The Foreign Service Journal, September 2023

80 SEPTEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL I: A Penetrating New Look A Review by Jim Dandridge When I was asked to write a review of The Absolutely Indispensable Man, I could not imagine that I would find anything new. I had been a Bunche super-fan for many years, from my student days when I had the privilege of knowing him as a teacher and, later, as I closely followed his contributions to diplomacy and to humankind. I have read everything I could get my hands on by and about Ralph Bunche, including the biography by Sir Brian Urquhart and one by Benjamin Rivlin, as well as the collection of Bunche’s travel notes from his 1937-1938 fieldwork in Francophone Africa edited by Robert Edgar. And in 2001 I was involved in organizing a symposium at the Library of Congress in connection with the premiere of filmmaker William “Bill” Greaves’ twopart PBS documentary, “Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey,” based on the Urquhart biography, Ralph Bunche: An American Life. It was in the Library of Congress that Ralph Bunche had had his office as chief of the Africa Division in the Communications Information Office (CIO), precursor to the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Our symposium was held in Room L11, adjacent to the Woodrow Wilson Room (a point to which I will return later). Chaired by Ambassador Donald McHenry, former U.S. U.N. Permanent Raustiala shows that, thanks to Ralph Bunche, the success and raison d’être of this organization [the U.N.] is not only peacemaking but peacekeeping. Representative, our panelists included Sir Brian Urquhart, Bunche’s successor as U.N. Under-Secretary General, friend, and confidant; and Professor Benjamin Rivlin, Bunche’s CIO assistant and later dean of research and university programs at the City University of New York. These gentlemen had written the most comprehensive tomes on Ralph Bunche’s life and achievements. They could do this because, as creator of the Broadway play “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, put it: “They were in the room where it happened.” As we looked toward the Aug. 4, 2003, centennial of Bunche’s birth, we agreed that too much of the man and his momentous contributions had slipped from memory. Our idea was to reintroduce Bunche and his vision for a world of lessened conflict as one of the principal architects of the United Nations at a moment of global need to understand and support this too-often-denigrated institution. Now, two decades later, along comes a 552-page text on Ralph Bunche by Kal Raustiala—the Promise Institute Distinguished Professor of Comparative and International Law and director of the Ronald W. Burke Center for International Relations at the University of California at Los Angeles—that does just that with wellresearched analysis and compelling prose. The Absolutely Indispensable Man far exceeded my expectations. More than a conventional biography, it not only presents a detailed portrait of the person and his career; it also presents another perspective on Bunche and the role of the United Nations—as a global agency of conflict resolution and peacekeeping but, more importantly, an agency that went beyond the original premises of the League of Nations by freeing nearly half the world’s population in Bunche’s lifetime. Raustiala does a masterful job tying Bunche’s biography into his professional statesmanship role, including the consciousness of purpose that was geared into his successive accomplishments. He describes Bunche’s role as one of the preeminent architects of the United Nations, all the way from Dunbarton Oaks and the Department of State to the San Francisco Conference in 1945. (See my article on that theme, “Ralph J. Bunche, U.N. Architect,” in the September 2020 Foreign Service Journal.) Nowhere in the U.N. charter is peacekeeping mentioned. Yet Raustiala shows that, thanks to Ralph Bunche, the success and raison d’être of this organization is not only peacemaking but peacekeeping. Bunche deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his work in negotiating BOOKS Rediscovering Ralph Bunche: Two Views The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire Kal Raustiala, Oxford University Press, 2022, $34.95/hardcover, ebook available, 688 pages.