Afghanistan Endgame by Melissa Skorka

Melissa Skorka, a Research Associate at CCW, has published a pair of articles resulting from her extensive research on Afghanistan.

Melissa L. Skorka is nearing completion of her DPhil with CCW. Skorka arrived at CCW after a decade of serving as an advisor and practitioner, specializing in international security with an emphasis on U.S. foreign policy, violent non-state actors, natural resource conflict, and governance institutions in Central Asia and Africa.

As a strategic advisor to the Commanding General of the International Security Assistance Force, Skorka completed four consecutive tours in Afghanistan, where she advised U.S. and NATO armed forces. In her final tour, she served in the ISAF Haqqani Fusion Cell as a policy and counterterrorism advisor to General Joseph Dunford, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Alongside her academic research, Skorka provides advice to the U.S. government and NATO armed forces on security issues. She is a counterterrorism expert who is respected by senior policymakers and armed forces professionals for her insights into violent extremism and its consequences.

Annette Idler - Visiting Scholar at Harvard

For the 2019-20 academic year, Dr Annette Idler will be a visiting scholar at the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs at Harvard University. Annette will be based in Boston for the first part of the year where, as well as taking part in seminars, she will focus on writing up the monograph resulting from research on her Changing Character of Conflict Platform project.

Annette will continue to run her Oxford based projects - the Changing Character of Conflict Platform and the ConPeace project. She will be fully back in Oxford in August 2020.

New Article: Zvezda - shipyard of the future or Soviet-style black hole?

The priority given to the Zvezda shipyard by the state is indicated by Sechin, one of Putin’s heaviest hitters, being directly responsible and by a significant level of state funding. The Zvezda story provides the basis for discussion of broader issues in the ongoing Russian quest for a sustainable model for the building of a modern, value-adding economy which has something to gain from and offer to all parts of the sprawling Russian Federation.

Stephen Fortescue holds a PhD in Soviet Politics from the Australian National University. He is an honorary Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales, Sydney and Visiting Fellow in the Centre for European Studies of the Australian National University. He researches Russian policy-making capacity, Russia's development policy in the Russian Far East and its commercial engagement with the Asia Pacific, and Russian industry policy. The author acknowledges the useful comments of Julian Cooper and Richard Connolly on an earlier draft.

Russia Brief 5 now online

The fifth issue of the CCW Russia Brief is now available:

Andrew Monaghan
Russian Grand Strategy: Towards “Globally Integrated Operations”?

Nazrin Mehdiyeva
Energy Companies in Russia’s Global Integrated Operations

Alexander Kent
Mapping the World: Russian Military Mapping and Geographic Information Science

Michael Kofman
The Ogarkov Reforms: The Soviet Inheritance Behind Russia’s Military Transformation

Richard Connolly
The Russian Economy: From Unexpected Growth to Predictable Slowdown

The ‘border effect’ is allowing Venezuela’s crisis to fuel political violence in Colombia

Dr Annette Idler has written a blog post for LSE’s Latin America and Caribbean Centre.

he Colombian-Venezuelan borderlands are enabling crucial but largely unacknowledged interactions between Venezuela’s devastating crisis and ongoing political violence in Colombia. Key characteristics of these areas have facilitated violence, undermined trust relationships, attracted multiple violent non-state groups, and obscured the nuanced realities of particular conflicts. Failure to tackle these issues could have serious long-term implications for stability, potentially even derailing Colombia’s peace deal. This makes long-term plans for sustainable peace and security across and along the border an urgent necessity, writes Annette Idler (University of Oxford).

After the Cold War: The Impact of Economic and Financial Warfare on Civilians

A former Visiting Research Fellow with CCW has published a blog article with CCW’s Changing Character of Conflict Platform. Chris Holloway worked with CCW during 2018 and has now returned to the Australian Department of Defence.

This blog article compares two examples of indirect coercion, namely, economic and financial warfare, and shows a crucial role of informal authorities, such as banks, and non-physical space in current conflicts.

VRF Chris O'Flaherty publishes biography of Guy Hudson

Each year the Hudson Trust awards a fellowship to a Royal Navy or Royal Marines officer, to conduct research in Oxford for one year. The Hudson Fellows also join CCW as Visiting Research Fellows.

Captain Chris O’Flaherty was the 2017-18 Hudson Fellow. He discovered there was very little written about his benefactor. Chris has now thoroughly researched the life of Guy Hudson and has published his biography through The Choir Press. Available for £14.49:

In 1940 a first-year student at Oxford gave up his legal studies to serve his country in its time of need. He served with valour and distinction, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross for developing and then delivering battlewinning tactics that protected the flanks of the D-Day landings. But Guy Hudson also saw things that cannot be unseen, and experienced the horrors of war that become tattooed on one’s soul. This is the story of a brave and patriotic sailor who helped sink the German battleship Bismarck, drove his Motor Torpedo Boat into enemy harbours right under the muzzles of Axis guns, and then pioneered radar control procedures for the small torpedo and gun boats that careered across pitch-dark maritime battlefields to guard the Allied landings in northern France. It is also the story of a man who turned to alcohol to control the darker memories created by war, and whose life and business collapsed due to the demon of drink, before he was rescued by his second wife. His legacy now lives on at the University of Oxford through the Guy Hudson Memorial Trust – this biography is his tribute.

Scott Atran: Explaining the Cognitive Triggers for Extremist Violence

Explaining the Cognitive Triggers for Extremist Violence Through Brain Scanning

In the below paper for Royal Society Open Science, scientists led by Prof. Scott Atran (CCW and Artis International) reveal ground-breaking insights into the psychology of radicalisation and terrorist violence; gained by scanning the brains of men who support a terror organisation associated with Al Qaeda.  

Prior research has demonstrated the pivotal influence of ‘sacred values’ (a potent subset of moral values) in underpinning radical ideologies and the escalation to violent extremism.  These values are resistant to conventional forms of moderation, compromise or negotiation and, as such, present a huge challenge to counter-radicalisation efforts based on material incentives and/or sanctions.   

Artis has found that this phenomenon is directly represented in the brain, with areas normally associated with rational, utilitarian reasoning showing markedly less activity when the question of violent action in defence of these sacred values is raised.  

It has also been determined that more moderate views, when expressed by peers, may help ‘dial down’ the propensity toward violent action.  This again directly evidenced by observed changes in brain functioning.            

Lord Peter Ricketts on the lost art of strategic thinking

Lord Peter Ricketts delivered the 2019 CCW Annual lecture on Wednesday 29 May 2019.

The talk explored why modern governments find it so hard to make grand strategic choices, looking at the forces which pull political leaders towards short-term crisis management and considering whether the nature of democratic politics in a digital age is a constraint on longer-term policymaking.

A podcast of the talk will be available online shortly.

Lord Ricketts was a British diplomat for 40 years. In the final stage of his career, Peter served as Permanent Under Secretary at the FCO 2006-10, and as Britain’s first National Security Adviser from 2010-12. In that capacity he established the National Security Council, and oversaw the 2010 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review. He was Ambassador to France 2012-16. Earlier in his public service, Lord Ricketts specialised in security and crisis management issues. He served twice in the UK Delegation to NATO, in the 1970s and again as Permanent Representative from 2003-6. He was Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Political Director in the Foreign Office from 2001-3, dealing with policy on the Afghanistan and Iraq interventions, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After retirement, he was appointed a cross-bench member of the House of Lords (=non-political) and divides his time between business activities (including as a Strategic Adviser to Lockheed Martin UK) and public policy work. He is a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Dept of King’s College London, and a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute. Among his charitable activities, he is Chairman of the Normandy Memorial Trust, charged with building a national memorial in France to all those who fell under British command during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

A borderland lens on hubs of protracted conflict by Annette Idler

Dr Annette Idler has published a paper with Oxford Policy Management. The paper was co authored with Natasha Leite, and Yadaira Orsini.

Borderlands are the space where the nexus between economic development, conflict, crime, politics, and identity is at its most dynamic and where proximate drivers of conflict interact with deep structural issues such as poverty, marginalisation, and climate change. They are places of opportunity but also of heightened risk. Evidence suggests multiple non-state armed groups are increasingly operating across borders and benefitting from cross-border illicit economies. They are connected through flows of people, weapons, and resources, and their operations are becoming more networked, less traceable, and more pervasive both in the Global North and South, impacting state-society relations across the world. Such a complex environment makes these cross-border conflicts more resistant to resolution through negotiated settlements.

This unique set of characteristics pose a considerable challenge for policymakers whose current suite of policy responses are predominantly confined to state-centred approaches, and therefore ill-equipped to deal specifically with borderlands. Borderland characteristics and the increasingly transnational nature of conflict defy the traditionally state-centric ‘rules of the game’ by which most organisations and country structures operate, creating a significant challenge for engagement that has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.

This paper sets out to meet this challenge by introducing a new epistemological approach to borderlands and hubs of protracted conflict that can enhance our understanding of the dynamics in such contexts. It aims to promote a useful framework for academia, practitioners, and policymakers alike to engage in these particularly complex environments.


Dr Annette Idler is director of studies at the Changing Character of War Programme, senior research fellow at Pembroke College, and senior research fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

Natasha Leite is the regional security and governance coordinator for DRC/DDG in east Africa and the Great Lakes. Natasha recently gave a talk for CCW.

Yadaira Orsini is a political scientist who heads up OPM’s Conflict, Security, and Violence team.

The Centenary of the Anglo-French Treaty, 1919-2019 by Rob Johnson

Dr Robert Johnson, Director of CCW, writes on the centenary anniversary of the Anglo-French Treaty

The Anglo-French Treaty was signed by Lloyd George and Clemenceau on June 28th, 1919, the same day as the signature of the Treaty of Versailles. The two were regarded as inextricably linked. For France, it represented the fulfilment of an important bond in its security in Europe, and for Britain, it was the logical conclusion to its wartime relationship.

Dealing with the Russians published by Dr Monaghan

Dr Andrew Monaghan has published a new book, “Dealing with the Russians” with Polity Press.

Euro-Atlantic thinking about Russia remains stuck in twentieth-century rhetoric, trapped by misleading abstract labels and unsure whether to engage Moscow in dialogue or enhance deterrence and collective defence. Instead of thinking in these terms, leading Russia expert Andrew Monaghan argues that we must devise a new grand strategy for dealing with the Russians. Examining the ongoing Euro-Atlantic debate over Russia and framing Moscow’s own position towards the West, he sets out the foundations of a forward-looking strategy; one that can accommodate the many complex challenges presented by this new era of competition between Russia, Europe and the United States.

A brilliant and hugely enjoyable book. Cogent, well researched and cleverly argued, Monaghan’s illuminating analysis serves as a timely reminder of the dangers of misunderstanding Russia and an “antidote” to Russian stereotypes that prevail in the West.
— Nazrin Mehdiyeva, St Antony's College, Oxford

"The Imperial Army Project" shortlisted for SAHR Templer Medal

The Society for Army Historical Research has announced the shortlist for the 2018 SAHR Templer Medal competition.

Professor Douglas Delaney’s The Imperial Army Project: Britain and the Land Forces of the Dominions and India, 1902-1945 (OUP) has been shortlisted. Professor Delaney worked on his book during his Visiting Research Fellowship at CCW.

The other finalists are:

  • Prof Ian Beckett with A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Oklahoma UP)

  • Prof Helen Parr with Our Boys: The Story of a Paratrooper (Allen Lane/Penguin)

The winners will be announced on 9 April 2019 at the National Army Museum. Members can find out more about the AMM and register a place here.

Andrew Monaghan to give the Erikson lecture at University of Edinburgh

Dr Andrew Monaghan will give the 2019 Erikson Lecture in for the University of Edinburgh.

Friday 8 March 2019, 5:30pm

Playfair Library Hall
Old College
South Bridge

“Russian Views of War in the Twenty First Century”

The strong sense of competition between the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia, often characterised as a “new Cold War”, has generated much discussion about the nature of the threat that Russia poses and the need for enhanced deterrence. But what is to be deterred? What is the nature of the military threat posed by Russia?

To be sure, the Russian military has, within a decade, been transformed through a major re-equipment programme, combined with reforms and thousands of exercises, and the establishment of the National Defence Management Centre. The results of this transformation are clear, not only in the fighting in Ukraine and Russia’s campaign in Syria, and the emphasis by the Russian leadership on increased combat readiness, but also in the increasingly obvious presence of the Russian military in the Arctic and Central Asia, and yet further afield in the Pacific and Africa. 

This lecture will explore the concepts the Russian defence community uses when discussing contemporary warfare, and how they compare and contrast to Western debates and understandings of Russian thinking. It will underscore the importance of geostrategy in Russian military thinking, and use this lens to sketch out how Moscow sees  the shifting international landscape and threats, and it will look at the strong influence of history on Russian contemporary military thinking, and reflect on the debates underway about the changing character of war. 

This event is free to attend but ticketed. To book spaces at the event please visit our Eventbrite page:

Book tickets for the event

Dr Robert Johnson contributes to Parliamentary inquiry

Dr Robert Johnson, Director of the Oxford Changing Character of War Centre, has contributed to an inquiry by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence.

The UK Response to Hybrid Threats inquiry is investigating the ‘danger posed by hybrid threats to the UK and how the UK Government is preparing its response’.

Dr Johnson’s report, ‘Hybrid War and its Counter-Measures: A Strategic Approach’, focuses on the strategic dimensions of Hybrid Warfare, and analyses Russian strategy and how the UK can employ new ideas to counter such actions. His full report has been published on the UK Parliament website, alongside submissions from the Ministry of Defence and other researchers.