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Prof. Bischoff's Inaugural Lecture

Date Released: Tue, 28 September 2010 15:29 +0200

No End by Fire or Ice – IR, Reconstituting the International was held at Eden Grove last week. VC Saleem Badat's introduction gave the audience a short glimpse into Professor Paul-Henri Bischoff's event-filled life. Born in Cape Town to Swiss parents, Bischoff left South Africa aged two. He returned in 1966 at the age of 12, the era when increasingly far-reaching apartheid laws were resulting in the establishment of a brutal police state.
Bischoff's experiences during this time led him to the discipline of International Relations (IR). Giving his audience a background into the development of IR, Bischoff undertook to look at how it has shaped the global practice of government, and how the discipline has changed as we have moved from the twentieth into the twenty-first century.
IR was engineered after the First World War to try and avoid future conflicts. The Treaty of Versaille in 1919 created three Chairs, in Paris, New York and Aberystwyth, whose goal was to create the discipline of IR and to look at overcoming the factors which led to war. Bischoff borrowed a quote from Robert Frost when he explained that IR is strategically placed to see that the world does not end in fire or in ice, but rather that countries desist from such trajectories and instead look to dialogue and reconciliation, and to the creation of institutions to bridge fragmented global relations.
Wilsonianism, a movement based on the political methods of President Woodrow Wilson, gave rise to the League of Nations, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to supplant the big powers with a world parliament of states. After the failure of the League, the discipline began to be dominated by the American Academy and realism, with proponents such as Kissinger developing a monolithic IR which had lost the ability to engage in dialogue.
Bischoff reiterated that IR's core is in fact to look for a dialogue to redraw the international and to promote change. It needs to be a discipline which acknowledges not only the powerful countries of the world, but which also allows for smaller states, and indeed for those who are members of “transnational” populations (such as on our own continent), to have a voice.
Bischoff referred to Mbeki's dream of an African Renaissance, noting that it was an all-inclusive attempt to leverage Africa onto the world stage. South African foreign policy could, he says, be so much more than it currently is. As an example of the big impact a small state can have, he related the story of Napoleon Robertson, former Prime Minister and President of Trinidad and Tobago, who proposed the formation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Today the ICC is the only international body which gives civilian victims of conflict a voice.
In the 21st century, he suggests that IR can be used in other arenas. He explored the idea of a shared biosphere, fragile, needing to remain functional. IR can help to evolve new forms of international organisation on environmental stewardship. He advocates a policy of flexible universalism; all humanity shares some basic needs, for example clean air and water. Cyberspace provides a new global commons: IR is called upon to help shape such a space and, with the input of informed citizenry, build a shared political awareness of such issues.