Jonathan Holslag On world order and disorder


I am sure that not all of you who visit this page have an outspoken interest in international relations. I can perfectly imagine that some now even curse and wonder why all this attention for world affairs is needed. Others, however, might already know that they want to become a diplomat, an international affairs correspondent or an official at the United Nations. My challenge is to make this programme relevant in both cases.

Leadership – I believe that the main responsibility of a university remains to prepare leaders of tomorrow. Leaders need to have a clue how the world functions. These days, even a mayor of a small town has to keep an eye on the international markets, needs to know something about international institutions and can be confronted with rather unpleasant global challenges from terrorism to organized crime. Local leadership is not possible without being somewhat familiar with world affairs.

There is another reason: true leaders are inquisitive people, personalities who dare to challenge common wisdom and try to chart the way to a society that is more secure, prosperous and dynamic. True political leaders are thought leaders. Yet, again, if we want to imagine how our society can look like, it makes sense to keep track of important evolutions elsewhere and to know our history.

Knowledge, understanding and practice – I might be old-fashioned, but it is my opinion that leadership is not possible without knowledge. Knowledge should come from practical experience, from travel, but, inevitably, also from study. As long as we cannot plug computer chips into our brain, ready knowledge is what gives you agility in your thinking. With knowledge comes understanding, which we can further develop by learning to analyse systematically and by learning to structure our thoughts. Subsequently, we can try to persuade others through effective communication and translate our ideas into plans that we can execute.

This programme starts with an intensive course on history of international relations. The aim of this course is the level the playground in terms of knowledge. Even though there are differences in educational background, we will develop a solid basis of knowledge of historical events, personalities, organizations, thinkers, geography, and political economy. Theory of international relations subsequently refines your knowledge of important intellectual approaches and challenges you to apply it to historical cases. Current issues of international relations focuses on today’s world, but, again, requires you to use your knowledge of theory and history. You should thus not consider these courses as separate building blocks, but as stepping-stones.

Your understanding of world affairs will be developed in different ways. One the one hand, for example, we will start examining sources one by one with the guidance of very specific questions. After a while, those guiding questions will be broader, you will be asked to compare texts, and, in the end, you will be challenged to make sense of sources without any guidance. On the other hand, your analysis will gradually become multidimensional and encompass different periods, different geographic areas and different social domains.

That is also true for skill development. In the first course, the emphasis is on reading comprehension, command of spoken English, the ability to process readings within a certain time, the ability to see the big picture, and the skill to summarize it. The second course continues to develop these skills, but more individually. Packages of readings will become larger and you will now be asked to compare different texts. The third course builds on these skills, but you will also be challenged to use them more practically. You will be asked to write policy papers, to simulate negotiations, and so forth. In the graduate year, you can choose for a master paper in international relations and a module that improves your knowledge of research methods, review skills, and presentation skills. Throughout this process, I expect you to improve your communicative skills, your critical thinking, your ability to perform under time constraints, and to show thought leadership.

Besides classes, I also want you to explore Brussels, to participate in debates, to go to conferences, to visit museums, or one of the many cultural events. Attitude is key. Remember: leaders are inquisitive people and eager to explore.

Extra - Outstanding students with a particular interest in international affairs will receive more opportunities to specialize and to gain experience. After the exam of History of international relations, the five best students will get the chance to join a working group on international studies, the G15, together with top-students of previous years. This group will meet frequently to discuss international affairs, and to discuss recent publications. It will have the ability to visit relevant institutions, to meet with practitioners, to prepare intensively for the bachelor and master paper, and, eventually, to ready for selection tests or a PhD project.

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-17 om 14.18.45Table. Overview.