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Event report “The Operation to kill or capture Osama bin Ladin: a case study in Presidential decision-making.”

last modified Oct 17, 2019 09:17 PM

On Friday 11 October the Forum hosted Nick Rasmussen, Acting Executive Director of the McCain Institute who talked on “The Operation to kill or capture Osama bin Ladin: a case study in Presidential decision-making.”  This talk offered a thrilling and privileged insight into processes behind the Presidential decision to authorise the raid on the compound in Abbotabad.  

Nick drew on his long experience in senior counter-terrorism posts at the White House to bring to life the policy choices from the moment the White House was informed the CIA had possibly identified bin Ladin’s location. 

He showed how the President and his advisors balanced operational risk with political risk and intelligence gaps once the US special forces had developed possible operational options. Nick also described the difficulty of taking decisions based on assessment, showing how a difference of assessment of the likelihood that the location was correct impacted on the National Security Council’s ability to decide whether and when to take action. The talk also gave a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at President Obama’s leadership style.

Conference report “Five Days in December: From Pearl Harbour to Hitler’s Declaration of War on the United States“

last modified Oct 12, 2019 07:17 PM

On Saturday, 28th of September, the Forum on Geopolitics hosted a high-level conference on the US entry into World War II at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Its focus was a new book project by Professor Brendan Simms (Cambridge) and Charlie Ladermann (King’s College London) on the five days between the Japan’s 1941 attack of Pearl Harbour and Hitler’s declaration of war on the US. This short span of time represents a fascinating period in the study of diplomatic history as it constitutes a moment when the US found themselves in the ‘wrong war’. After all, US president Roosevelt had wanted to join World War II actively, but only in the Atlantic – against Germany. After Pearl Harbour, however, it looked like the war the US would fight was to be in the Pacific, against Japan. Only Hitler’s declaration of war on the 11th of December 1941 resolved this dilemma for the Roosevelt administration, as now Washington could legitimately join both the Atlantic and Pacific theatre of war. With a delay of five days, a European conflict had truly transformed into another World War.

What, then, were the internal deliberations of the US government in this short period of five days when Roosevelt and his key advisors tried to shape the new situation to their own requirements? And how did events unfold over these five days, culminating into all-out war between the US on the one hand and Germany and Japan on the other? To answer this question, the conference brought together researchers from three continents (America, Europe, Asia) to comprehensively cover the considerations and actions of key players such as the US, Germany and Japan.  Moreover, it addressed the role of other key actors such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

At the centre of the event were keynotes by two eminent speakers, Prof. Gerhard Weinberg, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of A World at Arms : A Global History of World War II, and Prof. Evan Mawdsley, former Professor of International History at the University of Glasgow and author of December 1941: Twelve days that began a World War. Their contribution as well as that of all panellists has helped to significantly broaden our understanding of how statesmen react to outside events beyond their immediate influence, and how World War II turned from a regional into a global conflict.

A discussion on mass atrocities and peace building with UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng

last modified Oct 07, 2019 10:43 AM

The Forum on Geopolitics is very happy to announce the visit of Mr Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to talk about Mass Atrocities and Peace Building in the Middle East: prospects for a Westphalia for the Middle East. 

Where? Pembroke Old Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge
When? 20 November 2019: 17.30-19.00


Tickets are strictly limited: To apply, please send an email to Dr Thomas Peak at, copying in Ms Karri Aston at  Please include a short bio and a few lines on why you wish to attend this discussion.


The Peterhouse History Society warmly welcomes you to Hitler: Only the World was Enough

last modified Oct 07, 2019 07:28 AM
Just in case you missed Professor Simms discussing his new biography of Hitler on the 30th September:

The Peterhouse History Society warmly invite you to a presentation by Professor Brendan Simms, Director of the Forum on Geopolitics and Professor of European International Relations. He will be discussing his new book: 

"Hitler: Only the World was Enough"

Date/Time: Thursday 10th October 2019. Talk and Questions from 5:30-6:45pm, drinks reception and opportunity to purchase the book at a discount will follow.
Place: The Peterhouse Theatre (The porters will be happy to direct you) 
Additional details: Please RSVP to Andrew Walker (the society secretary) at if you are interested in attending as soon as possible.

Adolf Hitler is one of the most studied men in history, and yet the most important things we think we know about him are wrong. His main preoccupation was not, as widely believed, the threat of Bolshevism and the Soviet Union, but that of international capitalism and
Anglo-America. These two fears drove both his anti-semitism and his determination to secure the 'living space' necessary to survive in a
world dominated by the British Empire and the United States. These concerns were aggravated by Hitler's profound 'racial' pessimism about the quality of a German people whose vitality he believed had been sapped by centuries of Jewish and foreign domination, internal division and the steady loss of its most 'vital' elements through emigration to the new world.

Basing himself in part on new sources, Brendan Simms traces the way in which Hitler's ideology emerged after 1918 in response to his traumatic encounter with Anglo-America in the First World War. The United States and the British Empire (which loomed far greater in his imagination than the Soviet Union) served as models for Germany’s own empire, equally founded in his view on appropriation of land, racism and violence.  Hitler's aim was to create a similarly global future for Germany – a country seemingly doomed otherwise not just to irrelevance, but to extinction. His principal concern during the resulting cataclysm was not just what he saw as the clash between German and Jews, or between German and Slav, but above all that between Germans and what he called 'Anglo-Saxons'. In the end only dominance of the world would have been enough to achieve Hitler's objectives, and it ultimately required a coalition of virtually the entire world to defeat him.

Brendan Simms's new book is the first to explain Hitler's beliefs fully, demonstrating how, as ever, it is ideas that are the ultimate source of the most murderous behaviour.

Re-Ordering the Balkans

last modified Oct 07, 2019 07:24 AM
Saturday 19 October: 1:00pm - 2:00pm

Faculty of Law, LG19, Sidgwick Site, 10 West Road, CB3 9DZ

The Balkans has long been Europe’s most unstable region. After a series of devastating conflicts in the 1990s, the Balkans was pacified when the US intervened militarily to impose a settlement which transformed the internal boundaries from Yugoslavia into international borders, resulting in a set of multiethnic states such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo.

However, this settlement has been consistently challenged by the peoples of the region who believe the security, rights and opportunity they desire can only be attained by establishing nation states, based on the established model in the rest of Europe.

For the last year, Serbia and Kosovo’s leaders have been openly discussing an exchange of territory along ethnic lines, with the apparent approval of the United States and the European Union. Meanwhile, Albania and Kosovo have stated their intention to unify next decade and the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia are driving the country towards disintegration.

In this presentation, PhD student Timothy Less will ask how long its current borders can hold, what the map of the region will look like in the future, and whether the region make a transition to nation statehood without another conflict, and what the response of the outside powers should be.

2019 Inaugural Annual Lecture - Hitler: Only the World was Enough

last modified Oct 01, 2019 01:37 PM

Professor Brendan Simms, Director of the Forum on Geopolitics, gave the 2019 Inaugural Lecture on his new groundbreaking biography on Hitler: Only the World was Enough

The event, held at the Lecture Theater at Peterhouse, was chaired by Peterhouse Master Bridget Kendall

Signed copies of the book were available after the event. 

Reviews of his book are available here and here


Professor Brendan Simms for the New Statesman: From backdoor to backstop: Ireland’s shifting relationship with Britain and Europe

last modified Sep 25, 2019 12:35 PM

England’s “Irish Question” first emerged in the Middle Ages and has returned to haunt the present Brexit crisis. But is the European Union making a promise to the Republic of Ireland that it will be unable to keep, asks Professor Brendan Simms, Director of the Forum on Geopolitics. 

Read the full article in the New Statesman here

Article by Dr Albert Wolf on annexing the West Bank

last modified Sep 24, 2019 08:54 PM
Netanyahu’s election promise won’t just hurt Israel, it will create chaos for its eastern neighbor and a diplomatic backlash too, writes Dr Albert Wolf.
Dr Albert Wolf, ECWG member on the Forum's Westphalia for the Middle East initiative, makes intervention in Foreign Policy on the dangers for Jordanian stability of a potential Israeli annexation of the West Bank. Read the full article here

Irish Times Review Hitler biography by Professor Brendan Simms

last modified Sep 24, 2019 08:53 PM
Hitler: Only the World Was Enough: its originality and intelligence command attention writes the Irish Times

The Irish Times reviews Hitler: Only the World Was Enough by Forum Director Professor Brendan Simms as "a thoroughly thought-provoking and stimulating biography which all historians of the Third Reich will have to take seriously"

Read the full review here

New book by Dr Charlie Laderman "Sharing the Burden"

last modified Sep 16, 2019 09:12 PM
Charlie Laderman provides a new perspective on the United States's rise as a global power and international humanitarianism by examining British and American responses to the Armenian genocide within the context of international order during the World War I era.
Released 6 December 2019

Forum Director launches thought-provoking new book on Hitler

last modified Sep 13, 2019 05:11 PM
Forum Director launches thought-provoking new book on Hitler

Join us for the Forum on Geopolitics's inaugural annual lecture on September 30 to celebrate the launch of Professor Brendan Simms new book Hitler: Only the World was Enough

A Westphalia For the Middle East: Workshop Report

last modified Sep 13, 2019 05:12 PM
WESTPHALIA FOR THE MIDDLE EAST Workshop Report: Lessons in Diplomatic Techniques and Peacemaking Mechanisms from the Congress of Westphalia for the Middle East Pembroke College, Cambridge, 16 May 2019


Workshop Report: Lessons in Diplomatic Techniques and Peacemaking Mechanisms from the Congress of Westphalia for the Middle East

Pembroke College, Cambridge, 16 May 2019

The Forum on Geopolitics’ research project and events series ‘A Westphalia for the Middle East’ held a workshop at Pembroke College, Cambridge on 16 May 2019. The project aims to suggest lessons for today’s conflicts in the Middle East, from the way in which the arguably very similar Thirty Years War was ended at the congress of Westphalia. The workshop was funded by the DAAD-Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies. It was attended by senior practitioners and academics  think-tank directors, and Middle East analysts from Europe, the Middle East and North America, who were convened in order to discuss the possible lessons in diplomatic techniques and peacemaking mechanisms from the congress of Westphalia (1643-49) for today’s Middle East.

Full report

Forum on Geopolitics merges with the Centre for Rising Powers!

last modified Apr 10, 2019 05:52 PM
Two part event on March 11th marking the merger of Forum on Geopolitics and Centre for Rising Powers included a round table discussion on China programmes in UK academia and public lecture on Rise of China's comprehensive.
Forum on Geopolitics merges with the Centre for Rising Powers!

Profs. Shirley Lin & Harry Harding

This event marks the merger of the Forum on Geopolitics and the Centre for Rising Powers in the Department of Politics & International Studies, the University of Cambridge. The joint effort will deepen the study of geopolitics and grand strategy at the University of Cambridge, offering innovative opportunities for collaboration with practitioners and delivering impactful engagement with the wider world.

 The first part of the event was a closed Discussion “Reflections and Future Directions for China Programmes in the UK”

The second part was a Public Lecture by Prof. Harry Harding (University of Virginia) and Prof. Syaru Shirley Lin (Chinese University of Hong Kong): “The Rise of China’s Comprehensive Power”.

Technology and Democracy: A Nightmare?

last modified Mar 19, 2019 11:05 AM
The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to host a Nightmare Lecture focusing on technology and democracy in Magdalene College with the generous support of Absolute Strategy Research.

On 22nd January the Forum on Geopolitics (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge hosted ‘A Nightmare Scenario: Technology and Democracy’, a lecture that addressed the effects technology could have on the functioning of contemporary democracy with the generous support of Absolute Strategy Research. Each of the speakers shared with the public their own nightmares – dystopian scenarios that democratic societies may face – as technologies play an ever-central role in every aspect of our lives.

The Lecture was chaired by Charles Arthur, a freelance Tech Journalist and former technology editor at The Guardian. The panel’s speakers included: Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch; John Naughton, Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and Director of the Press Fellowship Programme at Wolfson College; and the technology columnist of The Observer, David Runciman, Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies and Dr. Nóra Ni Loideain, Director of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

As per tradition in the Forum on Geopolitics' Nightmare Series, the panelists all addressed their personal 'nightmare' scenarios regarding technology and democracy, which included a second Brexit referendum, the continued growth of data protection policies driven by a profit focused culture, and more. 

Those interested can read a summary of Dr. Nóra Ni Loideain's remarks on the ILPC website here

COGGS hosts Prof. Carlo Scognamiglio Pasini for 2019 Cook Lecture

last modified Feb 18, 2019 10:03 AM
Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to welcome Prof. Carlo Scognamiglio Pasini, Professor Emeritus in Applied Economics and former chancellor of the Luiss University of Rome, and former President of the Italian Senate and Minister of Defense to give second of its annual Cook Lecture at Corpus Christi’s McCrum Lecture Theatre.


Prof. Pasini began his lecture by drawing the audience back to John Maynard Keynes’ and the ‘Keynes’ Circus” of Richard Kahn, James Meade, Joan Robinson, Austin Robinson, and Piero Sraffa. Prof. Pasini detailed the immense contributions Keynes made to the formation of the International Liberal Order from the post-war period to the present day, highlighting in particular his role in the British delegation preparing the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the Bretton Woods Conference, and his seminal works The Economic Consequences of the Peace and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.


Taking the audience up to the present day, Prof. Pasini noted the incredible impact of Keynes’ thinking on the global economic order in the century. The former President of the Italian Senate highlighted the danger posed by the separation of the U.K. and Europe through Brexit, and predicted the global economics will either move towards a duopoly between China and the U.S., or a tripolar equilibrium with China, the U.S., and a strong Europe. Prof. Pasini ended the lecture quoting Jean Monnet: “Europe will be forged in crisis, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crisis”.


The Engelsberg Programme for Applied History, Grand Strategy and Geopolitics

last modified Feb 14, 2019 02:24 PM

We are excited to announce the Engelsberg Programme for Applied History, Grand Strategy and Geopolitics at the Forum on Geopolitics, generously supported by the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation. We will soon advertise a series of events designed to explore how the lessons of history can shed light on some of today’s most perplexing problems.

COGGS hosts Audit of Geopolitical Capability Workshop

last modified Dec 13, 2018 12:17 PM

On 11th December, the Forum on Geopolitics hosted James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society. James outlined the framework and methodology for the Audit of Geopolitical Capability, an index of capability of twenty major powers he has developed and compiled. In particular, the workshop focused on:

  1. Improving and clarifying the indicators of geopolitical capability, particularly in relation to the military, economy and culture;
  2. Better justifying the 'weights' afforded to each indicator;
  3. Establishing limitations for the Audit, not least its utility in the event of the emergence of radically different strategic environments.

In addition, James presented the findings of the Audit of Geopolitical Capability and answered a number of methodological questions.

Celebration of the Publication of 'Towards a Westphalia with the Middle East' with Hurst Publishers

last modified Nov 07, 2018 07:05 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to celebrate the launch of Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East by Forum Affiliates Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Forum Director Prof. Brendan Simms.

COGGS' "A Westphalia for the Middle East?" research strand has celebrated the publication of a new book based on the first phase of the project with Hurst Publishers, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East. COGGS held events at Westminster and Peterhouse  with the authors, Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Prof. Brendan Simms, together with panelists, including Dr. Samir Al Taqi of the Orient Research Center, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Ms. Elisabeth von Hammerstein of the Körber Foundation, Mr. Ralf Beste of the German Foreign Office, and Dr. Ayse Zarakol of the Department of Politics and International Studies. COGGS is grateful for all who participated and celebrated with us. 

The Westphalia for the Middle East project asks the central question: what lessons can be learned from the way the Thirty Years War was ended in central Europe— in order to promote peace in the Middle East now? Our newest book, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, published by Hurst explores these questions and guides readers through moments in the foundation of the Peace of Westphalia that may be instructive for addressing some of the globe’s most intractable contemporary conflicts. 

Of course the world was a rather different place 400 years ago. But the book argues that the analytical justification of using a peace settlement from early modern Europe, as a source of inspiration for a new peace settlement in the Middle East now – is the remarkable set of parallels between the two contexts.

The analogy between the two scenarios consists of two main groups of similarities: structural parallels, and the role of religion.

The book argues that in light of these parallels it makes sense to look at how the Thirty Years War was ended in the 1640s in order to draw lessons for the Middle East.

Dr. Patrick Milton at the launch held in Peterhouse Importantly, these lessons are intended to serve as a series of inspirations for a possible new peace settlement in the Middle East; not by imposing an external Eurocentric model— but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors themselves with the help of a set of mechanisms and techniques that proved effective in the historical experience.

There are two main types of lessons: firstly and most importantly, diplomatic techniques and peace-making mechanisms. Secondly, the treaty content itself.  

With regard to diplomatic techniques, the core lesson is the value of an all-inclusive multilateral congress: the Thirty Years war (just as the wars in the Middle East now) had been so multifaceted, and the various lines of conflict so interwoven – that the component conflicts of the wider crisis could not be solved piecemeal. Instead what was needed was an all-inclusive congress which tried to settle all interrelated sets of conflict at the same time.

Precisely because the component conflicts were so interlocked, earlier attempts to solve individual parts of them (such as a settlement only for the civil war within Germany, or only for the Catholic powers) were bound to fail. A settlement in one area would inevitably be destabilised by continuing tension or conflict in a neighbouring one. The war had already become irreversibly internationalised and all major combatants and other states involved would need to be drawn into a negotiated harmonisation of their respective interests. In the end the universal congress at Westphalia failed to achieve the universal peace for which it had been convened because one of the numerous sets of conflicts – that between France and Spain – continued for another 10 years. But the settlement was successful in ending the main conflict, and in uncoupling the central European theatre from the ongoing war in the West, while also shielding the Empire from being sucked back into that war. 

Another crucial technique which enabled the congress to reach a successful settlement was the innovative instrument of the mutual guarantee: each contracting party would mutually and reciprocally guarantee every aspect of the settlement – even those that did not affect them individually. During our workshops most participants agreed that this mechanism could usefully be transferred to the Middle Eastern context.

The guarantee creates a collective security system for the region in question whereby it is remodelled as a neutralised security zone and taken out of ongoing great-power conflict in other parts of the world. The guarantee was helpful in addressing each party’s fears of being attacked again post-war and thereby helped the treaty endure.

The Westphalia for the Middle East Seminar at Westminster with Dr. Samir al Taqi, Ms. Elizabeth von Hammerstein, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Dr. Patrick Milton

Other lessons that we highlight in the book include the recognition that one could start negotiating despite the absence of a ceasefire (although a truce would be desirable), and despite a state of exhaustion not necessarily having been reached by all parties.

Also: the absence of trust need not prevent negotiations from getting started—the peace process itself has to generate trust, not the other way round. Another lesson is that each negotiating party should set out its core security interests as transparently as possible, so that there can then be a more effective process of harmonising these interests – and crucially there should be a focus on power-political interests as opposed to such intractable things as settling questions of theological truth.  

In addition to these peace-making mechanisms, the treaty content itself can also be instructive, though the differences of time and space mean one must proceed with caution. But the improved power-sharing arrangements that Westphalia brought to the Empire – particularly among the three main religious groups – helped to prevent another religious war breaking out, and we believe that these can also supply some lessons for similar arrangements in Middle Eastern states.

More generally, we believe the idea which derives from Westphalia, that an overall, grand-bargain style settlement for the whole Middle East should not only regulate relations between states, but also within the states that have been racked by war and instability, provides salutary lessons.


COGGS hosts Lord Andrew Adonis

last modified Nov 06, 2018 09:29 AM
COGGS welcomed Lord Andrew Adonis for a lecture in the Old Library of Pembroke College.
COGGS hosts Lord Andrew Adonis

Lord Andrew Adonis

Lord Andrew Adonis joined the Forum on Geopolitics for a lecture titled "Can Brexit be Stopped?" Lord Adonis focused on the many challenges facing the U.K. in the ongoing Brexit negotiations, including issues relating to the Irish border and Good Friday Agreement. 

Inaugural Recipient of Cambridge Security Initiative Bursary

last modified Oct 14, 2018 06:47 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to announce that Mr. Timothy Less is the first recipient of a PhD bursary generously supported by the Cambridge Security Initiative.

The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to announce that Mr. Timothy Less is the first recipient of a PhD bursary generously supported by the Cambridge Security Initiative for a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies studying European geopolitics, past or present. Mr. Less' doctoral work focuses on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how the West's diminished presence in the region has allowed for the Croats and the Serbs to reassert their 1990s goals and divide up the country. 

Forum Celebrates Publication of New Book: Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East

last modified Oct 14, 2018 06:38 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is pleased to present two events to mark the publication of Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, co-authored by Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Prof. Brendan Simms.

The ‘Westphalia for the Middle East’ is a collaborative project initiated by the Forum on Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge, which has gathered politicians and senior administration members from the Middle East, Europe, and the US, as well as historians of early modern Europe, in order to discuss previously unexamined avenues towards peace. The project seeks to provide much-needed new perspectives and to thereby open innovative, creative approaches for resolving conflict in the Middle East by looking at solutions that worked at the Peace of Westphalia. It takes the remarkable parallels that exist between conflict constellations in the Middle East now and the Thirty Wars then as its analytical starting point, in order to consider which diplomatic techniques, principles and mechanisms inherent in the 1648 settlement might serve as an inspiration for a new region-wide holistic settlement.     

On the occasion of the publication of a new book on the results of the project to date, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East (London: Hurst Publishers, 2018), co-authored by Patrick Milton, Michael Axworthy, and Brendan Simms, the Forum is pleased to present two events, one in London on October 30 and one in Cambridge on October 31, to mark the occasion. We encourage you to register using the details on the events' pages. 

The role of France in producing and guaranteeing a new Middle Eastern settlement

last modified Oct 11, 2018 09:46 AM
We are pleased to present a summary of Ambassador Michel Duclos’ lecture at the University of Cambridge in the Peterhouse Theatre on the 9th of October

In France, there is a double tendency either to glorify what we used to call the "Arab policy", perceived as a grandiose plan deeply rooted in De Gaulle’s foreign policy, either to consider that France has no influence anymore in the region because of the Arab springs. My stance would be to say that it was never that grandiose, nor it is that bad today.

This "Arab policy", funded by President De Gaulle and later followed by his successors, was based on three elements. First, this policy was to promote a balanced position on the Israelo-Palestinian conflict starting with the famous press conference by De Gaulle in November 1967. Second, it was based on good relationships with all the dictators due to our belief that "enlightened despots" could modernise their countries. Finally, France extended her reach from her traditional backyards (Maghreb and Levantine) to the Gulf, exploiting skilfully opportunities and circumstances.

The Arab springs have profoundly undermined the traditional pillars of France’s Arab policy. The Palestine cause is not as central as it used to be, Islamism is on the rise, authoritarianism is challenged everywhere in the region. In spite of these setbacks, France is still regarded in the Middle East as an important player by all regional actors,  though her position is more fragile today because of the deep fractures of the region.

A lesson to be drawn from the Westphalia peace process is that there is a need to promote innovative formats today. This is especially true in a context where the US are retreating from the region, Russia has come back in the Middle East through Syria and tensions are escalating between Saudi Arabia and Iran. France is too big to be a mediator not taking sides, and not big enough to be a broker imposing a solution. But she could be a pathfinder in this context, acting as an intermediary promoting dialogues including China and India on a macroscale, as well a civil society actors on a microscale.

In a contemporary context, external guaranties cannot be exclusively military. There is a need for « civil guaranties »  and nation-building in any peace settlement, and the EU is ideally positioned to play that role. France can be part of a military guaranty alongside the US and other allies, and part of the civil guaranty through the EU. She should play an active role thanks to her permanent seat at the Security Council to make sure that there is good articulation between these two dimensions. This would allow us to make sure that civil and military guarantors would work hand in hand in the Middle East.

There are four sets of situations, involving two countries in each case, where such ideas could be applied. Tunisia and Libya call for our immediate attention and require a huge effort. They are indeed essential countries for the security of our homeland, and we have to show that contrary to the Russian narrative, a successful democratic transition is possible in Tunis and Tripoli. The rivalry between Tehran and Ryad may well last for decades, and France will have to be part of an effort to ensure that Iran does not take reckless positions in the current situation or that Saudi Arabia will not get into the way when Tehran and Washington will start to talk again to each other. A third couple is Iraq and Syria. There, the EU could fully unfold its potential as a civil guarantor helping reconstruction, in the short-term in the case of Iraq and only when conditions will be met in the case of Syria. Finally, Egypt and Turkey are key countries for the security of the region. France and her allies should not let Turkey look eastward when we have so many interests in common. An equally big risk would be an implosion of Egypt; no effort should be spared to prevent further deteriorations of the current state of this country."

Cambridge International Relations and History Working Group

last modified Oct 08, 2018 11:52 AM
Formed in 2016, the Cambridge IR & History Working Group provides a forum for the production and discussion of scholarship located at the intersection of the 'historical turn in IR' and the University of Cambridge's traditional strengths in the history of political thought and international/imperial/global history.

Formed in 2016, the Cambridge IR & History Working Group provides a forum for the production and discussion of scholarship located at the intersection of the 'historical turn in IR' and the University of Cambridge's traditional strengths in the history of political thought and international/imperial/global history. The remit of the group is broad, covering a variety of different approaches and methodologies, including historical sociology, theoretically informed historical scholarship, the history of international political thought, and the history of international law.  While members of the group work across a wide range of regions and historical periods, we have particular strengths in the study of empires, hierarchies, and international orders. 


Keep up to date on their events here.

The New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe

last modified May 10, 2018 01:34 PM
On 24th April, the Forum on Geopolitics held a panel discussion on the New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe. The panel consisted of Professor Aleks Szczerbiak from the University of Sussex, Dr Antonia Colibasanu from Geopolitical Futures, Mr Laza Kekic, formerly of the Economist Intelligence Unit and Ms Yulia Osmoloskaya, a former Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Ukraine in London.
The New Geopolitics of Eastern Europe

The Forum's Timothy Less with panelist Yulia Osmoloskaya

The discussion focused on the impact on a shifting international environment on the internal politics of eastern Europe. The key conclusion was that a power vacuum is emerging in the region resulting from the decline in the authority of the European Union, the steady decline of Russia and the re-pivoting of the United States towards Asia. This is having a number of malign effects inside eastern Europe, from democratic backsliding in Central Europe to a fracturing of fragile 
states in the Western Balkans as the process of Euro-Atlantic enlargement comes to a halt. The region is also becoming a battleground in the so-called New Cold War as Russia’s fears about its long-term survival put it on the defensive.

The panel discussion formed the first session of the Forum on Geopolitics’ public colloquium on the New Intermarium which will continue in autumn 2018 and into 2019.


The Forum wishes to thank Cambridge Polish Studies for its generous support of this event. 

New Military Intervention Series

last modified May 01, 2018 04:28 PM
The Forum on Geopolitics is delighted to announce a new series on military intervention, convened by Dr. Stefano Recchia and Dr. Aaron Rapport. Look out for events in this series in Michaelmas 2018.

Powerful states have intervened militarily abroad for centuries to advance their interests and promote their preferred forms of political and economic order. In modern times, military intervention reached its high point during the Cold War; but military intervention has far from disappeared in recent years. The United States and its Western allies, but also Russia and other powerful states, have continued to intervene in their neighbourhood and sometimes beyond to protect human and ethnic minority rights, secure access to natural resources, and promote and uphold their preferred forms of political order. This speaker series will bring international experts to Cambridge with the goal of illuminating the politics and ethics of contemporary military interventions. Questions to be addressed include: How has the legitimacy of military intervention changed in recent years, and does it matter? How can we theorize and better understand current military intervention decision making by the major powers? What are the implications of the current “intervention fatigue” among Western powers in particular? As the nature of military interventions changes due to social, political, and technological transformations, this series aims to shed light on these important developments with real-world implications.

The Russian Revolution & its legacy for today

last modified Nov 20, 2017 11:06 AM
A summary of our most recent event marking the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

On 2 November, the Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to welcome Sir Tony Brenton and Oksana Antonenko for a panel chaired by the Master of Peterhouse and former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the BBC, Bridget Kendall, titled “The Russian Revolution and its legacy for today” in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the Alison Richard Building. Sir Tony, who he served as the UK Ambassador to Russia from 2004-2008, noted Vladimir Putin’s general ambivalence towards the Russian Revolution despite its profound global consequences.

Sir Tony noted that popular memory often limits Lenin’s legacy is the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the Russian Revolution heralded the rise of the one party communist state in China. Importantly, Sir Tony highlighted that this aspect of the Russian Revolution’s legacy has not been lost on China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Indeed, in his October address to the Chinese Congress Xi stated: “A hundred years ago, the salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China. From that moment on, the Chinese Communist people have had in the party a backbone for their pursuit of national independence and liberation, prosperity and happiness.” Sir Tony additionally highlighted parallels between the Russian Revolution and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, noting that both were swiftly followed by a retreat to authoritarianism. Finally, Sir Tony noted that observers tend to overlook the very personal elements of the Russian Revolution. This neglect of both the personal, and Russian, elements of the Russian Revolution may additionally have consequences for contemporary Russia: in a September 2017 poll the Levada Center found that 75% of Russians found the president of the Russian Federation “completely trustworthy”, while only 35% of those polled found the Russian government completely trustworthy (40% found the Russian government “somewhat trustworthy”). A survey run by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) in the same month yielded similar results.

Oksana Antonenko, a visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economic and Political Science, responded to Sir Tony’s lecture by noting that the anniversary of the Russian Revolution was an uncomfortable for contemporary Russian government. The Revolution, Antonenko noted, remains generally understood through both personal and family narratives as opposed to an overarching state narrative. Antonenko additionally cited a recent poll by VCIOM that found that while 75% of Russians are aware that political persecution tool place during the Russian Revolution, VCIOM found that education level impacted understanding of the events. Antonenko noted that Russia’s discomfort with the anniversary signalled the lack of a single dogma within the country while the Kremlin—and Putin—search for a new social contract to offer the Russian people. The fact that Putin has yet to officially announce his candidacy in the March 2018 elections further bolsters this assertion, Antonenko argued. The Kremlin leader’s conspicuous silence as to his inevitable 2018 run indicates that he still has not settled on a platform and a message for the Russian people. 

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in British Politics

last modified Oct 17, 2017 01:59 PM
The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in British Politics

Julia Ebner of ISD

The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to host, together with the Community Security Trust, a panel event titled The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism in BritishPolitics at Caius College on 16 October as part of its Anti-Semitism and European Geopolitics series. Last year, the Community Security Trust recorded 1,309 Anti-Semitic incidents, including 307 violent instances of Anti-Semitism, higher than any year since the Trust began recording the phenomena. In this panel event, the Forum on Geopolitics explored why Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Britain, its impact on the British political climate and how best to tackle this noxious trend.


Featuring Lord Rowan Williams, Dr. Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust, Julia Ebner of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and Detective Superintendent Dave Stringer of the Met, the event sought to probe anti-semitism on the extreme right and left of British politics in a contemporary context. The speakers addressed the sustained rise in anti-semitic hate crime in London, CST's most recent report on Anti-Semitism in Britain, contemporary challenges relating to education and Anti-Semitism, and the relationship between the extremism and Anti-Semitism. The Forum wishes to express its gratitude to the panelists and Caius College, and looks forward to the next instalment in this important series. 

Related Books by Panelists 
The Left's Jewish Problem, by Dr. Dave Rich 
The Rage, by Julia Ebner 


New Geopolitics in Eastern Europe Reading Group

last modified Oct 05, 2017 02:41 PM

The Forum on Geopolitics is running a reading group this year on the New Geopolitics in Eastern Europe. Each session will examine a different aspect of the region's shifting geopolitics and encourage a lively discussion based on short suggested readings.

The group is open to anyone with an interest in the politics of Eastern Europe today and will meet fortnightly from 1-2pm, starting on 18th October in Room 119 in the Alison Richard Building.  

The group is led by Timothy Less, the director of the Nova Europa political consultancy, a former British diplomat and an associate researcher at the Forum on Geopolitics, where he is leading a project on The New Intermarium. 


Guaranteeing the Peace—International actors and their role in a peace settlement for the Middle East

last modified Aug 02, 2017 10:28 AM
Workshop Report of the Westphalia for the Middle East Project Berlin, 27-28 April 2017.

The Cambridge Forum on Geopolitics and the Körber Foundation held their latest collaborative workshop of the joint project A Westphalia for the Middle East on 27-28 April in Berlin. The project seeks to draw inspiration from the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, in order to determine new approaches towards conflict-resolution and confessional co-existence in the contemporary Middle East; not by imposing an external model, but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors with the help of a toolbox of mechanisms and techniques that proved so effective in addressing analogous geopolitical challenges in the historical experience of the 1640s. Following the previous meetings, in which we elaborated on the elements and nature of a hoped-for regional settlement for the Middle East, the latest workshop was dedicated to discussing the international dimensions to such a settlement. In particular, we assessed the merits of a possible system of regional and international guarantees of the settlement, modelled loosely on the Westphalian guarantor system, which contributed significantly to the successful conclusion of a comprehensive peace treaty in 1648, as well as to the long-term safeguarding of the peace. The workshop was attended by around twenty high-profile participants from the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Russia. Represented among them were politicians, academics, journalists, and senior figures from the UN, the Arab League, the EU and other institutions.


Executive summary

The lessons from the Westphalian historical example include the following:

  • In order for a future peace settlement to be effective in the longer-term, it needs to be placed under a two-tier system of regional and international guarantee. The guarantee can help to ensure that the Middle East is reconfigured as a neutralised zone, in which armed force is largely banned and which is taken out of ongoing geopolitical rivalry
  • The guarantors should include regional powers who have a pressing interest and a stake in the peace. These might include powers that are currently warring parties, and that are not necessarily militarily powerful
  • International guarantors will be more effective if they also share a self-interest in upholding the peace settlement and its terms, such as preventing a spill-over effect of disturbances from the region
  • The regional and international guarantors must not only police norms of behaviour between states, but also within the states of the Middle East covered by the peace settlement and hence the guarantee


A ‘Westphalian’ guarantee for the Middle East?

Participants learned that France and Sweden’s early signalling of their willingness to guarantee the whole settlement was important in persuading the smaller actors, particularly the Protestant princes of the Holy Roman Empire, that the peace treaty was viable, and that the external powers would return to Germany to force the Emperor and the Catholics into line lest they renege on their treaty commitments agreed upon during the peace negotiations. The resulting adoption of the mutual guarantee in the peace treaty was also a highly effective peace-conserving tool, which deterred breaches of the peace and violations of rights enshrined at Westphalia in the longer term. The guarantee was simultaneously the most innovative, the most controversial, the most seemingly impractical, but also one of the most vital and ultimately successful aspects of the treaty:

  • the notion that warring parties and treaty signatories themselves become guarantors in a mutual and reciprocal set-up was a novelty;
  • many commentators especially the Catholics were wary of giving the external ‘crowns’, especially France, a legal title to intervene in the German Empire;
  • the sequence of steps required for an activation of the guarantee were rather cumbersome;
  • but the guarantee was instrumental in ensuring the longevity of the Westphalian order in central Europe, which permanently banished religious war from the Empire.

The participants recognised that a future peace settlement for the Middle East would similarly need to be guaranteed, by a combination of regional states and powers further afield. On the whole, the appraisal of the notion of foreign involvement in general, and an external guarantee in particular was very positive, with several participants from the Middle East calling for more positive engagement by the US in particular, as a guardian of norms.

But before discussion turned to the nature of a guarantee system, there was some debate about what kind of settlement should be guaranteed, with some participants arguing in favour of a series of individual territorial settlements which deal with Syria, Libya, Yemen etc. separately, while others argued in favour of a comprehensive macro-settlement, a ‘grand bargain’ which covers the whole region - or at least that those conflicts are inextricably interconnected. Over the course of the workshop many participants argued that, as was the case in early seventeenth-century Europe, the range of conflicts and grievances in the Middle East now is too complex and interwoven to be successfully solved with piecemeal negotiations aimed at addressing individual territorial parts of the broader regional crisis. Therefore, what is needed is an inclusive peace congress that draws in all parties to conflict, to negotiate a new security order for the region under regional and international guarantee, as occurred at Westphalia after about 5 years of negotiations, in what was at the time the first multilateral peace congress of its kind. Just as the French had aimed at a ‘universal’ peace treaty for the whole of (Christian) Europe, rather than a particular settlement just for Germany, but had instead received an intermediary, ‘Westphalian’ solution, so one could also aim for a neutralised ‘de-toxified’ Middle East which is taken out of international geopolitical competition, while international rivalry continues elsewhere, just as the Franco-Spanish war continued in Western Europe until 1659.

The Westphalian model of getting negotiations started without allowing continued fighting to derail the peace process was also received positively by participants from the region, with the Astana and Geneva processes already taking on such forms. Some of the participants noted that the negotiators should similarly stay at one location and negotiate until they have thrashed out a settlement, even if this takes months or years as was the case in Münster and Osnabrück. Others agreed that the process itself can over time sort out the ‘end-state’ which is to be aspired to – which is what occurred at Westphalia, where the congress participants did not from the outset share a clear vision of the kind of peace that was to be achieved.


The role of the regional guarantors

 Contrary to early modern theories of international law, which posited that guarantors ought to be powerful and neutral, the solution adopted at Westphalia provided not only for powerful, non-neutral guarantors (France, Sweden, and the Habsburg Emperor), but also weaker non-neutral ones namely the German princes, who had been most severely affected by the war. Many of these formed a unprecedented cross-confessional ‘third party’ united only by a shared desire for peace at almost all cost, which drove the peace process forward in its final phase and which constituted an activist guarantor for peace after the war. Participants at the workshop recognised that local, regional actors themselves need to similarly guarantee their own peace settlement, as they would be most interested in the upholding of its terms and the securing of the peace in their region. There was a general agreement that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt would need to form the core of a regional guarantee structure. There was also discussion of the important role that Jordan might have especially in southern Syria, while some argued that Russia should be considered a regional, rather than a global actor. Regarding the role of the regional guarantors, it was argued that they would be tasked with securing the peace especially in light of the anticipated continued existence of numerous militias, ensuring the integrity of existing borders, providing assistance in the rebuilding of more inclusive regimes, and protecting the rights of minorities within states.


The role of international guarantors

Turning to the possible role of international powers such as the US and Russia in a future guarantee system for a Middle Eastern peace settlement, the discussion centred on the question of what would move global powers to take on the responsibilities of guarantors for the peace of the region. Here the parallel with the external guarantee of Westphalia by France and Sweden proved to be instructive. The foreign crowns, particularly France, were aware of the critical importance of the Holy Roman Empire in the European state system and were intent upon preventing the Empire falling under the dominance of the Habsburg Emperor, while also ensuring that he would not provide assistance to Habsburg Spain in its continuing war against France, as stipulated in the peace treaty. France’s external guarantee furthered both of these goals. Similarly, the Middle East today cannot be ignored by global powers not least on account of its geostrategic salience, its oil reserves, and its dangerous capacity as a geopolitical flashpoint. It would be in the interests of the USA and Russia for the Middle East to be taken out of ongoing international rivalry, and to prevent a spill-over effect of conflict in the Middle East spreading beyond the region, just as it was in the interests of the ‘foreign crowns’ to prevent a spill-over effect from central Europe by neutralising the Empire. Although participants recognised that international guarantors were essential to complement the regional ones, the US was argued by some to be less willing to sign up to the commitments of a guarantor than many regional powers would be, despite the greater apparent readiness of President Trump to take risks than his advisors or predecessors. The Westphalian experience shows that self-interested warring parties such as Russia and the USA in the Middle East can take on the mantle of effective guarantors of peace in the post-conflict era if the settlement is calibrated to be mutually acceptable. The Westphalian example also demonstrates that the guarantee can be effective even when guarantors included former enemies (France and the Emperor), just as relations between some of the proposed guarantors today are poor (USA and Iran; USA and Russia). 

The discussion also focussed on the possible role of the EU as a potential guarantor; the spill-over effect (the refugee crisis; Islamic terrorism) of conflict in the Middle East also affects European countries to such an extent that the EU has a genuine self-interest and a stake in a regional settlement, although relatively less so than the neighbours of Syria, Yemen and Libya. However, the reluctance of EU states to engage militarily in the region (the willingness to use force as a last resort being a necessity for a guarantor) would undermine their credibility as a potential guarantor.

There was some disagreement over the necessity of regime change in Syria. Many of the participants from the region in particular (except Iran), insisted that this was a sine qua non of any settlement, while others pointed out that a compromise settlement along Westphalian lines might entail Assad’s retention of governmental powers although under imposition of strict limitations that would need to be guaranteed by outside powers, just as the authority of princes over the confessional rights of their subjects (ius reformandi) were severely limited at Westphalia, limitations to governmental rule which were, crucially, placed under international guarantee and therefore potentially subject to international, collective enforcement. According to a Westphalian solution, therefore, it would be important for guarantors to not only police norms of behaviour between states, but also within states where necessary in pursuance of stability. There was less hostility to the concept of conditional sovereignty implicit therein, than at previous workshops, perhaps due to the recognition that states such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen already lacked sovereignty de facto, if not de jure. Then and now, as argued by some participants, there was and would be a certain hypocrisy in the institution of the guarantee (at least on the part of states such as Saudi Arabia), as the external guarantor upholds and enforces rights in other regions which are being denied under the guarantor’s own domestic arrangements.


Mechanisms and instruments

It was pointed out that the procedure of the guarantee stipulated in the treaties of Westphalia were rather impractical and lengthy. Following a breach of the treaty terms, three years of failed remonstrations, good offices and litigation would first need to pass before a military effort could be launched by the guarantors, either collectively or individually. This unrealistic three-year grace period was perhaps the reason why the guarantee was never implemented in this form, although its deterrent effect remained. One of the elements missing from the Westphalian guarantee was an adjudicating body or instance to determine when a breach of the treaty terms had indeed taken place, and whether the guarantee could therefore be activated. In the contemporary scenario, participants discussed the role that the UN might play in this regard. Several platforms or fora already exist under the UN umbrella, including the International Syria Support Group, the Lausanne Group, and the Astana Group. The UN could help to guarantee a possible hybrid settlement between a UN sponsored peace deal and the creation of separate zones of influence in Syria. While the UN structure had a high degree of legitimacy this to some extent came at the cost of effectiveness.   

The Falklands/Malvinas 35 Years On

last modified Jul 12, 2017 08:45 AM
The Forum on Geopolitics hosts a special seminar on the Falklands/Malvinas.

The Forum on Geopolitics, together with the Centre for Latin American Studies, was pleased to present this special seminar with Professor Federico Lorenz of the Museum of the Malvinas and South Atlantic Island and Dr. Grace Livingstone of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London, and Dr. Charles Jones, Emeritus Reader in International Relations at Wolfson College, as discussant. 

In this retrospective on the Falklands/Malvinas 35 years after the outbreak of conflict. Professor Lorenz offered thoughts on the legacy of the conflict, as well as the contemporary implications of memory in the Falklands/Malvinas. Dr. Livingstone previewed some of the connections between British government and business explored in from her most recent research project.