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The Heights of the Cold War

3 Dec
Above: The height of Cold War satire.

Above: The height of Cold War satire. Slim Pickens as USAF Major ‘King’ Kong rides the bomb in Dr Strangelove.

A recent article in the Daily Mail, plus a subsequent Twitter conversation, has provoked me to address this blog posts to journalists everywhere. This is not some academic lecturing from his lofty ivory tower (it’s actually made of brick, and my office is only on the first floor), rather a plea for a little bit of historical thinking.

Daily Mail journalist Matt Hunter examines on a tense standoff between the air forces of the United States and the Soviet Union in October, 1986. Hunter notes that “The incident above the Barents Sea, near Soviet waters, took place between a US Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a MiG-31, the premier Soviet interceptor aircraft, at the height of the Cold War 30 years ago.”

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The Challenges of Teaching Intelligence Studies

28 Jun

This post is based on a short presentation I gave as part of a job interview at the International Politics department of Aberystwyth University. I didn’t get the position, but I am very grateful to Jenny Mathers and the rest of the InterPol department for the chance to visit Aberystwyth. 

In addressing the question of what are the challenges of teaching intelligence studies, I’d like to focus on four main challenges that I see as significant. These obviously are not the be all and end all, but are succinct summaries of key issues that I see as affecting how and why we teach.

spooksI’d argue that one of the main challenges is addressing student expectations of what intelligence is. These expectations are at least in part formed by a lifetime of exposure to popular cultural interpretations of intelligence, such as television programmes like Alias, Spooks, 24, and The Night Manager, the Bourne films, video games like the Metal Gear Solid series, and so on and so forth. As much as we in academia would like to think otherwise, films like Bridge of Spies, the Mission Impossible series, and Burn After Reading seem to have a much greater impact on the way people think about intelligence in the wider world than our publications in scholarly journals, conference papers, or blog posts. Oh how I wish it were otherwise!

So, it’s vital to demonstrate that the realities of intelligence are at the same time more pedestrian and more exciting than any film, television programme, video game, or book. For example, while intelligence analysis is a vital component of what intelligence is, it’s dull, painstaking, and often long-winded. I’m not sure a real time programme that involves watching analysts pour over decrypted emails would get quite the same viewing figures as Jack Bauer torturing and killing his way around the world. On the other hand, the career of Oleg Penkovsky or the story of Able Archer ’83 is far more thrilling than any fictional accounts. Able Archer ’83 in particularly informative. The way in which Soviet intelligence gathering that was at its heart based on faulty and often false assumptions about NATO intentions towards the USSR led us closer to nuclear war than any time since the Cuban crisis is a fascinating story. Tales of KGB and GRU officers wandering the streets of London and Brussels at 2 in the morning looking for excessive numbers of lights on in government offices never fails to catch the interest of students.

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Spy Scholarship

10 Apr

To help kick off the third annual Edinburgh Spy Week, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on great works of espionage, intelligence, and surveillance scholarship. Below are a half dozen books that I think are essential for the reader interested in the world of intelligence. This is a personal list, and as such focuses on the twentieth century UK, USA, and USSR. So, no Elizabethan skullduggery, Great Game goings on, on anything like that, I’m afraid.
classified
Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain
, Christopher Moran, 2012

For anyone interested in the history of intersections between the British state, the media, the public, Chris Moran‘s Classified is a must read. The book takes a thematic approach, covering topics like the political memoirs, official histories of intelligence, and the groundbreaking work of Chapman Pincher. All of the themes covered are cleverly combined to offer a dynamic, comprehensive study of the multifaceted nature of secrecy in twentieth-century Britain.

Christopher Moran will be appearing at Spy Week 2016 talking about James Bond in fact and fiction.

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The Pakistani Nuclear Weapons Programme and Globalisation in the 1970s

6 Mar

sargent_ASTReading Daniel Sargent’s excellent recent book A Superpower Transformed provoked me to re-assess some of the framework supporting my own research into US-UK and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project in the 1970s. Sargent manages to crystalise some of the conclusions I was tentatively reaching towards, very handy as I work on the manuscript for my own book. One issue that formed a component of my work – but that I hadn’t made prominent enough – was globalisation. Not just globalisation in terms of markets, but in the emergence of modern transnational movements, networks, and ideas (such as human rights), and the significant role they played in US foreign policy.

Sargent’s thesis forced me to re-appraise the role that globalisation and transnationalism played in US-UK nuclear non-proliferation policy, and in Pakistan’s own clandestine bomb programme. The Pakistani nuclear weapons programme had a lengthy history, but only really emerged as an international issue after the catalytic Indian nuclear test of May 18 1974. This spurred Islamabad into action and gave leaders such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Muhammad Zia ul-Haq the necessary oppositional context to push forward a national nuclear programme.

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Britain, America, Nuclear Non-proliferation, and the Indian Jaguar Deal, 1974-1978

12 Dec

I’m delighted to say that my first published article has now appeared in the august journal, Cold War History. It’s examines a little known nuclear non-proliferation dispute between the UK and US, over Britain’s attempts to sell what were seen as “nuclear capable” Jaguar strike aircraft to the recently nuclearised India.

If you’re quick (and if you don’t have institutional access to CWH), you can download the article for free here.

Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Conclusions

13 Jan

NCWIt’s well over a month now since the conclusion of my first foray into teaching honours-level history (and only a couple of days until I start teaching my second course). Time to take stock, to assess, and to examine the good and the bad. In this post, I aim to summarise the course, look at how things ended up when compared to how I imagined they would, and think about ways to improve the course for future offerings. Hopefully, this reflection and analysis will make me a better teacher and make the course better in future.

The Good

I was delighted to see students responding to my enthusiasm for nuclear history, engaging with subjects they had never studied before, and coming to their own considered conclusions. Furthermore, I was very pleased to see from the feedback that the course had encouraged many students to think more about contemporary nuclear issues and how they relate to the Cold War.

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Reading the Cold War

9 Nov

Today – as almost everybody is doubtless aware – is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a momentous event in modern history and one that I still vividly remember from my childhood. In the popular mind, that rush of people though gaps in the wall represented the end of the Cold War. Therefore, I thought I’d do a list of nine pieces of Cold War scholarship that I think represent the best of what’s out there. This is by no means authoritative or complete, it’s simply a selection of works that I admire or find find particularly useful (and are, in many ways, reflective of my own research interests).

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