Coral Bell and the Concert of Power: Avoiding Armageddon

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    Coral Bell gave the title ‘A Preoccupation with Armageddon’ to the fragment of memoir found among her papers, and began it by recalling the moment she heard that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. ‘I can even remember the pattern of the hearth-rug on which I was standing when a colleague rushed in with the news’, she wrote. ‘Perhaps that moment is the reason why so much of my life has revolved around wars and crises; why I have had such a preoccupation with the possibility of Armageddon. Especially how to avoid it’.2 It is perfectly characteristic of Coral that this short and simple statement should so fully and precisely describe her life’s work. Coral Bell was one of the very last of those whose thinking about international relations was shaped by direct and personal experience of hegemonic war, and her life’s work was to explore the question about how such wars can be avoided. She looked for answers in the ways states interact with one another, both in the slowly-shifting patterns of their long-term relationships, and in sudden stresses of crisis. She believed the key to preserving peace was to be found in the nature and workings of the international system—the way states communicate with one another, understand one another, and reach and honour agreements with one another, and she devoted her long life and her formidable talents to studying the nature of those communications, understandings and agreements. She explored how states could reach understandings and agreements which would forestall conflict, and as time passed she became convinced that one model of international understanding offered the best hope for doing that: the concert of power as exemplified by the European order of the century following the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In this essay I will try to trace the evolution of this conviction in her work, relate it to other ideas she developed, and explore her hopes that a concert of power would indeed prove to be the key to avoiding Armageddon in the twenty-first century. But we should start back on that hearth-rug on 6 August 1945.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPower and International Relations: Essays in Honour of Coral Bell
    Editors Desmond Ball and Sheryn Lee
    Place of PublicationCanberra
    PublisherANU Press
    ISBN (Print)9781925022124
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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