Photo of Dr Ned Richardson-Little

Dr Ned Richardson-Little

Research interests

In the conflict over the meaning of human rights across the globe, the fall of state socialism plays a crucial, if understudied, role. The language of human rights has served to depoliticize and naturalize the metamorphosis in the former Eastern Bloc after the end of state socialism, underpinning triumphalist accounts of Western victory in the Cold War. The meaning of human rights and human rights movements as part of the revolutions of 1989/91 developed in connection with competing claims for legitimacy by various post-socialist factions that aspired to associate their agendas with a grand historical narrative, rather than simple economic and social interest. If the history and genealogy of human rights are proxies for the conflict over the contemporary meaning of the human rights movement, the fall of state socialism acts as a vital site of contestation.

While state socialism once provided a counter-narrative to Western conceptions of human rights, those seeking alternatives have been unable to use the now tainted language of Marxism to legitimize their claims. This disruption has led to a variety of strategies for legitimizing systems of social and economic rights, as well as illiberal forms of governance, by means of appeals to culture and particularism. The fall of state socialism created both a positive case for liberal democracy and a negative space of ideological absence in opposition to Western conceptions of human rights.

Beyond my work on human rights, I have recently embarked on a new project that will examine the evolution of the international narcotics control system in the late Cold War. While accounts of the international drug war rarely mention the socialist world, the GDR and other Eastern Bloc states began reforming their anti-narcotic policies in the 1970s to come into line with the United Nations conventions of 1961 and 1971. Although socialist elites viewed the abuse of narcotic drugs as a pathology of capitalist decay, Eastern Bloc countries were increasingly encountering trafficking at their borders in the buffer zone between production countries in Southern and Western Asia and consumption countries in Western Europe. By the 1980s, concerns that Eastern Europe was becoming a transit corridor led to collaboration and the full support of the global anti-trafficking system. While the Eastern Bloc had played an ambivalent role in negotiations around earlier UN anti-drug conventions, the USSR and its socialist allies were enthusiastic supporters of the 1988 UN Convention that targeted trafficking and money laundering in response to the growing global trade in cocaine. Not only did Eastern Bloc nations collaborate amongst themselves, they also sought out partnerships with the West, including the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA first began to cooperate with the GDR in the 1970s, and in the 1980s, financed several anti-trafficking initiatives between East and West. This case study not only delves into the global pressures that eroded East-West antagonism in the later years of the Cold War, but also uncovers the roots of modern European legal, economic, social and cultural cooperation in the modern narcotic prohibition system.

Research collaborations

Conference Organization

Co-Organizer in partnership with Raluca Grosescu (Exeter), Dietmar Müller (GWZO Leipzig and Marcus Payk (Humboldt University of Berlin) “State Socialism, Legal Experts and the Genesis of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law after 1945,” Berlin (November 2016)

Co-Organizer with James Mark (Exeter), Hella Dietz (Göttingen) and Robert Brier (GHI-Warsaw), “Human Rights after 1945 in the Socialist and Post-Socialist World,” Warsaw (March 2016)