“There has never been a better time to study international politics in Australia,” says Professor Martin Griffiths.
Coming from an academic expert in international relations, that claim might seem a little self-serving, but Professor Griffiths says that Australia is witnessing shifts in power and economic weight that will affect our future international alliances and engagement in profound ways.
Professor Griffiths, the new Dean of the School of International Studies at Flinders University, said that while the often predicted decline in the power of the United States has not yet materialised, there is a definite shift of global power and influence towards our own region.
“The United States has shown a capacity to bounce back before, and I think that will happen again – at the same time, we have the rise of China,” he said.
Describing China’s political character as a “strange beast”, Professor Griffiths points to a growing assertiveness that has been manifested in a more aggressive foreign policy and higher military readiness, but also to an increasing vulnerability, which may actually be of greater concern.
“Any reduction in its economic growth threatens the legitimacy of the Communist Party. The Party’s legitimacy for many years has been linked to growth plus nationalism, as opposed to any real ideological source, and this leaves it vulnerable.
“China’s economy is still in a process of transformation from an export-based model to a consumer-based economy, and that is a transition that will take many, many years.”
The global power shift requires Australia to address the ongoing issue of where it will fit itself, Professor Griffiths said.
“We have the alliance with the United States, which is of increasing importance to us, as well as our engagement with China.
“All of this makes the study of international relations and the School of International Studies more and more relevant as we deal with all the challenges associated with this dramatic shift.”
Professor Griffiths, who taught at Flinders several years ago, has returned to the University after eight years at Griffith University, where most recently he was the inaugural Head of the School of Government and International Relations.
A graduate of the London School of Economics, he has a PhD from the University of British Columbia. His numerous publications, which include 11 books, cover aspects of Australian foreign policy, US foreign policy, nationalism and contemporary theories of peace and war.
Professor Griffiths said that from 2016 the School will offer a single-stream degree that will consolidate the course topics to fully integrate history with international relations
“What we have here at Flinders is, in South Australia, a very unique combination of the study of history and the study of international relations in the one school,” he said.
The School has its own international ambitions too: in addition to rejuvenating the teaching of Flinders’ highly successful postgraduate programs with Nankai University in China, the on-shore teaching of international students in collaborative, dual-degree courses is being established with universities in Indonesia.
Professor Griffiths said the School is also looking to the Philippines, and to other Chinese universities.
“As China becomes more involved in international relations, so the area of study itself becomes popular in China, and in China’s universities.
“It gives us the opportunity to assist those universities as they develop their curriculums, not only to give their students the opportunity to study double degrees with Flinders, but also to build their own capacity in terms of teaching and research as well.”