Journal of World History 12.1 (2001) 193-196
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The History of Diplomatic Immunity
The History of Diplomatic Immunity. By LINDA S. FREY and MARSHA L. FREY.Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1999. Pp. xiv + 727. $80.00 (cloth).
Linda and Marsha Frey's The History of Diplomatic Immunity purports to explore a global history of diplomatic immunity from ancient times to the present. While the authors have succeeded in chronologically covering their subject, their book fails to offer non-Western perspectives on this aspect of international relations. The book is a superb history of European international law, but it falls far short of a world history of diplomatic immunity, the goal apparently set by the authors.
The authors should, however, be commended for what they have tried to do and what they have succeeded in doing. Given that the authors' previous publications appear to be largely European, they should be applauded for attempting to break out of that traditional area of history and write about their subject in a truly global fashion. Moreover, they have supplied a valuable framework by which other historians can further explore and evaluate this aspect of international relations. They have also done thorough research in both European and non-European primary and secondary sources, and the book has an impressive select bibliography and index.
The introduction of the book provides a fascinating perspective on how diplomatic immunity, adopted by various parties in Eurasia for purposes of political expediency, subsequently became courtesy, practice, precedent, right, and law. This type of schematic might become the pattern for future studies by additional scholars. Perhaps more importantly, the authors assert that a study of diplomatic immunity history is, to a great extent, a study of the histories of international relations and international law. The authors have blazed a trail into a very large subject area that needs additional study and elaboration. [End Page 193]
The book begins with an outstanding chapter comparing the systems of diplomatic immunity practiced by various cultures across Eurasia in the ancient and early modern periods. The reader gets a brief, but intriguing look at diplomatic immunity in Greek, Roman, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and various East Asian cultures. All of these cultures were, in some ways, quite similar in that they practiced immunity in varying degrees, depending on whether or not the envoys in question were considered "selfs" or "others." European Christians in the Arabic Muslim diplomatic world, for instance, were not likely to enjoy full diplomatic immunity in the Muslim world, nor would Muslim envoys in Christendom. This first chapter gives a strong impression that the book is transcultural, transregional, and global in the broadest senses of those words.
The authors, however, then focus almost exclusively on Europe in the next eight of the remaining twelve chapters. They argue that Europe is the most important major world culture for this study since it is allegedly the only one that develops a fully elaborated system of diplomatic immunity and because European imperialism after 1800 allows the European nation-state system to be imposed on most of the rest of the world. While this reviewer does not wholly disagree with the latter observation and sees a strong "Europeanization" after 1800, there are significant problems with the book's central thesis.
There is little recognition, for example, especially in the post-1800 chapters, that international law was relatively unimportant in studying the power relationships and issues of the times, either between the European nations on the one hand or between the European powers and the rest of the world on the other. International law was only important and employed by European nations when it became an adjunct to other more traditional forms of power, such as military or economic leverage. Power ruled international relations much more than legal niceties in those days, just as it still does today.
The authors also make numerous references throughout the book to the fact that the Europeans were constantly and consistently striving to create a unified legal system of diplomatic immunity. They even talk about a unified system...