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Charles Clarke Lecture on the "Too Difficult" Box and the 'insoluble' foreign policy problems facing the UK

last modified Apr 22, 2015 03:49 PM
Charles Clarke Lecture on the "Too Difficult" Box and the 'insoluble' foreign policy problems facing the UK

Prof Brendan Simms chairs the post-lecture Q&A at The Theatre, Peterhouse, 4 Mar 2015

On Wednesday 4 March, it was the great pleasure of Peterhouse and the Forum on Geopolitics at POLIS to host the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who delivered a lecture entitled 'The "Too Difficult" Box: What to do with the 'insoluble' foreign policy problems facing the UK'.

Charles Clarke was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, 2002-2004, and then Home Secretary until 2006. He now holds Visiting Professorships at the University of East Anglia, Lancaster University, and University College London, and works with educational organisations internationally. He has recently published ‘The “Too Difficult” Box’, an analysis of the problems which need to be overcome in promoting change.

In a wide-ranging and insightful talk, Clarke compared the threat landscape facing Britain today to the historical landscape of the past four decades, and explored the likely priorities of the coming years, and pointing to the importance of constructing well-concerted threat responses, prioritising strategic thinking in decision-making, and ensuring that a long-term view is taken within government and in the country as a whole to understanding Britain’s national interest in key foreign policy theatres. This lecture was very well attended by university faculty and students, Petreans old and new, and practitioners across many related fields. It was followed by a drinks reception at Peterhouse.

This lecture was one of several ‘kick-off’ events in support of a longer-term project to build a Centre for Geopolitics at POLIS. This Centre, the Centre of Geopolitics and Grand Strategy (CoGGS), is a proposed new interdisciplinary Centre for the study of grand strategy and statecraft at the University of Cambridge. Our vision is to bring together the brightest students and the most innovative international thinkers from academia, politics and business, to study Britain's role in Europe, and Europe's role in the world, in their broadest historical and intellectual contexts. The central discipline will be the history and politics of the state system, but we will also draw from the disciplines of geography, economics, political economy, business and risk management, divinity, sociology and law to offer a truly innovative research and teaching environment, which will also provide insights to the wider world. 

There will two further lectures in this series in May and October 2015:

  • ‘Waterloo: the first NATO victory’ by Prof. Brendan Simms (Peterhouse Theatre, 11 May, 5pm)
  • ‘Castlereagh and the Congress of Vienna’ by Dr John Bew (Peterhouse Theatre, 21 October, 5pm)

If you are interested in learning more about the work of the Forum on Geopolitics and our plans for the Centre for Geopolitics and Grand Strategy, please contact , Development Coordinator.


‘The “Too Difficult” Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can't Crack’, edited by Charles Clarke, was published by Biteback Publishing in 2014 and awarded the Practical Politics Book of the Year at The Paddy Power Political Book Awards 2015.