Michael van Walt van Praag

Michael van Walt van Praag joined the Institute for Social Sciences as a Senior Research Fellow in January 2016.

Michael van Walt came to UC Davis from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was on the faculty of the School of Historical Studies for four years as its Visiting Professor of International Relations and International Law.  He has held visiting, teaching and research positions at Stanford, UCLA, Indiana, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Golden Gate University School of Law and the Università degli Studi di Roma Sapienza.

A specialist in intra-state conflict resolution, he has served as mediator in peace talks and as advisor to negotiating parties in many parts of the world, but mostly in the Caucasus, Asia, the South Pacific and Africa. He is currently Executive President of Kreddha, an international, non-governmental organization for the prevention and resolution of violent intra-state conflicts, which he co-founded in 1999. For the preceding eight years, he was the General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in the Hague.

Michael van Walt holds a law degree from the University of Utrecht, an LLM from Wayne State University in Detroit, and a doctorate in international law (SJD) also from the University of Utrecht.

He has practiced law in Washington, D.C., London and San Francisco working on matters involving public international law, corporate law and international arbitration. He has served as International Legal Advisor to the Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama since 1985 and was UN Senior Legal Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste during the country’s transition to independence.

Michael van Walt has written a seminal book on the status of Tibet and numerous articles and chapters on intrastate conflict resolution. He is a frequent lecturer and speaker at universities and other institutions around the world.  

Current research

I have been working for several years on research to understand and address recurring obstacles to peace processes caused by the invocation of history and historical narratives by conflicting parties. My colleagues at Kreddha and I developed one methodology to address this issue which involves delving deeply into history to uncover the sources of divergent historical interpretations and narratives and the hold they have on people. 

As an ISS Senior Research Fellow at UC Davis, I have been working on two projects. I have been finishing a book, an edited volume, co-authored with Timothy Brook of the University of British Columbia and Miek Boltjes of Kreddha. It will be published in early 2018. The book looks at the nature of polities and of relations among them in Inner and East Asia from the 13th to the early 20th century. It re-frames the way we understand the history of that region, moving away from the dominant paradigm of empire and periphery to three distinct and interacting civilizational worlds, each with their own international legal order. This approach enables an appreciation of the diverse world views and resulting historiographies in the region, and explains their persistence and relevance today. The book is the result of collaboration with some seventy scholars worldwide. 

The newer research I am working on builds on this work and looks more specifically at the Sino-Tibetan conflict and its relation to the different historical perspectives discussed in the book referred to above. It also looks at the practice and consequences of creating ‘national’ histories projecting today’s political and geographic realities or aspirations into the past, and its effect on conflicts and peace processes. It takes the PRC’s precondition for substantive talks to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict, which requires that the Tibetan side publicly accept the PRC’s historical narrative, as a case in point, and seeks to address it in ways that could help unblock the process. This project is also being conducted in collaboration with scholars from different countries and disciplines. 

In connection with this research, I brought 13 scholars to UC Davis in September 2016, a similar number to Waseda University in Tokyo in March 2017, and will be bringing another 14 to Oxford University in September 2017. The first two seminars have been excellent, yielding very useful results. I am confident that the remaining two seminars will be equally stimulating and useful.

I am also exploring with Kreddha facilitating a dialogue on extractive industry activities in or near Native American land, involving representatives from the industry, Native American nations, lending institutions and government. This was inspired by some requests I received in connection with the tensions around the Standing Rock confrontations.

— June 2017

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