UK Defence and Security in an International Context: Developing Professionals

Submitting Institution

University of Leeds

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Other Language, Communication and Culture
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Impact arises from the application of Leeds-based research to enhance professional awareness and understanding of issues concerning contemporary UK defence and security within its broader international context.

The principal beneficiaries are serving personnel of the UK armed forces and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), as well as analysts, practitioners and future policy and strategy makers in the field of defence and security. They benefit through the contribution of this research to their continuing professional development; the promotion and pursuit of wider knowledge and understanding; and the provision of expert advice.

Underpinning research

The long-established research findings of Professor Spiers, and subsequently those of Dr Utley, in contemporary defence and security questions, underpin the impact outlined above. The research has been undertaken at the University of Leeds by Spiers, who has been the Professor of Strategic Studies since 1993 and by Utley from 1994-2000 as a doctoral student and subsequently as a Leverhulme Research Fellow, and from 2005 onwards as a Lecturer in International History.

This research centres on the analysis of UK defence and security concerns within the context of international relations, taking into account the implications of relevant non-UK policies and perspectives. Both Spiers and Utley focus upon changes evolving in the contemporary international security environment, notably the challenges posed by new weapon systems and non-state actors (2) and the opportunities for UK defence in exploiting new diplomatic and security relationships (specifically the prospects for bilateral cooperation with France, from the 1998 St Malo accords to the UK-French defence and security treaties of November 2010).

Spiers has set contemporary concerns about chemical and biological weapons within their historical context, while reviewing the evolving potential of such weapons; their attractions for certain states and non-state actors, including terrorists; their challenges for the armed services and civil defence; and the limitations of multilateral agreements, protective kit and reliance upon intelligence agencies (2, 3).

Utley's research has advocated a deeper understanding of French defence and security concerns, moving away from rigid traditional conceptions of Gaullist `independence' and French `exceptionalism' towards a fuller understanding of France's contemporary pragmatism and preferences for multilateralism in response to current security challenges (5). This has had particular consequences in relation to alleged French preferences for `European' over `Atlantic' options; the perceived centrality for France of the partnership with Germany; previously tense relations with the US and NATO; and challenges posed by French interests and commitments in Africa (5) and the international campaign against terrorism since 11 September 2001 (4).

The value of the research and its contribution to professional debate has been commended internationally. American reviewers regarded Spiers' latest book on chemical and biological weapons (1) as `especially valuable in that it enables the reader to view the present dialogue in historical context and not merely as an aberration stemming from post-9/11 concerns over public safety'; it is also commended for `the care the author takes to distinguish media hype from responsible scientific analysis' (Military Review, March-April 2011, pp. 98-9). Similarly it has been observed of Utley's monograph (6) that her `extensive research' explains how `under Mitterrand much disagreement underlaid the agreement on certain broad and often ill-defined principles' (American Historical Review, vol. 107 (2002), p. 1306), such insights enhancing her analysis of contemporary French defence policy and deployments (4), and the prospects for Franco-British defence co-operation.

Spiers and Utley have contributed to the edited volumes of research-based papers delivered before the Leeds residential courses (see section 4), which were entered in RAE 2001 and 2008 as well as in the current REF (4).

References to the research

1. Spiers, E. M., A History of Chemical and Biological Weapons (London: Reaktion Press, 2010). A Japanese edition of this work appeared in 2012. The book is described by one reviewer as `more than just a history of these weapons, but also an important addition to the literature on the types of threat we are likely to face in the future, and how they can and should be contained and counteracted', Political Studies Review, vol. 10 (2012), p. 264. Another reviewer states that the book `will be of interest to many, particularly academics and graduate students within the social sciences, and career interagency and military professionals', Military Review (March-April 2011), pp. 98-9. This book is listed in REF 2.

2. Spiers, E. M., `Chemical and biological terrorism and multilateral conventions' in I. Bellany (ed.), Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 83-115. In a work commissioned by the U.S. Institute of Peace, this 16,000-word chapter has over 100 references. Available on request.

3. Spiers, E. M., Weapons of Mass Destruction: Prospects for Proliferation (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000). This research monograph was entered in RAE 2001. Available on request.

4. Utley, R. E., `At War with Al Qaeda — France and International Terrorism 2001-2011' in R. E. Utley (ed.), 9/11: Ten Years After (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 45-64. This volume has been described as `a timely book' that is `ambitious in its aims and broad in its terrain ... a useful source for researchers and students in the fields of security studies and international relations', LSE Review of Books, 25 October 2012. The book is listed in REF2.

5. Utley, R. E., `The Case for Coalition: Motivation and Prospects. French Military Intervention in the 1990s,' Strategic and Combat Studies Institute, Occasional Paper No. 41 (2001). Available on request.

6. Utley, R. E., The French Defence Debate: Consensus and Continuity in the Mitterrand Era (London: Macmillan 2000). This monograph was reviewed as `superbly researched' by a US specialist in French defence and security, Journal of Cold War Studies, Winter 2002, pp. 115-7, while a prominent UK defence analyst concurred that the book was both `carefully researched and well-written ... trace[d] with infinite care', International Affairs (winter 2002), pp. 702-3. Available on request.

Details of the impact

(i) The professional development of an annual cohort of over twenty members of the UK armed forces, across all ranks and services, including personnel about to deploy overseas.

This activity occurred in a series of annual residential courses at Leeds on themes in international relations. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracted the University to deliver these courses on a four-yearly basis since 1995 (A). Spiers and Utley devised the course programmes, invited speakers from academic and practitioner backgrounds (including serving and retired senior military personnel; defence analysts; and members of the diplomatic service), hosted the courses, and delivered research-based papers before them.

The courses facilitated a broader appreciation of contemporary themes by reflecting the research interests of Spiers and Utley in interstate relations and counter-terrorism since 9/11 (4) and the continuing challenge of chemical warfare (1 and 2). For the course attendees, the impact occurred from enhancing their understanding through continuing professional development. Annual feedback from beneficiaries evaluated the courses as `excellent', providing a `completely different viewpoint to the standard military focus on capability and threat', allowing `a much broader and deeper understanding of the history and context of a region that has dominated British foreign policy', imparting information `that drastically improved my knowledge', and giving `an excellent strategic and academic context to my more specific work at the operational and tactical levels'. Courses were commended for having `greatly assisted in my professional development' and proved `vital in my career enhancement.' (B)

The MoD was an additional beneficiary, renewing contracts for these courses since they `consistently' met the `rigorous and highly competitive' criteria required in providing `valuable academic understanding in the area of International Relations to members of the Armed Forces'. (C)

(ii) Establishing a network of specialists, principally from outside the academy, with interests in UK-French defence and security.

Spiers and Utley convened, and delivered papers before, a symposium in Leeds (28-9 June 2011) entitled `Beyond Entente: UK-French Defence and Security Relations in the Contemporary World'. Based upon Utley's research in French defence and security initiatives under President Sarkozy (4), it attracted the French military attaché as well as French and British participants from international think-tanks (including the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and Chatham House), the UK diplomatic service, the UK military, and consultancy firms, so disseminating research findings beyond the academy.

As representatives of SCS Ltd (a defence and security contractor) observed, the event enriched a `mutually supporting relationship that has existed for over 10 years' between Spiers/Utley and SCS, by serving as `a catalyst for the creation of an enduring network embracing representatives from international think tanks, other academic institutions and industry as well as senior serving and former defence practitioners'. (D) Spiers and Utley extended the reach and significance of this network by hosting a subsequent roundtable of participants from think-tanks and defence contractors in London with the new French defence attaché (8 November 2012). Utley then accepted invitations from IISS (F) and NATO to address a workshop in Brussels (27 November 2012) (E); to share her research expertise with British and French delegations in NATO (9-10 January 2013); and to participate in the third Franco-British Council annual conference on Franco-British defence cooperation (15-16 May 2013). An IISS representative commended Utley's `very useful contribution' to the November meetings, setting `current developments in a historical perspective' (F), and reflecting her research on the evolution of multilateral frameworks of French defence (4 and 5). Her contribution was incorporated in an IISS policy paper that informed the subsequent dialogue between IISS and NATO's Parliamentary Assembly. (F)

(iii) The professional development of 100 senior military officers and diplomats at a Decision Game for the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), 9-12 July 2012.

After the Leeds symposium, SCS invited Spiers and Utley (G) on a consultancy basis to participate in the annual RCDS Decision Game, testing the 90 members of the college in their strategic analysis, decision-making and media interaction. Spiers and Utley mentored groups, advised on the development of international crisis scenarios, and delivered the end-game critique before the assembled college, one third of whom were international officers.

As the first occasion that SCS had engaged academic participants, the managing director commented that the mentoring of Spiers and Utley was `of the highest order and the groups concerned gained the benefit of your depth of knowledge', so serving `to further enhance the corporate reputation of SCS in the international marketplace'. (H) For SCS, the `body of research' of Spiers and Utley `was particularly pertinent to some of the scenario events with Dr Utley being exceptionally well-placed to offer insight into the issues underpinning the French defence debate and Professor Spiers poised to assist the players in the analysis of their country's vulnerability to chemical and biological attack'. Their `key strategic insights constituted a new dimension of the final analysis of decision-making throughout the game'. (I)

Consequently, the reach of this impact activity encompasses beneficiaries including serving military personnel, the MoD, think-tank and commercial consultants, as well as high-level practitioners and policy makers through the RCDS Decision Game. This impact has significance by enhancing the professional development of armed service personnel, and by its value for think-tanks and consultants as well as future leaders and top advisers, through the expertise disseminated and professional advice given.

Sources to corroborate the impact

A. UK Ministry of Defence contract renewal CTLBC/939/3 over four years from 1 September 2009 to 31 August 2013. Available on request.

B. Feedback from residential course delegates on the benefit of the proceedings for their continuing professional development (2008-13). Available on request.

C. Written corroboration from University Liaison Officer, Ministry of Defence, 23 May 2013. Available on request.

D. Feedback on the value of the symposium `Beyond Entente,' (28-9 June 2011) from commercial consultancy participants. Available on request.

E. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, `Smart Defence and Specialisation: Assured Access to Defence', workshop organised in collaboration with the Public Diplomacy Division, NATO (Brussels, Tuesday 27 November 2012) [programme details and resultant policy paper]. Available on request.

F. Written corroboration from the Director of Editorial and Co-director of Defence and Military Analysis Programme, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 23 May 2013. Available on request.

G. Invitation from commercial consultancy participants [22 February 2012] to Spiers and Utley to contribute to the Royal College of Defence Studies' Decision Game. Available on request.

H. Written corroboration from the Managing Director, SCS Ltd on the role of Spiers and Utley at the Decision Game of the Royal College of Defence Studies (9-12 July 2012). Available on request.

I. Written corroboration from SCS participants at the Decision Game of the Royal College of Defence Studies (9-12 July 2012). Available on request.