Category Archives: Politics and International Relations

When Soldiers Say No: Selective Conscientious Objection in the Modern Military

“adds considerably to the literature by bringing together a range of perspectives on the merits of selective conscientious objection, as well as consideration of its application (or lack thereof) in a number of states. Its interdisciplinary nature is particularly attractive.”

Gary Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Law at Liverpool John Moores University, has reviewed When Soldiers Say No for the LSE Review of Books. You can read his full review here.

Shannon E. French, Case Western Reserve University:

‘We expect members of the military to accept civilian authority and not determine foreign policy. But what if a nation commits its troops to an unjust war? Are they then morally obligated to refuse to fight? This is a question with potentially devastating real-world consequences that should concern every citizen. Whetham, Robinson, and Ellner have produced a brilliant, provocative volume that examines the issue of selective conscientious objection from many perspectives and across several cultures to provide a balanced array of arguments from which readers can derive their own conclusions.’

David Rodin, University of Oxford:

‘The issue of selective conscientious objection is where the rubber really hits the road for recent debates about the moral status of soldiers. The real achievement of this fine volume is to connect the theoretical debate with the concrete policy challenges faced by military and government – and to substantially advance both. Essential reading for anyone working on the ethics of war.’

When soldiers say noTraditionally few people challenged the distinction between absolute and selective conscientious objection by those being asked to carry out military duties. The former is an objection to fighting all wars – a position generally respected and accommodated by democratic states, while the latter is an objection to a specific war or conflict – theoretically and practically a much harder idea to accept and embrace for military institutions.

However, a decade of conflict not clearly aligned to vital national interests combined with recent acts of selective conscientious objection by members of the military have led some to reappraise the situation and argue that selective conscientious objection ought to be legally recognised and permitted. Political, social and philosophical factors lie behind this new interest, which together mean that the time is ripe for a fresh and thorough evaluation of the topic.

This book brings together arguments for and against selective conscientious objection, as well as case studies examining how different countries deal with those who claim the status of selective conscientious objectors. As such, it sheds new light on a topic of increasing importance to those concerned with military ethics and public policy, within military institutions, government, and academia.

When Soldiers Say No is edited by Andrea Ellner, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London, Paul Robinson, professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the University of Ottawa, and David Whetham, Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies, King’s College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy.


Foreword, Jeff McMahan

Introduction, Andrea Ellner, Paul Robinson and David Whetham

Part I Arguments For and Against Accepting Selective Conscientious Objection:

The duty of diligence: knowledge, responsibility, and selective conscientious objection, Brian Imiola

There is no real moral obligation to obey orders: escaping from ‘low cost deontology’, Emmanuel R. Goffi

Selective conscientious objection: a violation of the social contract, Melissa Bergeron

Who guards the guards? The importance of civilian control of the military, David Fisher

An empirical defense of combat moral equality, Michael Skerker

Selective conscientious objection and the just society, Dan Zupan

Part II Case Studies in Selective Conscientious Objection:

Selective conscientious objection in Australia, Stephen Coleman and Nikki Coleman (with Richard Adams)

Conscientious objection to military service in Britain, Stephen Deakin

Selective conscientious objection: philosophical and conceptual doubts in light of Israeli case law, Yossi Nehushtan

Claims for refugee protection in Canada by selective objectors: an evolving jurisprudence, Yves Le Bouthillier

Conscience in lieu of obedience: cases of selective conscientious objection in the German Bundeswehr, Jürgen Rose

Part III Conclusions:

Selective conscientious objection: some guidelines for implementation, J. Carl Ficarrotta

War resisters in the US and Britain – supporting the case for a right to selective conscientious objection?, Andrea Ellner

The practice and philosophy of selective conscientious objection, Andrea Ellner, Paul Robinson and David Whetham

Carol Weaver on Peace Building in the Black Sea Region

This is a guest post from Carol Weaver, author of The Politics of the Black Sea Region. This post originally appeared on Abkhaz World.

The Politics of the Black Sea RegionThe Politics of the Black Sea Region: EU neighbourhood, conflict zone or future security community? is a new book in which I analyse the political systems and conflicts of the region’s nations and discuss their interactions and how the region could become a security community. A simple definition of a security community is that it is a community of sovereign entities, within a particular region, that do not expect war with each other. Deutsch and his co-authors, in 1957, described a security community as a group of people who believe that common social problems must and can be resolved by the process of peaceful change using appropriate institutions.The people within the security community develop a sense of trust and common interest. However, in order for such a community to arise, a bottom-up approach is required as well as top-down institutionalism (Buzan 1991). This bottom-up approach is attempted through people-to-people contacts such as trade, sport and civil society meetings. I have added that in order for a security community to arise and endure there must be regional ‘balanced multipolarity’ as there still is in the EU as a whole (following on from the work of Hyde-Price (2007).

As well as writing about the region as a possible future security community, I have recently been privileged to be part of the ‘bottom-up approach’ via the European Movement International’s Tbilisi Process which brings together the local South Caucasus European Movements to discuss peace building in the region. These European Movements are also creating a network of young people in the south of the Black Sea region, in particular those from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Georgia to promote peace and  people-to people contacts. They have shared goals for the region – mainly open borders, trade and freedom of movement.

As I recently wrote in Abkhaz World, very often the people in regions of conflict wait for politicians or international institutions ‘to do something’. And in many post-Soviet nations there is still an attitude that initiatives should be top-down rather than bottom-up. There are two main problems with this. Firstly if something is done then will the people be ready to live together again? (And the international community might be more willing to help if they could see that people on both sides of a border could co-exist.) Secondly if nothing is done then will the people feel powerless and condemned to wait?

People-to-people contacts can help with both of these problems, firstly by preparing the people to make friends as far as possible in advance of open borders, and secondly to help them realise that they are not powerless and can actually begin to work towards peace without waiting for the authorities to act.

Dr Carol Weaver is a part-time lecturer and tutor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester, UK. She is widely published on the European Union and the wider Black Sea region and is also a member of various political committees and think-tanks which advise the European Union and others on EU enlargement, the Eastern Partnership, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, the South Caucasus and the Black Sea region.

Carol Weaver is the co-editor (with Karen Henderson) of The Black Sea Region and EU
Policy: The Challenge of Divergent Agendas

Call for proposals for new series – Emerging Technologies, Ethics and International Affairs

Posted by Kirstin Howgate, Publisher for Politics and International Relations

Jai Galliott, Avery Plaw and Katina Michael launch a new series – Emerging Technologies, Ethics and International Affairs – which examines the crucial ethical, legal and public policy questions arising from (or exacerbated by) the design, development and eventual adoption of new technologies across all related fields, from education and engineering to medicine and military affairs.

This series encourages submission of cutting-edge research monographs and edited collections with a particular focus on forward-looking ideas concerning innovative or as yet undeveloped technologies.

There are two key themes:

  • Moral issues in research, engineering and design
  • Ethical, legal and political/policy issues in the use and regulation of technology

The Series Editors: Jai C. Galliott, Macquarie University, Australia, Avery Plaw, University of Massachusetts, USA and Katina Michael, University of Wollongong, Australia

For more information on how to submit a proposal to this series, please contact Kirstin Howgate, Publisher for Politics and International Relations.

Selected politics books half price until February 2014

We’re currently offering a selection of our Politics books at half price (until February 2014). You can view full details of the books included on a dedicated page on our website: Orders placed via the website qualify for an additional 10% discount too.

Books included in the offer:

New Regionalism or No Regionalism? (Ruxandra Ivan)

Comparative Civic Culture (Laura A. Reese and Raymond A. Rosenfeld)

Presidents, Oligarchs and Bureaucrats (Susan Stewart, Margarete Klein, Andrea Schmitz and Hans-Henning Schröder)

Real Green (Manuel Arias-Maldonado)

Central and Eastern European Media in Comparative Perspective (John Downey and Sabina Mihelj)

Global and Regional Problems (Pami Aalto and Sami Moisio)

New Security Frontiers (Sai Felicia Krishna-Hensel)

EU Energy Security in the Gas Sector (Filippos Proedrou)

Reassessing Security in the South Caucasus (Annie Jafalian)

Institutionalizing Agonistic Democracy (Ed Wingenbach)

Converging Europe (Ipek Eren Vural)

Mapping Central Asia (Marlène Laruelle and Sébastien Peyrouse)

The Politics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia (Bhumitra Chakma)

The European Union and Interregionalism (Mathew Doidge)

Political Communication in European Parliamentary Elections (Michaela Maier, Jesper Strömbäck  and Lynda Lee Kaid)

Victims as Security Threats (Edward Mogire)

Reshaping Gender and Class in Rural Spaces (Barbara Pini and Belinda Leach)

Revolutionary Iran and the United States (Joseph J. St. Marie and Shahdad Naghshpour)

Shaping the Post-Soviet Space? (Laure Delcour)

Building Regions (Luk Van Langenhove)

Conflict Management and Dispute Settlement in East Asia (Ramses Amer and Keyuan Zou)

China and the European Union in Africa (Jing Men and Benjamin Barton)

Sovereign Wealth Funds and International Political Economy (Manda Shemirani)

The Politics of Security Sector Reform (Magnus Ekengren and Greg Simons)

Targeting Peace (Mikael Eriksson)

Federalism, Feminism and Multilevel Governance (Melissa Haussman, Marian Sawer and Jill Vickers)

Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asian Security Cooperation (Tae-Hwan Kwak and Seung-Ho Joo)

Global Energy Governance in a Multipolar World (Dries Lesage, Thijs Van de Graaf and Kirsten Westphal)

Multinational Military Intervention (Stephen J. Cimbala and Peter K. Forster)

China’s New Diplomacy (Zhiqun Zhu)

Empowering Our Military Conscience (Roger Wertheimer)

The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Leadership (Joseph Masciulli, Mikhail A. Molchanov and W. Andy Knight)

The Politics of Self-Governance (Eva Sørensen and Peter Triantafillou)

Killer Robots (Armin Krishnan)

Gender and HIV/AIDS (Jelke Boesten  and Nana K. Poku)

Building Strong Nations (Eran Vigoda-Gadot)

More information about the politics promotion

British Generals in Blair’s Wars launched at The International Institute for Strategic Studies

After much controversy over its publication, British Generals in Blair’s Wars was launched at The International Institute for Strategic Studies on Wednesday 17th July. 100 or so key members of the press, senior MoD/business advisors and top tier Generals attended (including a guest appearance by David Richards – newly retired Chief of Defence Staff).

British Generals launch eventThe event took place at Arundel House with guests being treated to a discussion about the book with one of the editors, Hew Strachan (Oxford), Nick Parker (former Deputy Commanding General in Iraq and Afghanistan) and Desmond Bowen (former UK MoD senior civil servant). The meeting was chaired by Brigadier (Retd) Ben Barry, Senior Fellow Land Warfare at the IISS, and is available to view on Youtube.

British Generals in Blair’s Wars can be ordered through the Ashgate website.

John Kirton on G20 Governance for a Globalized World

G20 Governance for a Globalized WorldJohn Kirton is Co-director of the G20 Research Group, University of Toronto, and author of the recently published book G20 Governance for a Globalized World. He talks here about the book and about his wider interest in the G20.

What contribution does this book make to scholarship and understanding the G20?

G20 Governance for a Globalized World offers a comprehensive, detailed, systematic account of what the G20 did, and why it did it, from its start in 1999 as a forum of finance ministers and central bank governors through to the end of its fourth summit, in Toronto in June 2010. The book offers a history of how each meeting was prepared and produced. It carefully charts the performance of each meeting according to six basic dimensions of global governance. And it creates and applies a causal model of “systemic hub governance” with six components to explain how the G20 has evolved and why it has performed in the particular way it has.

A vast amount has already been written on the G20. Indeed, the world is awash with those who criticize what the G20 does and tell it what to do. My book, in contrast is the first, full-scale account of how it works — what it has done and why. Only on the basis of such disciplined description and explanation can one base sensible prescriptions about how to build a better G20 and, through it, a better world.

Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

I had been researching and publishing articles and chapters on the G20 since 1999, when the Group of Seven and Group of Eight helped bring it to life. Since 2008 Madeline Koch and I have produced for each G20 summit a multi-coloured, popular but high-level “briefing book” to explain to the many stakeholders what that specific G20 summit is all about. By the start of 2010, it was clear that the G20 summit was here to stay and that it was coming to our hometown of Toronto that summer. It was time to give it a serious, scholarly book of its own.

More basically, the story of the G20 is central to the way global politics works in our intensely interconnected, complex, 21st-century world. That world began with the Asian-turned-global financial crisis of 1997–99. It went prime time with the American-turned-global financial crisis that began on September 15, 2008, the day that U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers died. In response, all the multilateral organizations created to govern the post–World War Two order failed, led by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It was thus necessary to create a new kind of international institution to govern the new world — first the G20 at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors in 1999 and then the G20 at the leaders’ level in 2008.

The G20 is a genuinely new kind of institution. It is not just another G group with a bigger number, with more countries contained as equals inside — twenty rather than just seven or eight powers. It is not just a group with members located in more places around the world than the old concerts of the G8, or the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council, or the IMF’s Executive Board. Rather, membership in the G20 is based on systemic significance: countries that have enough connectivity as well as capability, so if they fail, they can bring the whole system down, or can ride to the rescue when others fail. Unlike the slow, static world of Westphalia in 1648, in a world of globalization, defined by the death of distance and the death of delay, it is connectivity as well as capability that counts. The G20 is the first international institution to be designed in recognition of that fundamental fact.

Did the G20’s performance decline or rise after its first few summits?

Conventional wisdom sees a decline in G20 performance since its first few summits in 2008 and 2009. But it is wrong in several ways.

First, the financial crisis never went away. It was just contained by the G20 before it could go global yet again. The Greek installment erupted just before the Toronto Summit in June 2010. Ireland went down on the eve of the Seoul Summit in November 2010. Greece and almost Italy exploded at the Cannes Summit in November 2011. And Spain’s banks went critical just before the Los Cabos Summit of June 2012. All these recent G20 summits had to cope with the successive installments of the continuing, compounding Euro-crisis. And they did — successfully containing the crises before they could go global, as had happened in 2008 and 1997. Thus the G20 has moved effectively from being a global crisis first responder to being a global crisis preventer, just as its inventors had hoped.

Second, well beyond crisis response and prevention, the G20 summit has produced some very big breakthroughs in its second phase. At the Seoul Summit, in the ultimate zero-sum game, leaders agreed to give the rapidly rising powers of the 21st century the enhanced voice and vote at the IMF that they richly deserved, at the expense of the shrinking European powers of old. They were following in the footsteps of the finance ministers’ G20, which had brokered the first stage of IMF reform in 2006–07. In both cases, the G20 succeeded where other international institutions, including the IMF itself, had failed. The same can be said for the Basel 3 standards on banking capital, leverage and liquidity, where the G20 succeeded at Seoul on an issue where many other bodies had long failed.

Third, in my book and subsequently, I systematically measure the performance of each G20 summit according to six basic dimensions of global governance: domestic political management, deliberation, direction setting, decision making, delivery and the development of global governance. The evidence overwhelmingly shows the G20’s rising performance, rather than a declining one.

Has anyone has been particularly important in shaping G20 governance?

The international system may now have a new structure in today’s globalized, post-Westphalian world. But it still takes an agent — an individual human being — to see the unfolding future and to design, amidst the competition, uncertainty, complexity and at times chaos, a new international institution tailored for that new world. It is no accident that I dedicated my book to the Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Canadian finance minister and prime minister, and his 1999 co-creator of the G20, Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary of the United States. Paul had the vision. Larry was wise enough to listen, learn, advise, adjust and agree. Together they got it right. The same twenty members they chose in 1999 to respond to the crisis of the moment were still the right ones to respond to the bigger one ten years later, and remain the right ones to confront crises yet to come, from Cyprus on. To be sure, neither Paul nor Larry were present at the creation of the Washington Summit in November 2008 when G20 summit governance was born. But without them, it would not have been created there nor have been continued to this day.

What does the future hold for the G20?

At their third summit, in Pittsburgh in September 2009, in carefully chosen words the G20 leaders proudly proclaimed that henceforth the G20 would be permanent, primary forum for their own international economic cooperation. In the future it will increasingly become the primary forum for the cooperation not only of the G20 but also of the G192 beyond and indeed the world as a whole. It will become the primary forum for global cooperation on economics, social and political-security affairs, well beyond terrorism, where it hit a home run as early as 2001. And it could become not just the primary but the only such forum, once all its members become democratic polities, just like those of the G7 and G8 have been since its start.

To secure such a future, and to improve G20 performance in the meantime, several simple reforms are needed now. First, its leaders must return to full-time work, by holding two summits a year, as they did from 2008 to 2010, rather than just once a year as they have since. Second, they have to meet for longer than the less than 24-hour encounters that they have averaged thus far, so that their meeting lasts longer than the time it takes for them to fly to and from the event. And third, they should bring civil society into G20 governance in a bigger, broader way, starting with the creation of the academic twenty (A20) that they promised at their Seoul Summit, but have not yet produced. There are many ways that academics can contribute to G20 governance and through it to the global good.

G20 Governance for a Globalized World is published in Ashgate’s Global Finance series

More Global Governance books from Ashgate

British Generals in Blair’s Wars

British Generals in Blairs WarsBritish Generals in Blair’s Wars, edited by Jonathan Bailey, Richard Iron and Hew Strachan, has been generating a lot of press coverage. Copies will be released for sale on Monday 22nd July, and the book can be ordered through the Ashgate website.

Read articles about the book in The Times (£), The Guardian, and Defence Viewpoints.

 ‘Generals may talk, but rarely write self-critically: this collection of essays is a remarkable exception. Jonathan Bailey – himself an exceptional soldier-scholar – along with Hew Strachan and Richard Iron have assembled an extraordinary array of senior officers (and one or two civilians) who reflect on Britain’s last decade of war. The resulting essays are often excoriating – of politicians, but also of the military institutions from which these soldiers have sprung. A British audience will find the generals’ self-examination sobering, even disturbing; Americans will take away insights into our most important ally; students of military affairs more generally will wish to ponder carefully these reflections on generalship in the twenty-first century.’   Eliot A. Cohen, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, USA

‘This excellent book contains a revealing collection of papers, written by senior officers and officials charged with the command and direction of British forces in the last decade. They record the efforts and decisions made within circumstances of: controversial and ambivalent political direction, uncertain popular support, scarce resource, unsatisfied planning assumptions and unrealisable expectations; complicated by the nature of coalition operations. This book is recommended to all who wish to understand the atrophy of Britain’s strategic faculties.’   General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM

‘This collection must be almost unique in military history. Seldom if ever have senior military commanders discussed so frankly the difficulties they have faced in translating the strategic demands made by their political masters into operational realities. The problems posed by their enemies were minor compared with those presented by corrupt local auxiliaries, remote bureaucratic masters, and civilian colleagues pursuing their own agendas. Our political leaders should study it very carefully before they ever make such demands on our armed forces again.’   Sir Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford, UK

‘How military forces adapt to changes in the international environment and the tasks it sets for them is a significant factor in whether wars are won or lost. In this long-overdue book, a number of prominent British practitioners and thinkers on war take a hard-eyed look at how well Britain has adapted to the wars of the past decade. The answers are not always pleasant, but capturing and learning them now is a blood debt owed to those who have fought so fiercely in Iraq and Afghanistan.’   John Nagl, Center for a New American Security, USA

About the Editors:

Jonathan Bailey‘s last appointment in the British Army before he retired in 2005 was Director General Development and Doctrine. He served in Northern Ireland, commanded Assembly Place ROMEO in Rhodesia in 1979-80; was Operations Officer 4th Field Regiment RA during the Falklands War; and in 1999 was KFOR’s Chief Liaison Officer to the Yugoslav General Staff and to the Kosovo Liberation Army. He has written several books and articles on defence and strategic themes. Since 2005 he has worked in the defence industry, and led the seminar series on Campaigning and Generalship, at the University of Oxford.

Richard Iron left the British Army in 2012 and is a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford. He has served in the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces and several tours in Northern Ireland. He commanded 1st Battalion the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment in the Balkans. He was subsequently responsible for British and NATO land doctrine. He was a prosecution expert witness in the Sierra Leone War Crimes trials and from 2007 to 2008 was chief mentor to the Iraqi commander in Basra, including Operation Charge of the Knights.

Sir Hew Strachan is Chichele Professor of the History of War, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and was Director of the Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War from its inception in 2004 until 2012. He is the author of several highly acclaimed books on military history, including European Armies and the Conduct of War (1983), The Politics of the British Army (1997), and The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (2001). He is a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the World War I Centenary Advisory Board. He has also written extensively on strategy, and is a member of the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel.

Ashgate at the KL International Book Fair 2013

Posted by Richard Dowling, Sales Director

Ashgate attended the Kuala Lumpur Book Fair this year for the 9th year in a row. The Fair runs for nine days, and it’s an opportunity for us to meet with our library customers and showcase our new books. The sales reps from the library suppliers we work with bring librarians to our stand to look at the books we have on display and at our catalogues, and to place orders.

Richard at the KL Book Fair 2013We took around 390 books this year which is on a par with previous years. Gower Business & Management titles proved the most popular overall, with Politics coming in second and then Islamic Studies third. Catalogues are still important and around 10% of the total orders were for titles that were not on display.

Popular titles at the Fair:

ARC to International Trade PolicyThe Ashgate Research Companion to International Trade Policy (Edited by Kenneth Heydon and Stephen Woolcock)

Energy Access Poverty and DevelopmentEnergy Access, Poverty, and Development (Benjamin K. Sovacool and Ira Martina Drupady)

Entrepreneurship and Sustainability (Edited by Daphne Halkias and Paul W. Thurman)

Islam and Sustainable Development (Odeh Rashed Al Jayyousi)

University Libraries and Space in the Digital World Personalising Library Services in Higher EducationPersonalising Library Services in Higher Education (Edited by Andy Priestner and Elizabeth Tilley)

Qualitative Research Skills for Social Work (Malcolm Carey)

University Libraries and Space in the Digital World (Edited by Graham Matthews and Graham Walton)

Tom Waldman – Clausewitz and the Politics of War

Earlier this month, Tom Waldman gave a talk at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The talk was Clausewitz and the Politics of War, and a summary is below.

War, Clausewitz and the TrinityTom Waldman is ESRC Research Fellow in the department of Politics at the University of York, and author of War, Clausewitz and the Trinity.

Two hundred years ago, in early May 1813, a 32 year old Prussian officer was recovering from wounds sustained only days earlier during the chaotic Battle of Lutzen. He had led repeated cavalry charges as part of the allied German and Russian forces confronting Napoleon’s Grand Army. At one point, finding himself surrounded by French soldiers, he had had to fight his way out in desperate hand to hand combat. Also, his face was blackened from frostbite having spent the winter pursuing French forces during their disastrous retreat from Moscow, and he had personally witnessed the dreadful crossing of the Berezina River. Tom Waldman Harvard talk May 2013This soldier was Carl von Clausewitz.  But why is it that still even today, senior figures such as Colin Powell and General McChrystal publicly invoke the ideas of this man? Basically, I tried to shed light on that question during the talk.

My central argument was really quite simple: that the meaning of Clausewitz’s famous dictum – ‘war is a continuation of politics by other means’ – embraces a great deal of complexity and depth that is all too often missed. Clausewitz’s aphorism appears almost everywhere, but often only in passing, and it’s often mistakenly represented as the totality of his theorising, or used out of context in a simplistic and vague sense. So, for instance, Martin van Creveld could claim that Clausewitz believed war was ‘a rational instrument for the attainment of rational social ends’.

However, in recent years there has since been something of a renaissance in Clausewitz studies and I think what we are seeing is a general shift from the idea of the primacy of policy to the primacy of politics. Clausewitz stated that, ‘Nothing is more important in life than finding the right standpoint for seeing and judging events, and then addressing them.’ War as a continuation of politics, properly understood, was for him precisely that standpoint.

I outlined what I think are the three key political perspectives of war in Clausewitz’s thought. First, political conditions essentially provide the broad context and give meaning and form to the other two perspectives. For Clausewitz, political conditions represented the ‘womb of war’ from which it emerges; it largely explains the ways group fight, who they fight and, indeed, the objects they fight for. Second, war’s subordination to policy presents a unilateral, subjective perspective, and it is from this perspective that most of the mistaken assumptions of pure rationality derive. Here it is important to distinguish between Clausewitz’s prescriptive insights and those that simply seek to describe the phenomenon. Clausewitz claimed that in war there would be for the actors involved a definite if messy interaction between ends and means, that weaves a thread of reason through the whole, even if the tapestry hangs together only loosely given the many barriers to perfect rationality that exist in war.

Third, there is often there’s a failure in reading Clausewitz to progress from the subjective idea of subordination to the wider implications of ‘continuation’. These two perspectives are interwoven, juxtaposed and at times almost elide in On War. In the crucial Chapter 6B of Book 8 of On War, the transition from one perspective to the other is almost missed. To take just one instance of this, he states, ‘When whole communities go to war the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy.’ So, essentially for Clausewitz war is both a continuation of the interactive political situation and the instrument employed by the actors that make up that situation. The two perspectives are inseparable and implicated in the meaning of the other. ‘Continuation’ thus embraces all three perspectives that I have identified and serves as holistic means of understanding the relationship between politics and war: war is a continuation of a multidimensional political situation comprised of the competing policies of those involved, both of which are shaped in important ways by preexisting political conditions.

I then explored four theoretical implications emerging from this. First, war can never be understood as autonomous but is always part of a wider whole, which is politics – war is itself a form of political behaviour, only it employs different means. Second, war is ensconced within a complex, perpetually shifting ‘political web of war’ – the multitude of actors and relationships within, between and beyond belligerents. Third, during war there will be a continuous, simultaneous and non-linear reciprocal feedback between the use of force, politics and policy. Fourth, understanding the psychology of the politics of war brings all these perspectives and implications together – the role of perceptions are crucial to understanding the political effects of the use of force. War does not contain in itself the elements for a final settlement, but beyond situations where the enemy is completely destroyed (which is very rare), the enemy must be persuaded to submit. This all underlines the often ambiguous nature of military victory and the way in which politics has an unnerving habit of delivering its own verdict on events.

The complexity of the politics of war is too often ignored by theorists and commanders alike: war is conceived as unilateral, autonomous, linear, material and rationally controllable. It might be said that much of this is obvious, common-sense, maybe even banal. I would argue, in many respects it is. But it is staggering how often these basic points are forgotten or ignored. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Western states have struggled to employ their militaries as effective instruments of policy, and primarily I would argue due to political myopia, rather than to any major military shortcomings.

Force has often been employed as if in a political vacuum; little attempt has been made to understand the enemy, it’s objectives, character or psychology; policy has been incoherent, short-termist and introspective; political actors have failed to properly understand the wars they oversee or provide clear guidance as to objectives; the military has therefore dominated strategic decision-making in what are intensely political situations; and instruments of force have been used for their own sake, simply because they are available. And interestingly, what course corrections have taken place have primarily been of a political nature: the Sunni Awakening; the move towards reconciliation in Afghanistan and so forth. Most regrettably, troops on the ground have been repeatedly let down by strategic ineptitude and their efforts not translated into meaningful political effect.

The incredible complexity Clausewitz’s terse dictum embodies calls for the sophisticated socio-political understanding and psychological intuition of genius – Clausewitz states that even ‘Newton himself would quail before the algebraic problems it could pose’. However, given that war is always an interactive phenomenon, perhaps the only real comfort is that the political genius required only needs be relative, not absolute. That Clausewitz recognised the fundamentally complex political nature of war in an age dominated by the annihilation battle is I think testament to his own remarkable genius.

‘This exceptionally rich and informed book punctures much of the myth about China’s operations in Africa’

China’s engagement in Africa is generally portrayed simply as African countries being exploited for their mineral wealth by a wealthy political and economic superpower. Is this always the case?

Certain African countries have been able to use China’s involvement in the region to grow their economies and to bolster their political capital. Angola has been amongst the most successful of African nations in this role. Lucy Corkin’s book Uncovering African Agency; Angola’s Management of China’s Credit Lines casts a fascinating new light on China’s involvement with her largest African trading partner.


‘This is a superb work and punctures the myth of African countries in thrall to China. Lucy Corkin’s deep account of how the Angolan Government exercises its agency, and how it negotiates with China, is revelatory. The work is nuanced and balanced and important.’
Stephen Chan, School of Oriental & African Studies, UK

CORKIN PPC(240X156)path‘This exceptionally rich and informed book punctures much of the myth about China’s operations in Africa. Based on detailed primary fieldwork in Angola and China, Corkin shows the limits to the “China’s impact on Africa” lens. This is a relationship driven as much by Africans as by the Chinese. Read it, and be informed by evidence rather than prejudice!’
Raphael Kaplinsky, The Open University, UK

‘This book is an immense achievement. It provides a finely detailed look at a critical relationship, and an illuminating analysis that is both empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated. Highly recommended for scholars, policy makers and anyone seeking a better understanding of how China really works in Africa.’
Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University, USA, and author of ‘The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa’

About the Author: Lucy Corkin is a Research Associate of the Africa-Asia Centre at School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London, from which institution she holds a PhD in Politics. She was previously Projects Director at Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) in South Africa. She was a visiting scholar at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro’s BRICS Policy Centre. Lucy has participated in ground-breaking research on China’s relations with African countries. She speaks English, Portuguese, French, Afrikaans, and Mandarin Chinese.

From the author’s introduction to Uncovering African Agency: Angola’s Management of China’s Credit Lines:

It is my hope that, despite the narrow focus of this book, it will have a wide appeal, as I believe the case study it examines sheds light on a number of themes that can be used in related research. It is at times a bit theoretical and at times a bit technical. I make no apologies for this as the literature on China-Africa relations has moved beyond the kind of broad-brush studies of 15 years ago and now merits proper empirical and theoretical inquiry.   

A Note on Research Challenges

This book draws on almost 200 in-depth interviews conducted in both China and Angola between July 2009 and February 2011 and is an attempt to bridge the gap between the often misleading musings of popular journalism and weighty academic inquiry into the nature of China’s relations with Angola, specifically through China Exim Bank’s financing to the Dos Santos government.

Undertaking research of this nature was not without its difficulties. One of the most important challenges lay in access to the relevant data, from both Chinese and Angolan sources. For Angola’s part, much of the difficulty lies in a lack of capacity (or political will) for official statistics to be generated by the Angolan government.

One Angolan academic referred to the search for data regarding China–Angola relations specifically as ‘a black hole’ in this regard. Messiant comments on the general reluctance of the Angolan government to publish official data, particularly where oil revenue is concerned. She further points to the active efforts on the part of the Angolan government to reduce transparency in this sector as reportedly

“The law regulating oil production stipulates that the parties concerned refrain from making public the terms of their involvement, which obviously makes transparency impossible.”

Shaxson also remarks on the secrecy that permeates Angola, suggesting that this is due to the dominance of the oil industry, which is governed by the control of access to information. The Angolan Ministry of Finance has since renovated its website and made public information on projects financed by oil-backed loans from Portugal and China. This is a decided improvement, but by no means sufficient.

One Angolan NGO activist was adamant that the figures published by the Angolan Ministry of Finance were fictitious. Indeed, Global Witness remarks that, despite an increase in the availability of official data from Angolan ministries, it is unclear whether these published figures are reliable.

Furthermore, the media are tightly controlled. One Angolan academic bemoaned the fact that Angola ‘has no newspapers that take public opinion into account’ and moreover that Angola’s academic community is severely lacking. In support of this claim, during the start of my fieldwork in Angola, three independent weeklies were bought by a hitherto-unknown media group, suspected to be owned by figures close to the President. There is an active rumour mill present in Angola due to a lack of media circulation outside of Luanda.

Comerford takes a more positive stance on the role of such informal communication channels, known locally as mujimbu, and argues for their importance as a means for a largely illiterate population, with a strong oral tradition, to gain access to information on current events, in an environment of heavy censorship. In this context, my choice of semi-structured interviews to generate data is particularly appropriate.

Data collection from Chinese sources is similarly challenging. Asche and Schüller express frustration at the discrepancies between statistics reported by yearbooks of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and IMF reports. This is explained in part by the current failure of (or lack of interest in) Chinese reporting methods to conform to international standards.

Brautigam, in her study of Chinese aid to Africa, found that Chinese academics cited reasons for a paucity of published statistics specifically on aid to Africa as cultural tendencies, as well as the fear of reprisal from the Chinese public that such large amounts of funds were being sent overseas despite the fact that areas of China are still very poor.

Hubbard, in contrast, has pointed out that there are data available, albeit in the Chinese language. Consequently, it is not necessarily opacity on the part of the Chinese government, but the inability of foreign researchers to read Chinese: ‘a “veil of ignorance” rather than “lack of transparency”’.

Large emphasises that Chinese language sources are often neglected by Western scholars. Large also recognises the pronounced need to generate research that takes account of Chinese perspectives on the matter, instead of those merely of the Western observer. He warns specifically against the potential of ‘self-referential logic’ in using exclusively English sources. Indeed, the same imperative exists to include African, in this case, Angolan, voices.

Two challenges on this front concern the fact that Chinese Africa studies are an underdeveloped research genre, as are Angolan China studies, although this is currently rapidly changing. Nevertheless, Chinese-language material related specifically to China-Angola relations is sparse, with most articles focusing more on business or trade. This reveals the lack of strategic significance of Angola as a separate country as viewed by Chinese researchers.

Indeed, one Shanghai academic commented that, despite all the fuss about China-Africa relations, South Africa was a much more strategic African partner. Furthermore, until recently, there existed few studies on China-Africa relations with genuine African ownership; still rarer are those studies emanating from the African country whose relations with China are under study. Nevertheless I have made a pointed effort to use Angolan (Portuguese) and Chinese-language-based texts where they are available in order to reintroduce their voice to the discourse.

Read the full introduction, and find further details about Uncovering African Agency on our website