Student Note on Restricting the Import of Cypriot Coins

Derek Kelly has written a note Illegal Tender: Antiquities Protection and U.S. Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coinage, 34 Brooklyn Journal of International Law (2009).  He argues one of the reasons the United States protects antiquities is because they may be used as a kind of “political” bargaining chip, particularly on the international stage.  The author does a nice job discussing the imposition of restrictions on Cypriot coins, and he even digs deeply into many related blogs and other sources highlighting the competing views. 
It is a thought provoking piece, and a nice student note.  Here’s an extract from the introduction. 

In one of the Bush administration’s final acts before leaving office, the United States concluded an agreement with China that banned the import of Chinese antiquities into the United States. This agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), was the most recent of fourteen bilateral accords the United States has signed with other countries for the avowed purpose of protecting cultural heritage.  One important aspect of the new agreement with China is the inclusion of a number of ancient coin-types among the protected materials. This is significant because it is only the second time that an MOU has included coins and demonstrates the increasing breadth of these agreements as the United States attempts to use cultural heritage protection for politicalgain.

The author makes some interesting points, and I think he is certainly right in a sense that many nations use antiquities and heritage policy as a political issue, but of course we could say that about every issue confronting every representative form of government.  He takes up James Cuno’s argument that these objects “have political meaning.”  I think one aspect of the argument which I would have liked to have seen expanded perhaps is the idea that the U.S. does not really unilaterally impose these restrictions.  A nation makes a request, and they have always been granted. 

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One thought on “Student Note on Restricting the Import of Cypriot Coins”

  1. I think you are being a bit naive about how the process works in practice. Countries may formally make requests, but it has been documented that they at least on some occasions have been egged on by the US archaeological community and/or the State Department bureaucrats in doing so. Indeed, based on information from our FOIA case as well as contacts with the Chinese Embassy, it would seem the decision to add coins to the Chinese request was made by State Department bureaucrats alone.

    I should also note, as the article itself states, foreign requests for restrictions on coins have not always been granted. Indeed, a request for Cyprus to impose import restrictions on coins was rejected when first proposed in 1999. The State Department further refused to extend import restrictions on coins of Italian type on the past two occassions.

    In any event, while a decent effort, a somewhat different article might have been written depending on the outcome of the ongoing FOIA case and forthcoming customs actions related to the Cypriot and Chinese requests.

    Finally, it never ceases to amaze me that writers of academic pieces don’t seem to want to go through the added effort of contacting individuals involved in an issue to conduct an interview. It seems to me that might lead to a better article overall.

    Best wishes,

    Peter Tompa

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