SOAS University of London


Global diplomacy and governance

Centenary research theme

SOAS was founded at the height of the First World War and witnessed the growth of the League of Nations and the International Court of Justice, then the United Nations, as formal institutional mechanisms to promote peaceful dialogue and global governance.  In the recent decades, the realm of the ‘international’ has expanded further, to incorporate institutions such as the International Criminal Court and formal international processes around issues such as trade, finance, human rights, migration, poverty, climate change and biodiversity.  However, these have frequently been driven by the West – by Western ideas, power and interests.

The ‘big story’ of the 21st century is already the emergence of Asia, Africa and the Middle East as key regions that are increasingly challenging US and European power in diverse ways.  In this context, the core question for SOAS over the coming century is what this shifting centre of geopolitical power will mean for the underpinning values of governance and diplomacy, such as democracy, consent or trust.  What will a genuinely ‘decolonised’ world look like?   Will this lead to a diversity of approaches to local, national and international governance, or a new common approach?   And how will changing global processes play out at local level in terms of security, well-being and inter-cultural dialogue?  We will seek to reach out to thought leaders in emerging countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, both to look back at governance and diplomacy over the past 100 years and look forward.

Advocating local justice systems after conflict

A gacaca community court hearing in Rwanda. Photo: Public Radio International
Through his research on post-conflict accountability and reconciliation Dr Phil Clark, Reader in Comparative and International Politics, challenges the suitability of international judicial processes in Central Africa. Controversially, he has questioned the practices of the International Criminal Court, human rights groups and UN agencies, championing instead local, community-based practices which hold both high- and lower-level actors accountable. His work promoting forgiveness and enabling communities to heal themselves has drawn attention from governments and international agencies alike. Read more...

Informing legislation

Phillip Cullet, Professor of International and Environmental Law, has worked closely with the Indian Government’s Planning Commission since 2009, in particular with its working group on water governance. Cullet’s research, in particular his 2009 monograph, helped to re-define the conceptual framework underpinning water law, such that it is now informed by human rights and sustainability concerns. This has led to a draft model bill that introduces a radically new legal structure.

Reassessing the links between growth and governance

Professor Mushtaq Khan's research on the relationship between growth and governance demonstrates that stable property rights, the rule of law and democracy are often the consequence, rather than the cause, of development. His work has influenced UK and French government thinking, and policy formulation in poor countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa. It has persuaded even the World Bank to re-think its own approach to the meaning of good governance. Read more…