November 30, 2016 - 12:00pm

Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

In 2014, the influential journal Foreign Affairs ran four articles on “Cold War cold cases”: what was the precise nature of bilateral connections between the United States and Iran, Congo, Pakistan and Chile at key junctures during the Cold War? How far was regime change a component of overt or covert American strategy? What kinds of support were solicited from the USA by different domestic actors, both government and oppositional, and how much backing did they receive? 

Foreign Affairs did not select a single Southeast Asian example, passing over ambiguous American interactions with Indonesia, the Philippines and South Vietnam, amongst other cases. Yet in recent years, a variety of new archival sources have become available, partly as a result of recently declassified documents and Freedom of Information requests (some available at which shed light on many important episodes both during the Cold War, and in the decades that have followed. The disclosure of over 250,000 confidential State Department cables by Wikileaks in 2010 provides another rich source of information about US policy towards the region in more recent times, and elucidates how that policy has been implemented on the ground. The ADST Foreign Affairs Oral History project has made available many hundreds of illuminating interviews with retired American diplomats ( This workshop aims to build on these and other sources to help craft a more nuanced understanding of how Southeast Asia interacts politically with the United States.

To what extent has the United States (and its western and regional allies) emphasized an agenda of democracy promotion, and to what extent have geopolitical, economic or other considerations loomed larger? What role did the United States play in endorsing – or indeed deterring – military coups in Thailand and elsewhere in the region? How did western governments and international agencies react to the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which had considerable ramifications for political change in Southeast Asia? How salient were American and western policies during times of political transition in the region, such as the ouster of Marcos, the downfall of Indonesia’s Suharto, or the recent “opening up” of Burma? To what extent have Southeast Asian nations sought to craft reforms or import new political institutions – such as election commissions or constitutional courts – based largely on international urgings? How far are Southeast Asian governments and peoples “victims” of US policies, and how far do they exert significant agency in their relationships with the West? Who exactly is manipulating whom in these interactions?

This two-day workshop will bring together scholars doing critical studies of bilateral relations between the United States, its western and regional allies, and a range of countries in Southeast Asia, both during the late Cold War era and since. We also welcome academics whose primary focus is on the domestic politics of individual Southeast Asian countries, but whose work has been illuminated by an attention to international factors. We aim to produce an edited volume or special journal issue from the workshop. 

For the purposes of this project, Southeast Asia comprises the ten member states of ASEAN, plus Timor Leste. Papers that explore comparisons or linkages with other parts of Asia are welcome, but a core focus should be on Southeast Asia itself. All speakers will be expected to provide a full paper (6000-8000 words) which has not been previously published elsewhere.

We may be able provide partial funding for those whose papers are accepted, but resources will be limited.

We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Dorothy Borg Endowment at Columbia University, and from the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. 

Please send proposals, including a paper title, 250 word abstract and a short CV to Duncan McCargo,, by November 30, 2016.

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