Research News

Call for Papers – Conflict Delegation and Proxy Wars in International Security

The Military Academy at ETH Zurich, in cooperation with the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading, and the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, invites papers/proposals for a virtual conference on conflict delegation and proxy wars. This event will be held online on September 23, 2021.

Conflict delegation to proxies is a longstanding practice in the history of war and one of the most salient features in contemporary conflict. As demonstrated by the complicated relationships between global powers, regional actors, and local armed non-state groups in places such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Ukraine, conflict delegation and proxy wars pose serious challenges to researchers, policy makers, and security practitioners alike. They encompass a wide range of – often interrelated – issues such as external support to insurgents and state-sponsored terrorism, the outsourcing of security tasks to domestic militias or mercenaries, and the ways in which governments seek to externalize their defence burden through a combination of air power, special operations forces, private military corporations, and local partner forces.

Recent scholarship has advanced our understanding of the phenomenon, including novel and more nuanced conceptualizations, more robust data gathering efforts, and a shift towards examining the nature, dynamics, and problems behind delegation to proxies. We seek to build on these efforts by providing a forum to discuss emerging ideas, novel insights, and to outline potential avenues for future research.

We invite scholars and practitioners to submit proposals on topics including (but not limited to):

• The return of great power competition and proxy conflict.
• The diversity of actors in conflict delegation such as insurgents, militias, mercenaries etc.
• The variation in how governments use proxy wars as a tool of statecraft (COIN, CT, etc.).
• The role of technology, cyber space, and artificial intelligence in current and future proxy wars.
• The problems of control, command, and resolve in proxy wars, as well as lessons learned.
• The effects of delegation on conflict processes (war termination, rebel governance, etc.).
• The links between proxy, hybrid, and frozen conflicts.
• The overlap between conflict delegation, covert action, and plausible deniability in int’l law.
• The role of proxy warfare in military doctrine, strategy, and armed forces development.

Proposals (in a single PDF file) should include:
– A 300-word abstract outlining the puzzle and contribution (theoretical, methodological, empirical etc.), as well as its key arguments and findings, demonstrating its relevance to the conference’s overall theme.
– A short author bio, including affiliation and contact details.

We particularly encourage submissions by early career researchers, PhD students, and defence and security practitioners.

Deadline for proposal submission: June 18, 2021; notification of acceptance: July 2, 2021.

This event is jointly organized by Michel Wyss (Military Academy at ETH Zurich), Vladimir Rauta (University of Reading), and Assaf Moghadam (IDC Herzliya).

Please send proposals (as well as other inquiries) to:

All of information above is also available here

MGIMO-UoR 2+2 Double Degree Bachelor Programme in Politics & International Relations

The four-year degree programme includes studying for the first two years at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the last two years at The University of Reading, resulting in an award from both institutions

The double degree programme is unique, combining both UK and Russian teaching and research perspectives, and providing students with access to both the UK and Russian job markets after graduation.

A recent webinar was held to provide more information on the programme including the academic content & entry requirements.  This was presented by Dr Mikhail Troitskiy, the Dean and Associate Professor of the School of Government and International Affairs of MGIMO, Dr Mark Shanahan, the Head of Politics and International Relations Department and Lecturer Dr Vladimir Rauta.

The full webinar is available to watch here

The MGIMO part of the curriculum includes lectures and seminars in social sciences and humanities, such as history and philosophy, sociology and economics, and political science and international relations. You will also be trained in academic skills and creative writing.

The core parts of the Moscow curriculum are delivered by native English speakers with advanced degrees in politics and linguistics from leading universities across the globe.

In your final two years at the University of Reading, you will complete advanced courses in comparative politics, foreign policy analysis and contemporary global issues.

For further information about the double degree programme please visit the MGIMO website

Dr Mark Shanahan US Presidential Election Commentary

Our Head of Department, Dr Mark Shanahan, is our resident Trump expert, and was called on regularly during the election campaign to discuss his thoughts.

In mid-October he wrote for The Conversation about the legacy of Donald Trump’s use of social media on US Politics.

As the polls started to close, he spoke to Arirang News about what a Trump re-election would tell us about America in 2020.

He also spoke to Sputnik NewsThe Nation and Arab News 24 about the likelihood of legal battles if the election results were close.

He also spoke with ABC News Australia about whether public trust can be restored again after Trump leaves office, since Trump’s post-truth era created a lot of confusion about what is and isn’t real.

New Feminist Theory Reading Group

Be among the first to discuss feminist and gender theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations, in our new Feminist Theory Reading Group. We are bringing together a community of postgrads and staff who are passionate about gender, race and class politics in contemporary society, or are keen to explore how feminist and gender theories can explain and change the world in which we live.

The group meets once a month in term time. During the pandemic, we’ll meet virtually via Zoom.

We choose engaging and accessible texts and all are welcome.

Our first meeting will take place on Wednesday 11 November 14.00-15.15. For more details and to sign up to attend, please email Dr Georgina Holmes (

Dr Georgina Holmes and Dr Sarah von Billerbeck: Contribution Towards the United Nations Peace Operations and International Relations Theory Book

Two of our colleagues within the Department have recently contributed to the edited book United Nations Peace Operations and International Relations Theory. Edited by Kseniya Oksamytna and John Karslrud, the book is the first of its kind to apply different International Relations theories to peacekeeping studies, which historically lacked engagement with theoretical concepts and approaches.

Sarah von Billerbeck’s chapter applies sociological institutionalism to UN peace operations. She examines how norms, rules, and organisational culture shape the behaviour of peacekeeping actors, arguing that peacekeepers are social agents whose behaviour is in part constituted by ideas of appropriateness that exist within the organisational environment. She uses a case study of local ownership in peacekeeping to demonstrate how UN staff sometimes engage in contradictory behaviour because of the need to perceive themselves as appropriate, legitimate, and aligned with their own institutional standards.

Georgina Holmes’s chapter explores how Feminist Institutionalism can be applied to the study of peacekeeping. Drawing on field research with Ghana Armed Forces, she shows how global gendered, racial and class power relations inform institutional change processes within troop contributing militaries, and examines how frictions between internal institutional enforcers and internal/external feminist activists shape local recruitment and deployment practices. The case study is a small sample of her much larger comparative research project exploring how male and female peacekeepers are trained, socialised and deployed from Rwanda, Ghana and the UK.

The book also includes chapters on Realism, Constructivism, Practice theory, Complexity theory, and a variety of institutionalisms. We are currently sourcing it for our library but in the meantime, you can find out more here.

You can find it on Amazon

There will also be a launch event hosted by King’s College London on Monday 5th October 2020, 14.00-15.30 (UK).

Expert Commentary: Party Conventions and the US Presidential Election

Cait Pilkington interviews Dr Mark Shanahan on what emerged from the recent Party Conventions in the US, and what we should be looking out for as election day (November 3) nears.

Cait Pilkington is the Department’s Social Media Intern who has just graduated with First Class Honours in History and Politics. Dr Mark Shanahan is head of the University of Reading team who won the bid to host the annual BISA conference in 2021.

Watch the interview here:

Dr Martin Binder’s New Article Published

International Organisation crucially depend on the legitimation and support of their member states, but which states legitimate IOs, and why? Dr Martin Binder and Prof. Monika Heupel look at this question in their new article in the Journal of Globe Security Studies.

Read it here: