Research Theme

Conflict: Causes, Conduct and Consequences 

Staff research interests and a significant part of the teaching programmes converge in the area of research on conflict: theorising violent and non-violent conflicts; examining their origins, conduct, and consequences; reviewing the role of institutions in the management and resolution of conflicts; and analyzing efforts to end them and lay the conditions for a more stable order. The common starting point for this research is that conflict is a complex social phenomenon that cannot be successfully studied from a single theoretical or methodological perspective. As a result, the research programmes and projects undertaken under this theme combine a wide variety of approaches and often cross disciplinary boundaries. They also regularly involve collaboration with other institutions both in the UK and abroad.

Within the theme, current research activities of the school can be grouped into several closely interrelated strands:

Strategic Studies

The field of strategic studies deals with understanding violent conflict. Research in this area by several members of the School is partly empirical (concerning the development of strategic thought and of the practical implementation of strategy in many historical examples), and partly theoretical, but since strategy by its very nature has a practical applicability in all cases the insights produced must be relevant to public policy (current and potential future operations). Professor Colin Gray, Professor Beatrice Heuser, Dr Geoff Sloan, work in this area.


Dr Porter's research is about war and international security. He has a particular interest in strategy, the role of armed force in world politics, and in the history of American strategic thought and debate. He is also interested in the history of American political realism from World War Two to the Cold War. He is currently writing a book on distance and geography in modern war and in particular the notion of a globalised 'small world', entitled 'The Global Village Myth' which will be published by Georgetown University Press in 2014. He has also recently published articles on Walter Lippmann and his critique of US grand strategy, on the issue of discretion and the mythology of World War Two as a war of need, on the doctrine of 'containment' in the Global War on Terror, on the Anglo-American relationship since 9/11, and on offshore balancing and power sharing in US grand strategy.

Dr. Kadercan specialises in the intersection of international relations theory, international security, military-diplomatic history, and political geography. His first major project explores the relationship between territory and the evolution of interstate war in the last four centuries, arguing that the rise of nationalism over the course of the nineteenth century has drastically changed how often and how hard states fight with each other. This project has direct implications for international relations theory, rational-bargaining models of war, political geography, and historiography of nationalism. Dr. Kadercan has published articles on nationalism and the concept of state survival (with an emphasis on territorial interpretations of the term) and is currently working on a book manuscript on territory and war. An extension of this project involves Kadercan's research into the potential conversations between international relations literature and political geography with a special emphasis on the territorial interpretations of concepts such as anarchy, hierarchy, and hegemony. A third leg of Dr. Kadercan's research agenda entails the conceptualisation of empires in international relations theory and historiography, with a focus on the Ottoman Empire. In addition to these three broad topics, Dr. Kadercan also works on civil-military relationship, the impacts of private military actors on state-formation processes, and the role of religion in states' foreign policy postures.


Professor Colin Gray

Strategy and Culture: Future Warfare and its Changing Contexts

A series of ongoing projects by the doyen of the group and early exponent of the importance of culture as a variable in conflicts, involving Ph.D. students, conferences and individual publications. They encompass 21st century regular and irregular warfare in its political, cultural, social, economic, technological, geographical, geopolitical and historical contexts.

Strategic Ideas and Theory

The general theory of strategy in relation to environmentally specialised theories. Theory for every environment is either absent (space and cyberspace) or in deep trouble (land in relation to air, and maritime). This on-going project seeks to create new ground and challenge some old beliefs about the role and conduct of military conflict. In addition to several short books, pamphlets and articles in books and journals, Professor Gray's recent monograph, The Strategy Bridge: theory for practice (OUP, September 2010) directly addresses these issues with an original contribution to the general theory of strategy from the perspective of the strategist addressing the task of converting the threat and use of military force into desired political consequences. Professor Gray is currently working, inter alia, on a monograph on Defence Planning, and another monograph entitled Deconstructing Strategic Challenges.

Professor Beatrice Heuser

The Evolution of Strategy

Strategy- how to prevail in conflict, particularly military conflict usually presented in such terms as "art of war" or even "tactics" - has been the subject of study since Antiquity with important lines of continuity and recurrent themes brought to the Modern world by Christine de Pisan, Machiavelli and others. These themes became even more famous in relation to military conflict through the writings of Clausewitz, Sir Julian Corbett, and B.H. Liddell Hart. Technology has obviously introduced phenomenal changes over time, from gunpowder to nuclear weapons, but there are recurrent themes, from genocide to insurgency and counterinsurgency, which can be traced back in strategic writing through the centuries. After the publication of The Strategy Makers: Thoughts on War and Society from Machiavelli to Clausewitz (September 2010) and The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present (October 2010), Professor Beatrice Heuser is currently working on a monograph on Small Wars in Theory and Practice throughout history, and some spin-off articles.

Dr Geoff Sloan

Geopolitics and Strategic History

The concept of geopolitics initially gained attention through the work of Sir Halford Mackinder in England and his formulation of the Heartland Theory which was set out in an article entitled "The Geographical Pivot of History" in 1904. In Geopolitics is a theory of the political implications of spatial relationships and historical causation. In it we explore patterns of political history and particularly strategic prescriptions based on the relative importance of land and sea power in the causes, conduct and consequences of international conflict. Dr Sloan is currently writing a monogrpahy 'Geopolitics and Strategic History, 1871-2025' , to be published by Taylor & Francis in July 2011.

Intelligence and Its Role in Conflict

The gathering, analysis and use of 'Intelligence' in order to manage both domestic and cross-national conflict is one of the oldest functions of the state. It can be said to have its roots in ancient India and China. In the twentieth century it has become institutionalized and is one of the central functions of government. In the military environment it is a force multiplier at all three levels of war. Dr Geoff Sloan is our specialist in this area, currently researching a Leverhulme related intelligence project titled : Intelligence Operations and the British State in Ireland 1916-1921 :Coping with a Policy of 'Slap and Stroke'.

Doctrine and Command Philosophy

Doctrine can be described as the 'soul of warfare'. If formulated, disseminated and applied in a consistent manner it can act as a force multiplier that proves decisive in shaping the outcome of violent conflicts. It can enable a smaller military force to take on and defeat a larger military force. Too often this conceptual component of fighting power is evaluated in isolation from command philosophy. Yet the two are highly dependent on one another for the achievement of operational success. It is only through an examination of the relationship between the two concepts that an understanding can be achieved about the problems of the generation of fighting power.


Institutions for Conflict Management

Institutions play an important role in managing and resolving both violent and non-violent conflicts between and within states and in addressing the consequences of war. Current research in this field examines the impact on conflict of decision making structures and mechanisms within both domestic and international organisations. Specific foci include the ways in which international organisations legitimate their increasingly deep involvement in the domestic affairs of their member states, the scope of electoral institutions to assist in conflict resolution, and the way in which the UN Security Council has addressed - and sometimes failed to address - the problem of war since 1945. Dr Jonathan Golub and Dr Dominik Zaum work in this area.

Dr. Jonathan Golub

Managing Conflict Within the European Union

The European Union was established to manage and prevent conflicts, whether amongst its Member States or between Member States and the rest of the world. This project analyses several aspects of this ambitious mission, including how formal and informal institutional rules mediate the interaction between political actors with often enormously disparate power and interests, how they shape the content of EU laws, and how they affect the legitimacy of the EU in the eyes of its citizens. In addition to placing articles about the management of EU conflict in leading journals, the project continues to generate methodological insights and new datasets that are valuable to scholars as well as practitioners.

Dr. Alan Renwick

The Design of Domestic Institutions

It is conventionally assumed that domestic political institutions are designed by incumbent elites in order to advance their own power interests. While this is often true, Alan Renwick's research explores other routes through which democratic reforms can take place. In particular, he is currently exploring the degree to which and the ways in which values - relating to conflict resolution as well as, for example, to representation, accountability, and effective government - can influence institutional choice processes. One of the themes in his book, The Politics of Electoral Reform: Changing the Rules of Democracy (Cambridge University Press 2010) is the contrast between electoral reform in old democracies and original electoral system creation in new democracies. This is further explored in an article (due out in East European Politics and Societies during 2011) that analyses institutional choices in East-Central Europe around the collapse of communism, which argues that there are circumstances when concerns about conflict resolution and other values can indeed come to the fore in shaping institutions. His major ongoing research projects, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the McDougall Trust, examine the politics of institutional design in the UK and throughout Europe since 1945.

Dr Dominik Zaum

Rules and Representation: The Legitimacy of International Organisations

The project brought together an international group of scholars for a series of British Academy funded workshops examining the legitimation practices of international and regional organisations. As international and regional organisations increasingly interfere with what was once regarded as the sovereign authority of states, questions about their legitimacy, and how they justify their actions, have increasingly been raised. The project examines and compares these practices of legitimation how these practices differ according to regions, institutional structure, and membership, and what this suggests about the prospects and limitations for global and regional governance. The findings will be published in an edited volume to be submitted to a leading academic publisher by winter 2010. It has been supported by the British Academy.

The United Nations Security Council and War

A project run by the Oxford Leverhulme Project on the Changing Character of War, examining the role of the Security Council in addressing - and failing to address - the problem of war and conflict since 1945. A major edited volume, The United Nations Security Council and War: The Evolution of Thought and Practice Since 1945, co-edited by Vaughan Lowe, Sir Adam Roberts, Jennifer Welsh, and Dominik Zaum was published by OUP in 2008 (paperback with minor corrections and revisions in May 2010). The research also resulted in a co-authored monograph (Adelphi paper) by Dominik Zaum and Adam Roberts, for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Selective Security: War and the United Nations Security Council since 1945 (Routledge 2008).


Post-conflict studies

The international community has increasingly involved itself in the establishment and reform of political and social institutions of post-conflict countries with the aim of creating the conditions for self-sustaining peace - efforts which in some cases conflict with continued military operations, in particular counterinsurgency activities. A central part of this aspect of the research theme is a Carnegie Corporation funded project on Power after Peace: The Political Economy of Post-conflict Statebuilding, which examines the impact of post-conflict statebuilding practices on the relationship between formal and informal political and economic structures in post-conflict countries. Other research in this area explores the tensions between ongoing counterinsurgency operations and post-conflict reconstruction, the impact of democracy promotion in post-conflict environments, and the problems of exit strategies. Prof Beatrice Heuser and Dr. Dominik Zaum work in this area.

Dr. Dominik Zaum

Post-conflict Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Participation in an international research group on Exit Strategies and Peace Consolidation (which resulted in a short article for the RUSI Journal (2008) and a forthcoming book chapter (2011), and an international research project on The Norms and Ethics of Post-Conflict Reconstruction (resulting in an article in Ethics and International Affairs (2009). The work builds on Dr Zaum's previous work on post conflict statebuilding, published as The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding (Oxford: OUP, 2007).

Power after Peace: The Political Economy of Post-conflict Statebuilding (with Prof. Mats Berdal, KCL)

The last fifteen years have seen the increased involvement of donor countries and international organisations in the governance and development of post-conflict countries, to assist with the creation of representative political institutions, build governance capacities, promote judicial reform, and reform economic structures. Their efforts of institutional and societal transformation aim to change the underlying structures and dynamics that are thought to have fuelled a conflict. However, the results of these efforts have been mixed at best. This project, supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides an in-depth analysis of the political economy of post-conflict statebuilding, assessing the impact of statebuilding on the distribution of power and of scarce resources in post-conflict societies. Our research group brings together renowned international scholars and practitioners to examine a range of case studies of post-conflict statebuilding, as well as three major thematic issues cutting across the different cases: institution-building and political representation; economic reform; and the statebuilding practices of selected international actors. The project will culminate in a Wilton Park conference in February 2011, as well as a major edited volume of the research group contributions and a co-authored monograph on the political economy of post-conflict statebuilding.

Prof Beatrice Heuser

Atrocities in Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies

A conference project, jointly organised by the School of Politics & IR with the Department of History, University of Reading, and other institutions, on Counterinsurgency (2009, still working on publication of conference proceedings, to be published as a special issue of Civil Wars, a peer-reviewed journal). Papers have now been received by a mix of practitioners and academics.


Understandings and Representations of War and Conflict

The way in which a legitimate international order, and within this war and conflict, are understood differs not only historically but also between different cultures. Exploring such different understandings is a central part of this research theme. A major aspect of this research is the Leverhulme funded programme The Liberal Way of War: Strategy, Ideology, Representations, examining the ways in which liberal states justify and represent their recourse to war and violence and conduct military operations, and critically assesses the geo-politics of the liberal peace and the de-limitation of political spaces inherent in certain aspects of liberal thought. It also assesses competing conceptions of conflict, such as Islamic conceptions of jihad and just war, and the epistemology of global terrorism. Professor Alan Cromartie and Dr Christina Hellmich work in this area.

Professor Alan Cromartie

The Origins of Liberal-Rights Talk

Alan Cromartie's work in this field within and beyond the Liberal Way Programme extends into the early modern period his fundamental research into the origins of rights-talk. Recent lectures and papers on subjects as apparently remote as Aristotle's The Politics and General Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual are intended as preliminary studies for a monograph - Men, laws, and rights-based order - that sets out to relate the modern appeal to 'human rights' to earlier invocations of the concept. In doing so, it documents the spread of universalistic theories that shape and constrain even military action.

Dr Christina Hellmich

Critical Terrorism Studies (with Dr Andreas Benkhe)

Critical Terrorism Studies analyses the basic assumptions behind particular definitions of terrorism and the political effects of related political and governmental practices It also studies the discursive construction of terrorism, in official and public media narratives. The School has introduced a UG and a PG Module on the subject. Within this subject area, Dr Behnke and Dr Hellmich cooperate on two inter-related projects. The first of these projects is entitled The Epistemology of Terrorism: Knowing al Qaeda. It deals with the challenges terrorism in general, and al Qaeda in particular, pose to Liberal understandings of political order and practice. The project conducted a successful workshop in December 2009 at the University of Reading. Also, Drs Behnke and Hellmich presented papers related to this project at the 2010 PSA Conference in Edinburgh. The project will conclude with the publication of an edited volume, to be published by Ashgate in 2011.

Al-Qaeda: From Global Network to Local Franchise

The project provides an empirical overview of the organization, its members and ideological make-up and maps its transition from a global network to localized fragments in the broader context of theoretical and conceptual concerns that arise from the post-9/11 debate. These include questions over different forms of violence in the international system, the nature and role of ideology, and the contest over the legitimacy of political structures. The particular questions to be raised about al-Qaeda are:

  • When did al-Qaeda turn from a local 'rebel' movement in Afghanistan to a globalised 'terrorist' organization?
  • What types of political violence does al-Qaeda engage in?
  • What is the ideology that underlies the violence in the name of Islam? What is the connection between religious and political parameters blurred by the rhetoric of bin Laden? Where does his logic spring from? How does it impact the rationales and self-perceptions of Al Qaeda's followers and supporters?
  • What role does ideology play in al-Qaeda's terrorist campaign? Is al-Qaeda being de-ideologised in the Western media and political rhetoric as a means of demonising its actions?
  • What are the drivers behind al-Qaeda's terrorist violence? What role, if any, does class within Islamic countries, and within the international economic structure play? Are these traditional concerns still relevant?
  • What does al-Qaeda's campaign tell us about localized terrorist violence in global politics?

The project is published as a book Al-Qaeda: From Global Network to Local Franchise, by ZED in 2011. A spin-off of this project, and a continuation of a previous project on Islamic Preaching in Yemen, is an investigation of Yemen as the (potential) new center of al-Qaeda. A first artice, Al-Qaeda in Yemen: Re-thinking the Islamist Threat, has been published recently.

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