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Textual Settlements: The Sykes–Picot Agreement and Secret Treaty-Making

  • Megan Donaldson (a1)

Extract

The Sykes–Picot agreement embodies a certain style of diplomacy: an assumption of European predominance, given expression through cartographic line-drawing, terms of art (“protection,” “independence,” “interests”), and a structural secrecy which kept agreements from rival European powers, on the one hand, and from the peoples most affected, on the other. It is this element of secrecy that constitutes the focus of the present contribution. I situate the Sykes–Picot agreement in a prewar pattern of secrecy as diplomatic technique, explore its role in spurring a new regime of publicity for treaties, and take it as a touchstone for exploring whether this new regime could achieve a fundamental transformation of prevailing modes of diplomacy.

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References

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1 This essay draws on Donaldson, Megan, From Secret Diplomacy to Diplomatic Secrecy: Secrecy and Publicity in the International Legal Order, c1919–1950 (JSD thesis, NYU School of Law, 2016 ).

2 Signed Feb. 26, 1885, 165 Consol. T. S. 485, art 34, reproduced in E. Hertslet, 1 The Map of Africa by Treaty 20, 43 (1894).

3 On these transactions, see Langhorne, Richard, The Anglo-German Negotiations Concerning the Future of the Portuguese Colonies, 1911– 1914, 16 Hist. J. 367 (1973).

4 Declaration between the United Kingdom and France respecting Egypt and Morocco, together with the secret articles signed at the same time [1904], Cmd 5969 (1911).

5 Reproduced in E. D. Morel, Morocco in Diplomacy 242–43 (1912).

6 Grey to Cambon, May 16, 1916; Grey to Cambon, May 15, 1916; in 4 Documents on British Foreign Policy (1st Series) 245, 244 [hereinafter 4 DBFP (1st Series)] (as amended in accordance with note 9 below).

7 Agreement between France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy [1915], Cmd 671 (1920), art 9.

8 Elie Kedourie, in the Anglo-Arab Labyrinth: The McMahon–Husayn Correspondence and its Interpretations 1914–1939 124–25, 160–66 (1976); Bruce Westrate, The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 1916–1920 154–55 (1992).

9 Cambon to Grey, Aug. 25, 1916, in 4 DBFP (1st Series), supra note 6, at 248–49.

10 See, e.g., L. Oppenheim, 1 International Law: A Treatise 529 (1905).

11 See, e.g., Westrate, supra note 8, at 155–72; James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Modern Middle East 45–63 (2011).

12 Among the papers published was a Russian internal memorandum summarizing the arrangements reached by the Russian, French, and British Governments in the Middle East. The gist was reported in Britain in November 1917, and the full English translation a few weeks later: Asiatic Turkey: Full Text of Allies’ Agreement with Ex-Tsar, Manchester Guardian, Jan. 19, 1918, at 5.

13 Memorandum Balfour, Aug. 11, 1919, in 4 DBFP (1st Series), supra note 6, 340, 342–343 (emphasis added).

14 Covenant of the League of Nations arts 19, 20.

15 Kedourie, supra note 8.

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