Competition for resources has long been viewed as a driver of interstate rivalry and a source of geopolitical instability. By contrast, this talk will investigate how, over the last two hundred years, the extraction and distribution of key commodities could also favour new forms of cross-border cooperation and international governance.
In the modern era, raw materials often spelt trouble for international relations. Historians have documented to what extent the scramble for energy and mineral resources underpinned Europe’s imperialist expansion in the nineteenth century. Western access to commodities such as cocoa, sugar, coffee and rubber relied on the subjugation and exploitation of entire populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas. It also pitted colonial powers against each other, culminating in the murderous conflagration of World War I. But the unprecedented needs of wartime economies paradoxically alerted political leaders on both sides of the trenches to the need for greater coordination and a transnational rationalisation of resource management—a need that would remain just as pressing in peacetime. Could commodities, instead of inflaming tensions between nations, become an arena for international institution-building? It will be argued that this question preoccupied policy-makers throughout the first half of the twentieth century and proved to be a catalyst for institutional innovation, whether in the League of Nations, through industrial cartels or in the European Coal and Steel Community.
Danilo Scholz is a historian of ideas who specialises in the history of European political thought in the nineteenth and twentieth century. He is a researcher at the KWI Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen, Germany. Before joining the KWI, Danilo Scholz has been a postdoc at the European University Institute in Florence and at Columbia University in New York. Currently he is IFK_Research Fellow.
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