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Joseph O Mahony

Dr Joseph O’Mahoney's research investigates the politics of international norms, including the laws of war and conquest, the criminalisation of homosexuality, and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. 

He is also interested in how we can establish motives, intentions, or reasons for action in international relations.

Breaking the norms

“Conquests are illegitimate. But what happens when states do it anyway?"

Joseph's latest publication Denying the Spoils of War: The Politics of Invasion and Non-recognition (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), raises questions around why so many states adopt a position of non-recognition of gains from war.

There have been quite a few cases in the past where states have used force to either take hold of territory, create a new state or gain some political advantage. How has the international community reacted to this situation?

“States generally embrace a policy of non-recognition. Despite being proven ineffective as a coercive tool or deterrent, the international community has actively withheld recognition in numerous instances of territorial conquest since the 1930s.”

Joseph conducted archival research to evaluate states’ decision-making towards two major instances of non-recognition: the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the establishment of Manchukuo in the 1930s, and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the subsequent declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

He also did a comparison with two cases where force was used but the results were recognised as legitimate: the Italian conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935 and the Indian invasion of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

The cases revealed that non-recognition was aimed at maintaining the rule against aggression, by re-establishing the joint commitment of all states to the rule.

Arguments in international politics

The publication was followed by several research papers written by Joseph around the case studies discussed. In his paper about the Bangladesh Liberation War, he studied state arguments on norms and legitimacy and the ways in which states make attempts to win their arguments.

“One way of doing this is changing the world around you to fit your argument. In the case of Bangladesh, India occupied East Pakistan and withdrew their troops only to get recognition from states. The withdrawal of troops proved the invasion was not a conquest and Bangladesh was an independent state."

Research intertwined with teaching and learning

Joseph’s teaching interests are international relations theory, security-related topics, and methodology.

He currently convenes the Qualitative Methods for International Relations module that covers the basics of research design and focuses attention on a range of widely used qualitative research methods in the study of politics and international relations.

Joseph also convenes the Modern International Relations module that introduces students to various theoretical approaches to international politics, as well as a selection of major issues on the international stage, including globalisation, conflict, nuclear weapons and terrorism.

From next year onwards he will be teaching an additional module directly informed by his research.

“Research findings from my upcoming project on India's nuclear test in 1974, will feed into my teaching of Politics of Nuclear Weapons.”

Joseph has also developed a Research Methods module for the Army Higher Education Pathway for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Engaging with students

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) at the University of Reading provides exciting opportunities for undergraduate students in the middle years of their degree, to work on real research projects alongside academic researchers at the University.

This year, Joseph has also been assisted by a second-year politics and international relations undergraduate student in his research.

"My next detailed piece of work revolves around India’s violation of the norms enshrined in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

"In this project my focus will be on how India's nuclear test in 1974 affected or did not affect the policies of the non-proliferation regime.

"My student research assistant is currently reviewing archival records from the Canadian Ministry of External Affairs for me, and will submit a catalogue of relevant papers and a report based on key research questions."

With the UROP, students gain in-depth knowledge of how research works, as they actively apply themselves, rather than simply looking at an academic article.

Connecting research

Joseph's research aims to give us fresh insights on topics related to the legitimate rules of international conduct. But research can also have unexpected real-world relevance. 

For example, Joseph's recent joint publication with Dr Enze Han at the University of Hong Kong, British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality (Routledge Focus, 2018), examines whether colonial rule is responsible for the historical, and continuing, criminalisation of homosexuality around the world.

The publication has been well received and even subject to several media inquiries.  Many news providers have referenced the book in their news reports including the likes of The Washington Post, The New York Times, BBC and Channel 4.

Learn more about our BA Politics and International Relations course

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