The Changing Character of War Centre (CCW) is an Interdisciplinary research centre for the study of current armed conflict. We are part of the University of Oxford, based at Pembroke College and the Department of Politics and International Relations. We bring together scholars from several disciplines and build connections with many institutions around the world. In addition to a number of research projects, we offer bespoke policy advice and react to events in real time.
Reflexive Control Theory: a Soviet perspective on influence and why it matters in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Maria de Goeij provides a brilliant introduction to reflexive control theory, a Soviet theory of influence. Listen to learn more and appreciate how it can help us better understand today's world, including strategic decision making in hybrid warfare. Reflexive control theory is a theory of influence that was developed in the 1960s, in Soviet Russia. During this lecture Maria will talk about the cybernetic origins of the theory, what we know about reflexive control, and what we do not know about it. She’ll then talk about why this under-researched theory from Soviet times is important to take into account in the todays world and how it can help us think about strategic decision making in hybrid warfare.
Maria works as an analyst for Thomson Reuters Special Services International and is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Changing Character of War Centre. Before joining TRSSI, Maria has worked for several think tanks in the Netherlands, the UK, and Montenegro. In addition to this, she has been working for several organisations as an analyst and advisor, and has considerable experience of all issues relating to hybrid and grey zone warfare.
Throughout her career, Maria specialised in the analysis of military thought and grand strategy, and strategic influence and statecraft. Her specific interest has been focused on improving contextual situational awareness, finding (qualitative and quantitative) patterns in conflict, including patterns of state and non-state actor behaviour, and the development of early warning systems. Together with the foregoing, her academic interests include the modelling of reflexive control theory.
Maria has a BA degree in European Studies, with a specialism in diplomacy, from The Hague University and an MSc degree in Crisis and Security Management from Leiden University.
Nation-Building in the Borderlands of a Borderland: A Cartographical Examination of the Russia-Ukraine War
Dr Marnie Howlett presents an engaging and thought-provoking look at the cartographical causes and consequences of the war. She looks at Ukraine's position between East and West and the implications of its long history of shifting borders with Russia. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, much attention within political and military circles has been devoted to examining the origins of the seemingly unexpected war. However, these analyses have primarily explored the foreign policy objectives of Russia and the motivations of its president. This talk will instead consider the cartographical causes and consequences of the conflict. In drawing on cartographical material gathered through ethnographic fieldwork in three Ukrainian regions between 2018-2022, this talk will show how the war is connected to Ukraine’s position between the East and West. In particular, the ways its borderland status has been utilised throughout history by both neighbouring Russia and the European Union will be considered, especially how it has complicated processes of state- and nation-building since the state’s independence in 1991. Finally, the talk will argue for the importance of realising the nuances at the grassroots in Ukraine for understanding both the Russia-Ukraine war and the future direction of the country.
Dr Marnie Howlett is a Departmental Lecturer in Politics (Qualitative Methods) in the Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR) at the University of Oxford. She holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), as well as a BA (High Honours) in International Studies and MA in Political Science from the University of Saskatchewan. Dr Howlett’s research centres on the intersection of cartography, nationalism, and geopolitics within the former Soviet Union, particularly Ukraine. Her interests also include research ethics, and the use of visual and spatial methods for political science research.
Dr Howlett currently teaches on the postgraduate Qualitative Methods in Political Science, Research Design in Comparative Political Science, and Comparative Political Science courses in the DPIR. She is also working on a book monograph, Imagined Borderlands, which explores the intersection and overlap of imagined and territorial cartographies to better explain contemporary nationalism and politics in Ukraine. Her research has appeared in The Conversation and on media channels in Canada, the UK, Europe, and Asia.
Prior to pursuing her PhD, Dr Howlett served as a legislative intern and policy analyst with the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina, Canada. She has volunteered extensively in Canada and Ukraine with the non-governmental organisation, Help Us Help The Children, which works with Ukrainian orphans and families of war. Dr Howlett also served as an international electoral observer on three missions with CANADEM during Ukraine’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.
Responsible Stakeholder or Challenger? Assessing India’s Foreign Policy Orientation via Leadership Travel
Dr Walter Ladwig III presents on his excellent research project which seeks to explain India's foreign policy orientation by analysing the foreign travel patterns of Indian government leaders. Will a rising India seek to uphold the existing conventions and standards that regulate the international system or is it likely to challenge an international order which is seen to have been constructed by the West in general and the United States in particular? This question has recently taken on increased salience in light of the Indian government’s multiple abstentions on UN votes censuring Russia over its invasion of the Ukraine. This talk—based on a study undertaken with Sumitha Narayanan Kutty—will shed light on India’s foreign policy priorities as well as the country’s orientation towards the international system since the end of the Cold War by assessing the patterns of high-level diplomatic travel undertaken by the Indian Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister and President between 1992-2019. In the face of arguments that India’s foreign policy has lacked coherence over the past three decades, the personal diplomacy undertaken by Indian VIPs indicates consistent drivers of foreign engagement and an identifiable orientation toward the present international system.
Dr. Walter C. Ladwig III is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and an Associate Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Program at the Royal United Services Institution. His research interests include South Asian security, U.S. foreign policy, and irregular warfare. Walter’s scholarly work has been published in a number of academic journals including International Security, the Journal of Strategic Studies, and Asian Survey, among others. His first book, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relationships in Counter Insurgency (Cambridge 2017), examines the often-difficult relations between the U.S. and local governments it is supporting in counterinsurgency. He is currently writing a book on Indian defense policy.
Walter has given evidence to Parliamentary committees and commented on international affairs for the Economist, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, and the BBC. His opinion pieces have appeared in a number of newspapers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has held fellowships at the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania, and previously taught courses on insurgency, terrorism, and Cold War history at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. He received a B.A. from the University of Southern California, an M.P.A. from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford.
International Law, Politics and Ethics of Humanitarian Military Intervention
Dr Iacovos Kareklas, Visiting Fellow at the Changing Character of War Centre (CCW), presents a strongly argued thesis that there is a legal and moral right to unilateral humanitarian intervention which dates back to the Peloponnesian War. The presented paper adopts a fresh approach on unilateral humanitarian intervention, and purports to demonstrate that, in certain cases, not only is permissible, but also legally and morally imperative. This academic venture is predominantly based on authoritative state practice, which in the view of the author should constitute reliable international legal custom, as well as theoretical groundwork; namely the well-established notion that violation of human rights necessitates intervention for the restoration of moral order, and applicable theories of deterrence (and just retribution) rendering humanitarian military intervention unobjectionable on grounds of the possibility of imminent humanitarian catastrophes.
Iacovos Kareklas got his B.A. and M.A. Degrees (Honours) in Law from Cambridge University, Magdalene College. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law from London University (London School of Economics and Political Science). He specialized in all fields of Public International Law and every aspect of the Cyprus problem. He conducted sustained and in depth research in the United Kingdom Foreign Office Archives with regard to the critical phases of the Cyprus Question. In the academic year 2003-2004 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Government, Harvard University. He did postdoctoral studies in International Relations Theory with special reference to the Use of Military Force under the worldwide distinguished political scientist, Professor Stanley Hoffmann. At Harvard, he also taught the course Classical Theories of International Relations. In the year 2004-2005, Dr. Kareklas was appointed Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In 2006 and 2007 he was elected Fellow of the Faculty of Law in the University of Oxford, where he specialized in the Philosophy of Law.
From 2013 to 2020 he was Associate Professor at the European University Cyprus, where he taught Public International Law, Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, and International Politics.
He spent a year as researcher in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS) of London (2001-2002), the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (2003), the Oxford Centre for Criminology (2006), and has been a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Iacovos is the author of numerous books and articles in the fields of his specialization. His latest book entitled Thucydides on International Law and Political Theory was published in New York by Rowman and Littlefield: Lexington Books, in 2020.
As a Visiting Research Fellow at CCW, he is conducting further research on the Law of War with emphasis on military humanitarian intervention.
The Strategies of Small States: Safeguarding Autonomy and Influencing Great Powers
Dr Hillary Briffa looks at what characterises small states, their challenges, and the strategies they utilise to overcome these. She argues that small states can very successfully protect their autonomy and security, and exert considerable influence. When major powers clash, or grow more competitive, the historical record shows that small states are the first to be buffeted by the actions of their larger counterparts. Small states do not set the international agenda. This means that if the fears of a breakdown of the rules-based order are well-founded, it will have profound implications for their security. Thus, these actors must look within their own armoury – at the tactics and strategies available to them, within certain bounds – and consider how much leverage they can exert within the context in which they operate. Can small states do anything more than move swiftly to avoid being trampled when elephants collide? This talk will examine the strategies pursued by small states to safeguard their autonomy (including ‘strategic hedging’ and ‘seeking shelter’); as well as innovative means of projecting influence (ranging from the harnessing of multilateralism to bind great power behaviour, to serving as ‘smart states’ in the international system). Today, increasing antagonism between great powers is already creating serious dilemmas for smaller international actors, and this is likely to intensify in the near future. However, the ability of small states to strategically navigate risk and influence the behaviour of Great Powers means that they can be expected to adapt to these changes. As small states navigate a fading rules-based order, this talk will argue that they have several time-tested strategies in reserve.
Dr Hillary Briffa is a Lecturer in National Security Studies and the Assistant Director of the Centre for Defence Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, where she read for her Ph.D, asking whether small states can have a grand strategy. She is also a founding member of the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s, where she serves as the research lead for the Climate Change and International Order portfolio. Previously, she has taught courses across the spectrum of global politics, international relations, defence, foreign policy, security and strategy at the Royal College of Defence Studies, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, University College London, Birkbeck University of London, and Queen Mary University of London. Beyond academia, she served as Malta’s official Youth Ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for three years, and worked at the Malta High Commission to the UK throughout Malta’s tenure as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. After running peace-building projects in Eastern and Central Europe, in 2015 she was appointed an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and in 2016 became a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Emerging Young Leaders award. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Russian Perceptions of Conflict with Discussion of War in Ukraine
Mark Galeotti discusses Russian perceptions of war and conflict. The differences between what is considered "war" vs "conflict" and how this changes between the military and civilian security establishments. In addition, the war in Ukraine is discussed. Discussion of Russian notions of future warfare tend, for understandable reasons, to focus on the debates within the military, which are then embodied in doctrine, tactics and procurement decisions. These debates are important, but also much more accessible, given the degree to which they are played out and arbitrated within the military press. However, there is an intertwined, if much less accessible debate within the civilian national security establishment – notably the intelligence services and the Security Council secretariat – which is at least of equal importance. While informed by the defence establishment’s debate and sharing many of its assumptions, it is different, not least in its greater willingness to think in terms of open-ended and non-military conflicts, in which over warfighting may play a limited, episodic or essentially theatrical role. In this presentation, Dr Galeotti will address both sets of perceptions and consider the practical and political implications of this divide within Kremlin thinking on warfare.
In light of current events, the original planned lecture was amended to include coverage of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russian thinking about it, and potential outcomes.
Dr Mark Galeotti is CEO of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence as well as an Honorary Professor at University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He is also a senior research associate with RUSI, the Council on Geostrategy and the Institute of International Relations Prague. A widely published specialist on Russian security issues, Dr Galeotti has taught, researched, and written in the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic and Italy. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, he has been a senior research fellow at the FCO, head of the history department at Keele University, professor of global affairs at New York University, head of the IIR Prague’s Centre for European Security, and a visiting faculty member at Rutgers-Newark (USA), MGIMO (Russia), and Charles University (Czech Republic). His most recent books include The Weaponisation of Everything (Yale, 2022), Russian Political War (Routledge, 2020) and The Vory (Yale, 2018). Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/