I spoke in parliament today about the late international relations scholar Coral Bell.
Coral Bell, 11 October 2012
I rise to speak about a great constituent of mine, Coral Bell, AO, who passed away on 26 September 2012. Coral Bell was a former academic at the Australian National University and one of the great international relations scholars in Australia. Her former ANU colleague Andrew Carr said, ‘She was a landmark figure in Australia’s international relations who was often the only woman in the room yet was always well heard and respected for her intelligence and character’. My friend Michael Fullilove, who has recently taken over as executive director of the Lowy Institute—and I congratulate him on that—called Dr Bell ‘a giant of the Australian foreign policy scene’.
Dr Bell came to adulthood during the Second World War and, as Robert O’Neill noted in his obituary for her, knew from her own experience just how much was at stake when great powers went to war with each other with modern weapons. She understood the challenge of nuclear war and was part of a key group of Australian scholars working on key issues around understanding the Cold War. Her doctoral thesis, which formed the basis of her first book, was based on understanding how the United States was managing the Cold War. She returned to teach at the University of Sydney from 1961 to 1965, then to a readership at the London School of Economics and was a professor at the University of Sussex until 1972.
Dr Bell returned to work at the Australian National University from 1977 until 1988 and then continued to contribute to the field. She characterised the NATO alliance as ‘always in disarray’, an observation which I think contains more than a kernel of truth. Her paper The End of the Vasco da Gama Era, one of the Lowy Institute’s first, is considered one of its best. Dr Bell was regarded as a conservative realist—not an international relations tradition with which a small ‘l’ liberal like me would associate—but she was nonetheless very much a conservative and not a neocon. In that capacity she was a strong critic of George W Bush’s foreign and military policies and held the view that the United States had lost its sole superpower status and we were moving towards a world order where power would be shared among several major states.
Lowy Institute board director Robert O’Neill noted in his obituary:
‘Her analytical legacy is this view of a world where US power and influence have slipped, and those of China, Europe, Russia, and India are rising to form a condominium.’
Dr Bell’s recent publication A World Out of Balance: American Ascendancy and International Politics in the 21st Century highlighted the unique economic and security challenge this context presents for international affairs. Our understanding of international affairs has been enriched by this giant, Coral Bell, and those of us who seek to contribute to the ideas and policy debate in international relations stand on her shoulders.