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The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire

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A book talk with Kal Raustiala, Burkle Center Director and Prof. of Law, UCLA

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UCLA Burkle Center invites you to join our event in-person at UCLA Law School, Room 1447 or online via Zoom.



"Not only a brilliant assessment of my grandfather's international career, but a timely reminder of the central role of the United Nations and UN peacekeeping in the liberation of colonized and oppressed people." -- Ralph J. Bunche III, General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

A wide-ranging political biography of diplomat, Nobel prize winner, and civil rights leader Ralph Bunche.

A legendary diplomat, scholar, and civil rights leader, Ralph Bunche was one of the most prominent Black Americans of the twentieth century. The first African American to obtain a political science Ph.D. from Harvard and a celebrated diplomat at the United Nations, he was once so famous he handed out the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Yet today Ralph Bunche is largely forgotten.

In The Absolutely Indispensable Man, Kal Raustiala restores Bunche to his rightful place in history. He shows that Bunche was not only a singular figure in midcentury America; he was also one of the key architects of the postwar international order. Raustiala tells the story of Bunche's dramatic life, from his early years in prewar Los Angeles to UCLA, Harvard, the State Department, and the heights of global diplomacy at the United Nations. After narrowly avoiding assassination, Bunche received the Nobel Peace Prize for his ground-breaking mediation of the first Arab-Israeli conflict, catapulting him to popular fame. A central player in some of the most dramatic crises of the Cold War, he pioneered conflict management and peacekeeping at the UN. But as Raustiala argues, his most enduring achievement was his work to dismantle European empire. Bunche perceptively saw colonialism as the central issue of the 20th century and decolonization as a project of global racial justice.

From marching with Martin Luther King to advising presidents and prime ministers, Ralph Bunche shaped our world in lasting ways. This definitive biography gives him his due. It also reminds us that postwar decolonization not only fundamentally transformed world politics, but also powerfully intersected with America's own civil rights struggle.



Order The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire from Oxford University PressUse discount code "AAFLYG6" to redeem 30% off. 



Kal Raustiala is the Promise Institute Distinguished Professor of Comparative and International Law at UCLA Law School and Professor at the UCLA International Institute, where he teaches in the Program on Global Studies. Since 2007, he has served as Director of the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. From 2012-2015, he was UCLA’s Associate Vice Provost for International Studies and Faculty Director of the International Education Office.

Professor Raustiala's research focuses on international law, international relations, and intellectual property. His recent publications include “The Fight Against China’s Bribe Machine,” Foreign Affairs, October 2021 (with Nicolas Barile); “Faster Fashion: The Piracy Paradox and its Perils,” 39 Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, (Spring 2021)(with Christopher Sprigman); “NGOs in International Treatymaking,” in Duncan Hollis, ed, The Oxford Guide to Treaties, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press, 2020); “Hollywood is Running Out of Villains,” Foreign Affairs, August 2020; “Innovation in the Information Age: The United States, China, and the Struggle Over Intellectual Property in the 21st Century,” 58 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (June 2020); and “The Second Digital Disruption: Streaming and the Dawn of Data-Driven Creativity,” NYU Law Review (2019, with Christopher Sprigman). His books include Global Governance in a World of Change (Michael Barnett, Jon Pevehouse, and Kal Raustiala, eds, Cambridge University Press, 2021); Does the Constitution Follow the Flag? The Evolution of Territoriality in American Law (Oxford, 2009); and The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation (Oxford, 2012) (with Christopher Sprigman), which has been translated into Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. His biography of the late UN diplomat, civil rights advocate, and UCLA alum Ralph Bunche, The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire, was published in late 2022 by Oxford University Press.

In 2016, Professor Raustiala was elected Vice President of the American Society of International Law. He has been a visiting professor at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, Princeton University, the University of Chicago Law School, Melbourne University in Australia, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2016, he was the Yong Shook Lin Visiting Professor of Intellectual Property at the National University of Singapore. A graduate of Duke University, Professor Raustiala holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, San Diego.

Prior to coming to UCLA, Professor Raustiala was a research fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, a Peccei Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems, and an assistant professor of politics at Brandeis University. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Raustiala has served on the editorial boards of International Organization and the American Journal of International Law and is a frequent media contributor whose writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the New Republic, the New Yorker, Wired, Slate, the International Herald Tribune and Le Monde. Along with Catherine Amirfar of Debevoise & Plimpton, he is co-host of the American Society of International Law’s International Law Behind the Headlines podcast.



Ralph Bunche III, the grandson of Ralph Bunche, will give opening remarks. He is the General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and manages its Dutch and US foundations. Ralph is a lawyer who has worked with governments, businesses and civil society around the world on international law, criminal justice and human rights issues.



Anna Spain Bradley is the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA and a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. She specializes in international law, international human rights, and international dispute resolution. Her current research focuses on global understandings of racism as a violation of human rights, which is the topic of her forthcoming book Global Racism (forthcoming, Oxford University Press) informed by her recent service as a legal expert to the United Nations on these matters. She is the author of Human Choice in International Law (Cambridge University Press, June 2021) and International Dispute Resolution (Carolina Academic Press, with Mary Ellen O’Connell and Amy J. Cohen, 2021) in addition to numerous law review articles and scholarly works.

In 2021, Spain Bradley was elected Vice President of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) and was re-elected in 2022 to a second term. She previously served on the ASIL Executive Council. She is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the Academic Council of the Institute for Transnational Arbitration, and a founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders International. She is a recipient of the 2014 American Society of International Law’s Francis Lieber Award for her law review article "The U.N. Security Council's Duty to Decide" (Harvard National Security Journal).

Prior to joining UCLA, Professor Spain Bradley served as Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity (2017-2020) and a Professor of Law at the University of Colorado. She previously practiced international law as an Attorney-Adviser at the U.S. Department of State Office of the Legal Adviser where she received two Meritorious Honor Awards for her work representing the U.S. before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague and as a delegate to the United Nations Compensation Commission in Geneva. Professor Spain Bradley also has policy experience working on climate change at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and on international trade agreements at the Office of the United States Trade Representative. She earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her B.A. from Denison University.