MStrat Student Trip to Brussels and Mons, Belgium 18-21 March 2014

The MStrat course recently undertook a field trip to Brussels and Mons between Tuesday 18 and Friday  21 March 2014.

The aims of the MStrat to Belgium were, among other things:

  • To gain an understanding of the institutional structure, policy-making and crisis-management processes, and main policy issues pertaining to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union External Action Service (EEAS).
  • To gain a non-NATO/EU perspective on the crisis in Syria, the Balkan region and Russia-EU relations, by visiting the Russian Permanent Delegation to the EU.

The MStrat trip was led by Dr. Sergio Catignani and accompanied by Dr. Daniel Steed and Ms. Roo Haywood-Smith.

Visit Highlights

The MStrat cohort visited NATO Headquarters where Mr Jonathan PARISH, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of the Defence Policy and Planning Division, spoke on the current political agenda and the future of NATO as well as on the key themes that the next NATO Summit in Wales will deal with this September. Moreover, Mr Patrick ANDREWS of Crisis Response Systems and Exercises, Operations Division gave a detailed presentation on NATO’s Crisis Management Operations and how NATO was currently reacting to the crisis in Ukraine.

Following the NATO Headquarters visit, the MStrat cohort was hosted by the Egmont Institute (The Royal Institute for International Affairs) in the Prince Albert Club, the Belgian Armed Forces’ All Ranks Club, where Professor Sven Biscop and Brig. (Ret.) Jo Coelmont gave respectively presentations on European Security and European Defence prospects during the “Age of European Austerity”.

The following two days saw the MStrat cohort visit the European External Action Service where, among others, Brig. Gen. Philippe Boutinaud, the Director of Cabinet of the European Union Military Committee Chairman, spoke on the EUMC’s role and decision-making processes and challenges particularly during international crises. Ms Joëlle JENNY, Director for Security Policy and Conflict Prevention, also gave a very insightful presentation on the ways in which the EU seeks to improve conflict prevention in global affairs particularly through upstream engagement activities and programmes.

At Supreme Headquarters Allied Europe, the MStrat cohort received several briefings including one on the workings of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre as well as how NATO is trying to improve its capabilities and activities relating to the comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes by British Army Brig. Gary Deakin and Dutch Ambassador Hans Wesseling. It also received a detailed briefing by a member of the European Union Staff Group on the EU’s “Operation Althea in Bosnia Herzegovnia” in order to prepare students’ for the next MSrat cohort trip to Bosnia Herzegovina, which is scheduled to take place in May 2014.

The MStrat delegation also had the unique privilege of receiving a detailed and lengthy briefing by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, General Sir Richard Shirreff, on the challenges that NATO countries face over the coming years. He also spoke at length on the Ukraine crisis and the key decision point that NATO countries face today as a result of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea. His comments on the Ukraine crisis were especially poignant given the fact that the previous day the MStrat cohort had visited the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representation to the EU, where the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Sergey Kopyrkin, provided a Russian perspective on issues such as the Ukraine and Syrian crises and the Russian Federation’s future relations with the EU and its constituent member states in light of the Ukraine crisis.

MStrat Staff and Student Visit to SHAPE, Mons on 21 March 2014


Free access to ”‘Getting COIN’ at the Tactical Level in Afghanistan: Reassessing Counter-Insurgency Adaptation in the British Army”

For a limited time only, Routledge have selected Dr. Sergio Catignani’s article, ”‘Getting COIN’ at the Tactical Level in Afghanistan: Reassessing Counter-Insurgency Adaptation in the British Army”, for free access as part of their online journal compendium titled, Afghanistan: An Article Collection. So, if you do not have free access to the Journal of Strategic Studies, now is your chance to read his article at the bargain price of £0.

You can access and download the article by clicking on the image below:



SSI Director Professor Sir Paul Newton to visit Johns Hopkins University

This week SSI Director Sir Paul Newton will help teach on a John’s Hopkins University field trip to France where US students led by a Prof Eliot Cohen will explore the causes and conduct of the First World War. In the centenary year of the outbreak of the ‘Great War’, serious students of applied strategy still have much to learn from this tragic failure of the international system.

The following week, Exeter MStrat students will conclude their visit to the EU and NATO HQ in Brussels with a 48 hour field trip with Prof Newton and Irish journalist Kevin Myers to the Somme battlefield.

SSI-RUSI Partnership in Action

The SSI/RUSI partnership really came into its own again when Prof Mike Clarke led a discussion recently on strategy during the Cold War. The RUSI-SSI partnership adds a distinctive, sharp policy focus to the MA programme.

Later in the week, senior RUSI staff member and SSI Hon Prof Jonathan Eyal set out the causes of the Bosnia conflict. This provided a firm foundation for the MStrat field trip to Sarajevo in June. After the field work, SSI students will meet Lord Paddy Ashdown who played a key strategic leadership role in the Balkans: in that session they will jointly assess the prospects for security and stability in a volatile Region that, despite falling from the media headlines, is still critically important to European security.

Former British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Tony Brenton, visits the SSI

Former British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Tony Brenton, visited SSI this month. He talked with MStrat students about unfolding events in Ukraine as well as about his experience of strategy under pressure, drawing upon his time in Washington D.C. in 2004. Brenton, then the No 2 in the Washington Embassy, saw at first hand the way the Coalition’s assumptions and plan for Iraq unravelled.

Sir Tony, a member if the SSI Honorary network later joined students for further debate over drinks and supper. It is in such informal encounters that much of SSI’s experiential learning occurs.

Honorary SSI Professor Gen. (Ret.) David Petraeus conducts video teleconference with MStrat Students

Exeter MStrat students had a fascinating, candid and free-ranging 90 minute discussion recently with ex-CIA Director and Honorary SSI Professor David Petraeus as part of their Iraq case study. The aim of an intensive week was to explore different aspects of strategy in reality, building upon the theoretical foundation laid in earlier modules.

The Iraq day included contributions from senior British diplomats, intelligence officers and Whitehall policy makers. The theme was the decent into chaos following the removal of the Iraqi Regime in 2003. At that time, General Petraeus – a tactical commander in Northern Iraq – presciently asked “tell me how this ends”.

SSI provides students with unique opportunities to explore diverse aspects of applied security strategy with academic experts and practitioners, tapping their exemplary insight.

Sergio Catignani’s musings on academic-practitioner research cooperation

Last week, two notable speakers visited the Strategy and Security Institute (SSI), Sir John Scarlett, former head of MI6, that is, the British Security Intelligence Services, and Mr. Jon Day, current head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Both guests provided key strategic and operational insights into the way such organisations provide intelligence for the purposes of informing the national policy-making processes that enable British government and military leaders to select and implement the UK’s national security strategy.

During both visits, members of the SSI, students as well other members from other academic and administrative units of the university together with many of the honorary professors and fellows affiliated with the SSI were able to listen to, but more importantly, actively engage with both guests. A myriad of topics were tackled, such as the failures and successes of intelligence as well as the British and international security concerns over the current Syrian crisis, cyber warfare, and nuclear proliferation.

On several occasions discussions centred also on the challenges connected to academic research and engagement with government and with security organisations in particular. Conversations over this last issue were, in fact, apropos given that the main aim of the SSI and its Masters in Applied Security Strategy is to enhance the strategic competence of the leaders of the future, that is, to train future strategists. The SSI aspires to achieve, in fact, such an aim by positioning itself on the cusp of research and of debates relating to the enduring as well as the new security challenges affecting UK and international peace and security.

Members of the SSI are cognizant of the fact that the premise of all academic research is obtaining and working on relevant, specific and timely information. This is crucial in order to ensure that social science research is based on empirical evidence rather than on tendentious rumours or opinions. Obtaining such data, however, can be quite challenging when researching military, intelligence or other security organisations. Organisations that deal with national security matters are, in fact, by their very nature secretive due to the fact that they often deal with very sensitive information that may jeopardise if not national security, then possibly the safety of specific individuals.

Yet, intelligence and military organisations often have a tendency to over-classify information. From my personal experience of researching several military organisations over the last decade such over-classification has often led even members internal to such organisations to be unable to tap into information essential for achieving more effective decision-making outcomes. In other occasions, it has led such organisations to repeat mistakes, to re-learn lessons or to, what various organisational and management theory literatures call, “organisational forgetting”. As Mr. Day even acknowledged, one of the quandaries that keep him awake at night is how government institutions suffer increasingly from poor corporate memory.

Discussions, thus, went on to explore ways in which academic researchers, who often need but find it difficult to access information relating to the decision-making processes and conduct of security organisations, could engage with such organisations by not only researching the problems associated with such processes, but also by providing, for example, historical context and expertise to the security regions and challenges that such organisations have worked on and are currently working on. Security practitioners could benefit, in fact, from tapping into the expertise that many academics may have and could provide if appropriate channels of collaboration were clearly delineated.

For instance, SSI members are currently considering the ways and means in which rigorous academic research standards, such as academic independence, research ethics, and critical engagement can be maintained, whilst at the same time safeguarding the integrity and sensitivity of the information shared by such intelligence and security organisations. Beyond the usual vetting processes and the subjecting of shared information to operational security clearance, what other and more practical, if not informal, ways could researchers and such security organisations cooperate in order to advance the knowledge of and solutions to the nature of the security challenges they encounter and the manner in which they deal with these?

These and other issues relating to improving the frank exchange between and tangible collaboration amongst academics, practitioners, students and honorary fellows interested in solving the real challenges that implementing strategy engenders are some of the concerns, which will make the SSI an exciting centre of teaching and research to participate in. They are also the main reason why I have joined the University of Exeter and why I feel privileged to be a part of such a fascinating enterprise.