Water Under the Bridge?: The Ebbs and Flows of Decolonization

Sujith Xavier, "Water Under the Bridge?: The Ebbs and Flows of Decolonization", Völkerrechtsblog, (December 28, 2020). doi: 10.17176/20210107-181845-0
"Jochen von Bernstorff and Philipp Dann’s ‘The Battle for International Law: South-North Perspectives on the Decolonization Era’ (Battle for International Law) is an ambitious undertaking. The editors along with their gathered authors explore ‘the battle’ waged by the newly formed independent states, as they arrived on the international scene from prolonged periods of colonization. What they coin as the decolonization era (1950s-1970s) is a bridge between two significant periods: the ‘end’ of colonialism and imperialism that started in 1885 with the Berlin conference and the ‘beginning of unipolar US hegemony in international relations of the 1980s and 1990s’ (p. 9). This bridging period, they argue, is significant because of how newly independent states and their various interlocutors fought to shape the global order. Von Bernstorff & Dann note ‘[t]hese voices pulled various sites and fields into the discursive battle that was international law–fields as diverse as were the main protagonists and their strategies: negotiations on new fundamental multilateral treaties were turned into battle-sites’ (p. 3).
In this brief reflection, I focus on the periodization on which the editors and the authors rely. In particular, the temporal period that they focus on opens up new vistas for those interested in the history of international law. Simultaneously, by limiting their temporal field of exploration, the editors may have narrowly construed the different iterations of decolonization. In this short commentary, I first signal to the book’s significant contribution to a burgeoning body of literature that centers the global South in international law. Then, I think through some of the limitations of the editors understanding of decolonization."