Piece on “Humanitarian Invasion” for “Peripheral Histories” Blog

A quick update regarding my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan. I lately had the chance to come across recently founded and terrific blog by several American and British graduate students called Peripheral Histories. It’s devoted to the study of “peripheral” regions of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Here they are in their own words:

The Peripheral Histories? blog exists to challenge the logic that the ‘periphery’ was every really ‘peripheral’ to the history of Russia and the USSR.  It poses and addresses several broad questions: How do differences of geography, culture, society, ethnicity, and nationality shape local, provincial, and imperial identities?  Why do some regions and localities come to be seen as ‘peripheral’?  How are divisions between ‘centre’ and periphery’ perceived over time?  And how do scholars access the materials needed to address these questions?

Intrigued, I decided to write down a few of my thoughts on how the USSR’s peripheries got into the game of development aid in Afghanistan during the Cold War. It’s common to think of Soviet development aid to Afghanistan as coördinated by some giant faceless bureaucracy in Moscow—and for the most part, it was. This is a process that scholars like Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, among others, have demonstrated well.

However, as I show in the piece, Soviet peripheries both expanded outward and sucked Afghanistan inward, so to speak. Specialists from Soviet Uzbekistan were sent to state farms in eastern Afghanistan, and often the entire Uzbek topsoil came with them to ensure optimal growing conditions. The plant cultures for olives came from Azerbaijan to start olive groves in the east, as well. And later, in the 1980s, peripheral regions of Russia itself took in hundreds of Afghan orphans. The takeaway I offer in the piece is that while scholars of international history might think first to look at the archives of Foreign Ministries, provincial locations were also quite involved in the execution, if not the actual conception, of foreign policy.