Power and International Relations

Power and International Relations

Essays in Honour of Coral Bell

Edited by: Desmond Ball, Sheryn Lee orcid

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Coral Mary Bell AO, who died in 2012, was one of the world’s foremost academic experts on international relations, crisis management and alliance diplomacy. This collection of essays by more than a dozen of her friends and colleagues is intended to honour her life and examine her ideas and, through them, her legacy. 

Part 1 describes her growing up during the Great Depression and the Second World War, her short-lived sojourn in the Department of External Affairs in Canberra, where she was friends with some of the spies who worked for Moscow, and her academic career over the subsequent six decades, the last three of which were at The Australian National University.

Most of Coral’s academic career was spent in Departments of International Relations. She was disdainful of academic theory, but as discussed in Part 2, she had a very sophisticated understanding of the subject. She was in many ways a Realist, but one for whom agency, in terms of ideas (the beliefs and perceptions of policy-makers) and institutions (including conventions and norms of behaviour), essentially determined events.

Part 3 is concerned with power politics, including such matters as Cold War competitions, crisis management, alliance diplomacy, and US and Australian foreign policies. She recognised that power politics left untrammelled was inevitably catastrophic, and was increasingly attracted to notions of Concerts of Power.

‘Coral would be touched by this collection of essays about her professional and personal life. The contributors offer honest, professional and insightful reviews of her many academic achievements and especially her ideas, many of them the forerunners of others’ work, that makes her one of the very best international relations and strategic thinkers.’ 
Dr. Pauline Kerr, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, The Australian National University 

‘It’s a rare thing in an international relations expert to possess a balance of theory and experience, history and imagination, realism and hope. Coral had this, and she had a 19th-century prose style to match it. Through her writing she explained the chaos of international events and human affairs in simple and clear language to her baffled compatriots. For the rest of the world, she brought an antipodean temperament and perspective to the great questions of our time; she was our George Kennan in thick glasses, blue floral dress, white sneakers and a string of pearls.’ 
Minh Bui Jones, The Lowy Interpreter, 5 October 2012 


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Nov 2014
ANU Press
Arts & Humanities: Biography & Autobiography; Social Sciences: Military & Defence Studies, Politics & International Studies
Australia; Europe: Russia; North America

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Power and International Relations »

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Part 1: Coral Bell: The Person and the Scholar

  1. Coral’s Early Life (PDF, 84KB) – Harry Bell doi
  2. From External Affairs to Academia: Coral’s Encounter with the KGB’s Spy Ring in Australia (PDF, 112KB) – Desmond Ball doi
  3. Coral Bell: A Preoccupation with Armageddon (PDF, 137KB) – Geoffrey Barker doi
  4. Coral Bell: Recollections of an Optimistic Realist (PDF, 214KB) – Meredith Thatcher doi
  5. Coral Bell and Her Mark on Strategic Studies (PDF, 215KB) – Robert O’Neill doi

Part 2: Understanding International Relations

  1. The Interpretation of Power Politics: Coral Bell’s International Thought (PDF, 145KB) – Ian Hall doi
  2. The Importance of Being Coral Bell (PDF, 112KB) – JDB Miller doi
  3. Coral Bell and the Classical Realist Tradition (PDF, 159KB) – James L Richardson doi

Part 3: The Practice of Power Politics

  1. Realist Optimist: Coral Bell’s Contribution to Australian Foreign and Defence Policy (PDF, 362KB) – Brendan Taylor doi
  2. Interpreting the Cold War (PDF, 145KB) – Michael Wesley doi
  3. Coral Bell and the Conventions of Crisis Management (PDF, 427KB) – Robert Ayson doi
  4. Coral Bell’s Alliance Politics: Practitioner and Pundit (PDF, 533KB) – William T Tow doi
  5. Coral Bell and the Concert of Power: Avoiding Armageddon (PDF, 573KB) – Hugh White doi


Cam Hawker reviews Power and International Relations: Essays in Honour of Coral Bell edited by Desmond Ball and Sheryn Lee in Australian Outlook. Hawker writes,

‘For Desmond Ball, the completion of Power and International Relations: Essays in Honour of Coral Bell was a labour of love. Indeed, it was one of his final projects; working on it enhanced and probably extended his life as his illness progressed. Together with Sheryn Lee, Ball brought together a range of colleagues, students and friends to create a volume that pays tribute to a most extraordinary woman and a stellar career.’ And concludes by saying:

‘This book is well worth reading in its own right but also as a vehicle to introduce a new generation of scholars and policymakers to a body of work which they will find enduringly relevant and engaging.’

(Cam Hawker from UNSW, Canberra, ADFA, reviews Power and International Relations: Essays in Honour of Coral Bell for Australian Outlook, 12 February 2017)

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