Diplomatic legacy of WWI felt a century later

Contrary to high hopes at the time, the peace process at the end of the so-called “War to End All Wars” a century ago laid the groundwork for many current global conflicts.

Today’s tensions between NATO and Russia, ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, the as-yet unfinished reconciliation between France and Germany, and the ever-fragile transatlantic alliance can be traced to the diplomatic resolution of the Great War – now known as World War I.

To mark the centenary of World War I, a group of interdisciplinary experts will gather April 9-10 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for a symposium tracing many of today’s global conflicts back to roots in the outcomes of the 1919 peace process.

The Diplomatic Legacy of World War I, sponsored by the UW–Madison Center for European Studies, will open with a keynote address on One Hundred Years of Consequences: The Strategic, Political, and Cultural Legacy of World War I, by Dr. Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, on Thursday, April 9, at 4 p.m., at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St, Madison. The keynote address is co-sponsored by the Madison Warburg Chapter of the American Council on Germany (ACG).

On Friday, April 10, a range of experts – professors of history and political science, and career diplomats – will delve further into the topic during panel discussions, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Fluno Center. The keynote and all panel discussions are free and open to the public.

Although often seen as a European war, World War I was a global conflict that lasted a decade, says Elizabeth Covington, executive director of the European Studies Alliance and ACG chapter director.

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The symposium will look at not only the rise of communism and fascism after the Treaty of Versailles, the demise of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires and concurrent rise of the U.S., but also highlight the experiences of soldiers and colonized regions whose part in the war was entirely unwilling.

For some, the principle of national self-determination included in the Treaty of Versailles paved the way to a bold new era of social and political progress. For others it exemplified Western hypocrisy vis-à-vis the non-Western world. Yet self-determination was not extended to the colonies, where the dissolution of empire led to conflicts among national political leaders and military powers, as well as intensified rivalries among ethnic and religious groups.

“The impact of the peace process is particularly notable in southeastern Europe and the Middle East, where treaties created arbitrary boundaries between areas which made ethnic and religious conflict worse over time,” explains Covington, who notes that maps were redrawn in ways that fueled conflicts in Syria, Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.

“The peace process catalyzed the United States to the top of world power,” she says. Meantime, the war also marks the emergence of humanitarian groups as international players – for example, the International Red Cross.

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Joffe, the keynote speaker, has written for Foreign Affairs, The American Interest, International Security, and Foreign Policy, and contributes to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, and Washington Post, along with Time and Newsweek. His books include The Myth of America’s Decline (W.W. Norton, 2014) and Überpower: America’s Imperial Temptation (W.W. Norton and Company, 2006).

He has been affiliated with Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies since 1999, where he was appointed Senior Fellow in 2007.

Other experts participating in the symposium include:

  • Giuliana Chamedes, assistant professor of history at UW-Madison, a historian of modern European and international history with an interest in the internationalization of anticommunism and political Christianity after World War I.
  • Richard Fogarty, associate professor of history at the University at Albany, State University of New York, who studies French colonialism, the First World War, the French army, racism, and French and European attitudes toward Islam and Muslims.
  • Jean-René Gehan, recently retired from the French Foreign Service, has served in a range of assignments, includes French Ambassador in Laos and in Kuwait, First Secretary in Beijing, adviser of the French Minister of Defense and Political Military Counsellor in Washington, D.C., and Consul General in Chicago.
  • Jennifer D. Keene,professor and chair of the History Department at Chapman University, who has published three books on the American involvement in World War I.
  • Erez Manela,professor of history at Harvard University, whose research interests include the evolution of international society and international orders; colonialism, nationalism, and decolonization; modernization and development.
  • François Rivasseau is deputy head of the European Union Delegation to the United States and previously served as the deputy head of diplomatic mission at the French Embassy to the United States.
  • Adam Tooze is the Barton M. Biggs Professor of History and co-director of International Security Studies at Yale University.
  • Hakan Yavuz, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, focuses on transnational Islamic networks in Central Asia and Turkey; the role of Islam in state-building and nationalism; and ethno-religious conflict management.

More details about the speakers and the symposium schedule are available on the Center for European Studies website. For more information, call (608) 265-8040.

– by Kerry G. Hill