Friday, September 3, 2010

Interdependence, the EU & the Rise of the Telegraph

A fascinating part of reading the historical context of International Communications was the idea that agreements surrounding communications were the first examples of international cooperation & supranational governance. It’s especially interesting in the context of a traditional study of the emergence of the European Union where communication networks are rarely discussed.

The expansion of the telegraph across national borders and even oceans in the mid 1800’s led to the need for regulation and cooperation on an international level. The International Telegraph Union of 1865, signed by 22 countries, marked the first time states had worked together. But this Union is often left out of discussions about the European Union.

Many scholars tend to date the origins of the EU in the post World War II era. Neill Nugent’s The Government and Politics of the European Union starts its timeline in 1947 with common customs tariffs and the 1951 formation of European Coal and Steel Community, which placed French and German coal and steel production under “common authority.” (Nugent, 2003) But the roots of this sort of interdependence can be seen much earlier in history with the Telegraph Union.

Another textbook on the formation of the EU does discuss communications in the section on the necessary foundations for interdependence:

“Another essential requirement for successful amalgamation was the presence of unbroken links of social communication between the political units concerned, and between the politically relevant strata within them. By such unbroken links we mean social groups and institutions which provide effective channels of communication” (Nelsen & Stubb, 2003)

Although they discuss communications between countries as a necessity factor for interdependence to develop, communications is portrayed as a means to an end rather than a player. But all three authors (Thussu, Mattelart, & Hanson) from the readings paint communications as a driving force in itself toward supranational government. In looking at IC theory, EU theory seems to have an elephant in the room.

In all, it’s interesting that the telegraph itself was such a driving force in the spread of empires & nations but would lead, centuries later, to a compromise of the power of modern nation-states.


Nelsen, B. F., & Stubb, A. (2003). The European Union Readings on the Theory and Practice of European Integration. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Nugent, N. (2003). The Government and Politics of the European Union. Durham: Duke University Press.

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