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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Trident, Cold War History, and the ‘Myth’ of Deterrence

5 Apr

Trident nuclear submarine HMS Victorious pictured near Faslane, Scotland.

This piece was originally written for the excellent Retrospect, a student-led history journal created and produced by undergraduate students from Edinburgh University’s School of History, Classics, and Archaeology. I am grateful to Kerry, Enzo, and the rest of the team for their permission to reproduce the article here.

Since April 1969 – the same month that British troops arrived in Northern Ireland at the start of ‘The Troubles’ – the Royal Navy began Operation Relentless. Since that time, not a day has passed without there being a British nuclear missile submarine on patrol somewhere in the North Atlantic or the Arctic Ocean. This is Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD), the ability to strike back without warning – and with terrible force – should the UK or its strategic interests be attacked.

‘Deterrence’ is the cornerstone of debates about Britain’s nuclear future, a word used by politicians, military officers, think-tanks, and campaigners. If we fail to replace our current Vanguard-class submarines and their Trident nuclear missiles – so the pro-replacement argument goes – we will be exposed to attack from enemies known and unknown. In 2013 the then Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond stated that Trident was a “tried and tested deterrent” and that there was no alternative that “provides the same level of protection.” A recently published Ministry of Defence factsheet on the Trident Successor Programme noted that “the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent remains essential to our security” and that it could “deter any aggressor”. To discuss who our nuclear weapons might be used against is to enter a Rumsfeldian world of known and unknown unknowns.

But – and this is the heart of this article – what do we mean when we talk about deterrence? And do those arguing for renewal or disarmament understand what the term involves and the ways in which history complicates and confuses the concept? As political scientist Nick Ritchie argues, talking about “the deterrent” assigns an implicit, infallible ability to deter, an ability which stands counter to actual historical evidence. Speaking generally (always bad for an historian), the level of historical understanding when it comes to the nuclear debate is very poor. Thus, this article offers some historical context for the debates that are happening right now and demonstrate that an understanding of Britain’s nuclear history and the complicated, multifaceted ways in which nuclear weapons affected the Cold War can add to our contemporary discussions.

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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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Supervision, scholarship, and empathy

29 Jan
Above: I struggled to think of an image for 'supervisor'. So here's the late, great Carl Sagan.

Above: I struggled to think of an image for ‘supervisor’. So here’s the late, great Carl Sagan.

My biggest teaching challenge for the 2015-16 academic year has been taking on responsibility for supervising the final year dissertations of eleven undergraduate students. It’s very rewarding to be given this job, but it also makes me only too aware of the profound responsibility that I now have for the research of junior scholars.

It’s ironic that as academics, we all worry about our own research: its quality, accessibility, and implications. I’m grappling with that right now as I explore the relationships between governments, the secret intelligence services, and media institutions during the 1980s. Supervision adds to this. You’re now worried on behalf of a cohort of other scholars!

One way I’ve tried to approach this is by using the lessons I’ve learned from those who have supervised me. I’ve been lucky to benefit from the advice and support of a number of great people since I returned to university in 2008. In particular, my Masters supervisors Dolores Janiewski and Malcolm McKinnon, and my doctoral supervisors Fabian Hilfrich and Robert Mason.

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Banning Panorama: January 27, 2016

13 Jan

On the 27th of this month, I’ll be giving a paper as part of Glasgow Caledonian University’s regular History Seminar. This is especially pleasing for me, as GCU was where I spent my undergrad years in the 1990s.

GCU_Seminar_27_01

The paper is all about a component of my current postdoctoral research, which examines attempts by the Thatcher and Reagan governments to influence domestic and international public perceptions of intelligence and nuclear issues during the 1980s and the global media’s responses to this.

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Recent Things Elsewhere

21 Dec

Just a quick roundup of stuff I have done on other sites in recent months.

The American History Too! podcast continues to go from strength to strength. Recently, Mark and I (and our excellent guests) have discussed the 1925 Scopes Trial, Irish-Americans and the American Civil War, and women, murder, and criminal justice in late nineteenth/early twentieth century America.

The marvellous Pubs & Publications blog (run by graduate students at the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics, and Archaeology) asked if I could submit a guest post on the year after finishing the PhD.

At the British Association for American Studies United States Studies Online blog, I’ve contributed a couple of things over the past few months. I talked about the ‘Islamic bomb’ for the excellent Islam in America feature, and about teaching nuclear history for the Teaching America feature.

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.

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