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The Lecture Circuit

February 16, 2012

I wanted to make a quick post about two talks I’ll be giving in the next few days, recordings and Prezis of which should be available after the fact.

Onto the lecture circuit ...

On Friday, February 17 from 12:30 PM – 2 PM, I’ll be giving a talk at the Rothermere American Institute in Oxford, titled ‘An “American Century” for Afghanistan? American Advisers in Cold War Afghanistan and the Intellectual Origins of “Modernization” and “Development.”‘ It fits in with part of a growing interest on my part in governance, and is sort of a sub-section of a large dissertation chapter I’m working on, on development in 1960s and 1970s Afghanistan that incorporates Soviet, American, West German, and other international sources. Here’s the abstract:

Afghanistan was one of the biggest winners of a 1960s “decade of development.” The impoverished and remote country, which nonetheless was of strategic importance as a southern neighbor to the USSR, a potential wedge to American containment, and a claimant to Pakistani territory in “Pashtunistan,” saw foreign aid fund more than half of domestic expenditures throughout the 1960s. As a result, the 1960s is often looked at as a golden age for Afghan history, a time when the country’s ring road was constructed, when American Food for Peace shipments filled Soviet-built silos, and when Morrison-Knudsen engineers attempted to build massive irrigation and damming systems for the Helmand-Arghandab watershed. The USSR and USA competed for development influence along with West Germany, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other countries, while development in Afghanistan was a test arena for new international institutions like the UNDP, Asian Development Bank, and the Asia Foundation, too.

Nathan Associates, a (still-functioning) American consulting firm at the core of my presentation

This paper examines one angle of this history using new sources: the diaries of Arthur Paul, a New Dealer businessman who worked in Kabul from 1960-1966 in the Ministry of Development through the Asia Foundation; and the journals of Robert Nathan, a Simon Kuznets protege who founded an international consulting firm which did work in the Afghan Ministry of Planning from 1961-1971. Scholars of development history like Nick Cullather and Jenifer van Vleck have examined the extent to which American modernization schemes for Afghanistan grew out of the Tennessee Valley Authority or Pan Am’s ambition to be an institution enabling a global “American Century.” Afghanistan in the 1960s, however, also attracted American economists and consultants like Robert Nathan and Arthur Paul, who cut their teeth on development issues in the World War II-era War Production Board and the Office of International Trade Operations. This paper examines the experience of these two consultants to inquire about the extent to which World War II-era ideas about international trade and internal American development influenced postwar ideas about the place of, for example, an economically developed Afghanistan in the Cold War international system.

The day after that presentation, I’ll be presenting a different paper at the 2012 meeting of SOAS’s Eurasian Studies Association, at around 4 PM at SOAS in Bloomsbury. That paper is titled ‘Soviet Development Thought, the “Central Asian Consensus”, and Soviet Afganovedeniie. c. 1953-1991.’ Here’s part of the summary for that one:

The postwar Soviet Union was a developmental state par excellence. Beginning in the 1950s, Soviet academics completely reinvented the discipline of international political economy and developed a new area studies academic establishment, creating the intellectual space needed to discuss how newly independent countries in the ‘Third World’ could plot their own non-capitalist development. Academics held conferences and seminars for visitors from around the developing world, often offering the historical experience of Soviet Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s as the most instructive developmental model for Third World countries – in the 1960s and 1970s.

Soviet Communist Party advisers unpacking Afghanistan in the 1980s

But while some scholars, such as Ragna Boden and Andreas Hilger, have begun to unpack Soviet developmental policy in the Third World per se, no one has taken the intellectual history of Soviet developmental thought seriously, particularly so not with reference to this ‘Central Asian Consensus’ for development that emerged in the 1960s, nor to how Soviet development thought played out in the USSR’s biggest developmental project – the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

This paper, a chapter from a larger dissertation on Soviet development and modernization in Cold War Afghanistan, seeks to do just that. Using as its material base Soviet journals, development theory books, and archival materials from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (the site of a major conference on the ‘Central Asian Consensus’ in 1971), it argues that Soviet development thought, particularly regarding Afghanistan, reflected larger trends of de-Stalinization and de-centralization in postwar Soviet intellectual life.

Foreign delegates examining the accomplishments of Soviet/Kyrgyz industry, August 1971

More specifically, academics at the major Moscow institutions like IMEMO and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR moved away, tentatively, from a Stalinist piatichlennaia theory of universal development to one that took greater account of cultural and religious differences, but they did so too late to foresee the Sino-Soviet Split or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. At the same time, however, Central Asian Communists sought to lend their own particular developmental experience universal and hegemonic legitimacy for the developing world. Vis-a-vis Afghanistan in particular, Uzbek academics claimed special knowledge and insight into how that country could develop, again on the basis of their supposed special historical experience. The results of this narcissistic exercise would prove disastrous.

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