When Al Qaeda terrorists flew their planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, New Zealand looked to Professor Robert Patman to explain what was going on.
In the 1990s, Robert had emerged in New Zealand as a regular international affairs commentator on television, radio and in newspapers. After 9/11, he analysed issues such as the rise of al Qaeda and policy options such as the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Robert has written or edited seven books on global power, globalisation and conflict, and his current work-in-progress, Strategic Shortfall: The ‘Somalia Syndrome’ and the March to 9/11, explores how events in Somalia in 1993, popularised by the Hollywood movie Black Hawk Down, set the US on a path that ended up with the world’s most powerful state being subject to terrorist attacks.
He says the task of explaining and de-mystifying events is one which he is only too happy to perform. “As an academic, I am fortunate enough to have more time than the average person to examine these problems. If I can help others, in a small way, to make more sense of the world we live in then I am doing my job as an educator.”
Robert believes that the skills and experience of working in the classroom can also be effective in a fast-moving media context. “One of the key challenges of teaching is to communicate ideas and information clearly. I think speaking in an organised and accessible fashion helps both in the classroom and in a live TV interview.”
Robert does not hide his impatience with jargon. “I believe the inappropriate use of jargon in teaching is a hindrance rather than a help. I want students to think analytically and rigorously about the field of international politics. To do that, they must read widely and be prepared to test their beliefs and arguments in class. My job is not to foist my views on them, but to help them to develop their capacity for critical thinking and intellectual independence.”