were founded in the formative years, for example at the First Assembly, had a long history. Some of them returned after 1945 during a later phase of international political culture and international organization. The League of Nations contributed to stabilisation and taking root of juridical norms and parliamentary forms in international politics. From 1924 onwards, after the statesmen and ministers of Foreign Affairs of the great powers started to appear in Geneva, there existed a system in international relations with a coherent international political culture, according to contemporaries. Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann became regular visitors to Geneva where they discussed and settled the affairs of Europe. There was a personal chemistry between them. These were also years of international peace and economic prosperity.

Chapter 5 of the book focuses on a new style element of the international political culture that came into being in the 1920s: the development of international co-operation between scientists and intellectuals within the framework of the League of Nations. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the political leaders did not discuss multilateral intellectual co-operation as an aspect of international organization. A proposal by the Belgian delegate Hymans for an International Commission on Intellectual Relations was so coldly received that it was quickly withdrawn. At the First Assembly of the League in 1920, the Belgian senator and Nobel Prize winner La Fontaine put the case for an international organization of intellectual life. After a short discussion, the delegates approved a resolution calling for continued efforts in the international organization of technical work and for the preparation of a report on the desirability of creating a technical organization for intellectual work. On the basis of a report by the Frenchman Bourgeois, the Council of the League of Nations decided to set up the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation as an advisory organ of the Council and the Assembly. The members of the Committee were to be twelve in number (of whom some were to be women) and were to include some of the world’s foremost academic minds of the day with Henri Bergson as their first chairman. Madam Marie Curie was a member and so was Albert Einstein. During the interwar years, its composition was modified. Two of the founding members – the chairman for many years, Gilbert Murray, and the vice-chairman, the Swiss Gonzague de Reynold – remained members to the end. The Committee met in Geneva each year and sometimes went to Paris for additional meetings. Between 1922 and 1939 twenty-one sessions were held. In De passie voor vrede, some of the workings and activities of this Committee are reconstructed and analysed in depth. Its history shows several changes in unintended and unexpected directions. One of them, for instance, was the establishment, from January 1923 onwards, of National Committees in various countries. The first ones were constituted quite spontaneously in order to furnish replies to an international inquiry and to forward urgent requests made by scientific institutions and men of science to the International Committee.

The International Committee did pioneering work in difficult territory. Despite the high calling it represented, governments voted only a small portion of the League’s budget for the work of the Committee. The British and Dominion (with the exception of India) delegates opposed extra funding because their countries suffered great financial and economic problems after the war and they feared French cultural imperialism. Great Britain did not have a tradition of state-sponsored cultural policy like France and Germany. All along there was a tendency amongst the British to think of ‘coopération intellectuelle’ as French for ‘highbrow’. Because of its lack of finances, the Committee was soon forced to issue an appeal for funds to any government that cared to respond. In the summer of 1924, the new French Government, led by Herriot, offered to establish an Institute of Intellectual Co-operation in Paris with an endowment of two million French francs a year. The offer was accepted by the Council. The Institute opened its doors in January 1926 and it immediately established contact with the National Committees, tried to add to their number and thus gave a new impetus to the movement. Within a few months, for instance, the Dutch physicist and Nobel Prize winner Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, who had succeeded Bergson as chairman of the International Committee, started an initiative that led to the foundation of a National Committee in the Netherlands. Its members did not represent organizations but were chosen so as to enable the Committee to profit from the experience of the various intellectual professions. A group also came into being in the Netherlands East Indies, where, contrary to the mother country, the members were official representatives of institutions of intellectual life in the colony. This group only existed for a few years. The National Committees were in touch with organizations and institutions of intellectual activity in their own countries, and were in contact with each other, with the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation, with the Paris Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, as well as with League organs like the Secretariat and governments. By way of giving information, discussions and dialogue, the scientists and intellectuals tried to contribute to the creation of an international spirit of peace, co-operation, solidarity and understanding that would form the intellectual basis of the new international political culture.

From the moment these institutions of the new international political culture came into existence, governments had to decide on an official standpoint and develop a policy. The Netherlands, for instance, was highly critical of multilateral intellectual co-operation and minister of Foreign Affairs Van Karnebeek did not consider the subject to be part of the essentials of the League of Nations. In Geneva the Dutch delegation followed the line of Britain and the Dominions. When a small pamphlet about universities in the Netherlands was published full of mistakes, the Dutch government made an official protest and, to put pressure on Geneva, Van Karnebeek orchestrated behind the scenes so that the official handing over of the diplomatic note of protest was accompanied by action in the Dutch press. The secretary-general of the League, Drummond, involved himself in the case because he feared the consequences for the International Committee and the Secretariat. In the end, the matter was solved with the help of Lorentz. The Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs was also against granting a subvention to the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation in Paris. After he stepped down and left office, his successors were in favour of a subsidy. The department of Education, Arts and Sciences, however, blocked their proposals. The arguments that minister of Education Waszink used to justify his constant refusals echoed the old fear of French intrusiveness. In the second half of the 1930s, the official policy of the Netherlands changed in the face of a series of international crises and an ever-growing threat of war. During the 18 th Assembly, the Dutch delegate and former minister of Foreign Affairs De Graeff announced on 22 September 1937 in the Sixth Committee that the government of the Netherlands was on principle, subject to parliamentary approval, prepared to grant the Paris Institute a yearly subvention.

One of the outstanding results of the Intellectual Co-operation Organization was that its sub-committees brought together distinguished groups of scientists, artists and literary personalities, who worked together disinterestedly for a common end. The sub-committees were modelled on a single principle, the co-operation of outside experts with those members of the Committee who were especially interested in the subject under examination. Chapter 6 focuses on the origin and history of the Permanent International Studies Conference, the annual gathering, in various countries, of professors and other academic specialists of international relations and international politics, and its importance for the development of international relations as an academic discipline. In this study they are regarded as a characteristic feature of the new international political culture.

The immediate origins of the International Studies Conference were rooted in a search for suitable methods of organising training in international politics, which engaged the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation for several years after its establishment in 1922. In 1928, the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation convened an international Meeting of Experts for the Co-ordination of Higher International Studies in Berlin, which was attended by representatives of national institutions in seven countries and representatives of a few ‘international’ organizations. The Conference of Institutions for the Scientific Study of International Relations, which eventually became the International Studies Conference, developed from this meeting. Before 1928, there was no international platform for the exchange of ideas between institutions for research in, or teaching of, international relations, which were created almost without exception only after the end of the Great War. The Conference was intended to fill this gap by providing a forum where representatives of institutions could meet from time to time to discuss their problems. In the first few years the items that were discussed were mostly of an administrative nature. These included, amongst other things, the exchange of information, the interchange of lists of surplus publications and bibliographies, and the exchange of lecturers and research workers. In 1931 it was suggested by its Executive Committee that the Conference of so many experts from so many different countries be used to discuss current international problems, carefully prepared from the written observations of scholars and study groups. This proposal was accepted. In the course of the next few years, the International Studies Conference developed a special technique of joint co-operative research into contemporary problems of international relations. Amongst the questions it dealt with in two-year study cycles were ‘State and Economic Life’ (1931-1933), ‘Collective Security’ (1933-1935), ‘Peaceful Change’ (1935-1937) and ‘Economic Policies in Relation to World Peace’ (1937-1939). When the Conference met in Bergen in August 1939, just before Nazi Germany invaded Poland, ‘International Organisation’ was chosen as the next subject of study.

Jealous of its scientific and non-partisan character, the Conference did not aim at political action, or even at influencing such action directly. In so far as it did exercise an influence on the formulation of policies, its means were indirect: the formation of public opinion by the publication of the results of joint research and discussion, the proceedings of the Conference and special monographs. Other indirect influence occurred because some of the experts who attended the study meetings occupied key positions in their own countries. The Conference provided a meeting-place where scholars and men of action could familiarise themselves with the views of their colleagues from other countries.

From the start the Secretariat of the ISC, the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, tried to involve Dutch organizations and institutions in the work of the Conference. In 1931 the prolonged negotiations between the Paris Institute and the International Intermediary Institute in The Hague broke down. It took another two years before a Netherlands Co-ordinating Committee for International Studies was formed. Only a few organizations and institutions took part in its workings. At the time there was not much interest in the Netherlands in international affairs. This would change in the second half of the 1930s, when secretary professor Verzijl found that several of his colleagues were prepared to participate in the workings of the Conference. Comparatively speaking, the Netherlands Committee only played a minor role in the Conference. Nonetheless, thus far there is nothing in Dutch historiography about this Committee, the people and institutions that were involved, or its international activities.

In London 1935, Madrid 1936 and Prague 1938 it came to important discussions within the bosom of the International Studies Conference on subjects such as the nature, scope and methodology of the systematic study of international relations; the relationship between the old, traditional discipline of international law and the new academic discipline of international relations; and the academic teaching of international relations, especially the question of how to organise instruction more effectively within a compartmentalised academic setting. In Prague one of the conclusions of rapporteur professor Zimmern was that the study of international relations was much more systematically developed in American universities than in any other part of the world, and that it had progressed there extremely rapidly since the Great War. Finally, the situation at universities in the Netherlands and the opportunities in Dutch society for IR-specialists are analysed and put into an international perspective by using an international inquiry of the League of Nations and a survey by IR-specialist Bailey. In December 1946, the International Studies Conference accepted an invitation to work together with UNESCO, the successor of the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation. After the Second World War, the style element of multilateral ‘intellectual co-operation’ returned in a new phase of international political culture and international organization. It has been with us ever since.

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