Obituary: Gerald Segal

Sidney Bearman
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:03

GERALD SEGAL was a leading thinker and prolific writer on international affairs. His love of words and writing, combined with his rich intellectual powers, vivid imagination and extraordinary drive, help explain his unusually productive, although short, career.

Only 46 years old when he died of cancer, he had written seven books, and co-written four more. He edited, and contributed chapters to seven volumes, and co-edited nine others. He also wrote seven full-length monographs for the Institute for the Study of Conflict, for Chatham House, and for the Institute for Strategic Studies. He wrote over 130 articles - contributing to every major international affairs journal in the world - and provided a steady stream of trenchant essays, comments and op-ed pieces for newspapers world-wide, including The Independent and The Economist.

The sheer weight of this body of work is impressive; what was more significant was its intellectual depth and breadth. He was recognised as a leading thinker on a broad range of international affairs, with particular strengths in the explication of strategic questions with regard to Asia and the Pacific Region. His first book was The Great Power Triangle (1982), an examination of the tangled relations between Moscow, Beijing and Washington in the 1960s.

Segal's first concern was with Asian affairs, but his restless mind, and deep interest in all of life, led him to examine other issues. He wrote The Guide to the World Today in 1987 (republished 1988 and 1991), and The World Affairs Companion in 1991, a guide to global issues. In 1983 he collaborated on Nuclear War and Nuclear Peace, whose authors included Edwina Moreton, whom he married the following year. Always interested in the cutting edge of affairs, he addressed questions on Information Technology and other scientific advances, co-writing, with Barry Buzan, the very well-received Anticipating the Future (1998), one of the better attempts at futurology.

Segal was not only a thinker and writer; he was a doer. In the mid-1980s he perceived a need for a British-based journal that would cover Pacific affairs, and in 1988 founded the quarterly journal Pacific Review, which he edited until 1995.

When Segal was appointed Senior Fellow for Asian Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in 1991, he set about expanding the institute's work on Asia. Concerned that there was insufficient support for the considerable British talent on Asian affairs, he successfully raised pounds 2.3m to run and direct the Pacific Asia Programme, for the UK's Economic and Social Research Council. This five-year project was the largest single grant for the study of Pacific Asia in the social sciences in Europe. In September 1994, he was a co-founder, and co-chairman, of the European Council for Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific, a grouping of Europeans working to foster greater European engagement in the prosperity and stability of Asia-Pacific.

Much of Segal's thinking and writing concerned the changing Chinese scene and the problem raised by this still authoritarian and non-status quo power - how to manage China's entrance into the international community without either appeasing it through too generous a view of its failings, nor provoking such an antagonistic reaction to Western efforts to contain it that security in Asia would be in danger. Segal's solution was to aid China economically, criticise its failings in civil life, and by constraining - not containing - its more aggressive tendencies.

Like all Westerners who write honestly about China, Segal's relations with the country swung wildly. At times, when he pointed out its anti- human rights activities, or argued against repression in Hong Kong, he became persona non grata. At other times, because of a change in the official line, or because he had written something on Chinese economics of which Peking approved, Segal would find himself invited to banquets at the Chinese Embassy, engaging in spirited conversations with the ambassador and his staff.

Segal was born in Canada in 1953 but lived for much of his early life in Israel. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1971. He moved to Britain in 1975 - where he remained for the rest of his life, taking British citizenship in recent years - for his postgraduate study at the London School of Economics; his PhD formed the basis of The Great Power Triangle. He held lecturing posts at Aberystwyth, and at Leicester, and then for several years at Bristol University before moving from academia into think-tanks.

Segal was an even-tempered, mild-mannered, pleasant man, but he never shirked controversy; some claim, unfairly, that he courted it. It is true that his opinions were strongly held, and he did not hesitate to express them. If this brought him into conflict with other views, he accepted the challenge with equanimity. He was unfailingly polite, willing to listen to his temporary opponent, and quick to accept well-thought out arguments.

When Segal was appointed Director of Studies at the IISS in 1997, he took on a new set of tasks, which he performed with his usual panache. It was typical of his concern, and great courage, that even while he was battling his last illness he worked at editing a manuscript, The Security Implications of the New Taiwan, by Bernice Lee, which was published by IISS on the day he died.

Gerald Segal, strategic analyst, writer and editor: born Montreal, Canada 3 February 1953; Lecturer in International Politics, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1979-81; Lecturer in Politics, Leicester University 1981-84; Lecturer in Politics, Bristol University 1984-89, Reader 1989- 91; Senior Research Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), 1988-91; Senior Fellow (responsible for Asian Security Affairs) 1991-97; Director of Studies 1997-99; married 1984 Edwina Moreton (one daughter); died London 2 November 1999.

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