Nicholas A Sims
Reader in International Relations
These reflections on 42 years of teaching IR at LSE fulfil a promise I made to the students at my final lecture, on 16 March 2010. But they are addressed more widely to my students past and present, and may also be of interest to colleagues (for whom I have added several new sections).
They are organised in question-and-answer form mainly to break up the text. I am grateful to those students who have suggested questions. They will find them included here, along with others of my own devising.
Some parts will be of more interest than others to particular readers, and I hope the Q&A form will help people to skim the text and skip what is of little interest to them.
As ‘reflections’ these recollections on the eve of retirement lie somewhere between a farewell speech and a memoir. They complement the valediction to the student body which I offered on 16 March and hope may still be of interest to those who have not already heard or read it.
The advantage of having been born in the same fortnight as the UN is that I never forget its age. It makes it easy to translate the roman numerals of a GA Res into dates. So the UN is 65 this year and I’m sure John Bolton thinks it is way past its retirement date. But fortunately for the UN John Bolton’s is a voice from the past. However, unlike the UN, I do have a contract of employment with a specified age of retirement. This is my last lecture in the LSE teaching programme. So I wish to offer you a very short valediction, taking you as representative of 42 years of LSE students whom it has been my privilege to teach, over 21 years in the career grade and 21 years on promotion grades (Senior Lectureship from 1989 and Readership from 2002: a University Readership in IR, in my own University of London, having always been the summit of my academic ambition).
Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. LSE chose that motto (along with the beaver, because it was ‘a social and industrious animal’, as its emblem) ninety years ago. Happy or fortunate is the one who has been able to discover the causes of things. (Causes, you note, in the plural: the Roman poet would have been a good IR student, always suspicious of attributing anything to a single cause.) Sometimes we can indeed claim to have discovered the causes of things. But more often the most we can aspire to is to deepen our understanding – of IOs, and of IR, including its institutional dimension.
I have found LSE and its Department of International Relations a most supportive setting in which to do just that – to deepen my understanding of IR – and to practise my profession of university teacher, something which to me has been at least as important. I will have an opportunity to thank the staff on a later occasion but now is the time to thank you, collectively, as the student body.
I want to thank you, as LSE students, for three things in particular.
First, you are amazingly tolerant of a pre-electronic survival like me. You probably think me positively prehistoric but you are much too kind to say so. And you have been remarkably tolerant of the frailties of age and a very traditional, gadget-free, chalk-and-talk lecturing style (though now filled out by my lecture summaries on Moodle and even audio recordings): one in which we travel together on an intellectual journey through one sector or dimension of International Relations. It is very traditional, even old-fashioned, a cours magistral making substantial demands on its audience, and when I have thanked you for your patience and your attention at the end of each lecture I have really meant it.
Second, I admire your linguistic prowess. You have so many more languages at your command than I have ever had that I am lost in admiration. Many of you have English as your second or third language. But whether it is your first, second or third language, you express yourselves in lively and even elegant English, on paper and in speech, and it is a pleasure to read and hear an increasingly confident understanding of IR expressed in such good language. That means a lot to me; and that – your use of the English language – is the second thing for which I want to thank you.
Third, I cherish your civility, and ask you to cherish it. I don’t just mean courtesy and a friendly smile though those too have been very welcome – and, for you having to live in a not always friendly London, I imagine it is sometimes quite an achievement. I mean civility as a quality of the culture and the interactions we have at LSE, within and across nationalities: a seriousness of purpose which goes with mutual respect and consideration. These are among the qualities of good citizens. I have known a great many good citizens here and I thank you for your civility. If you can infuse something of that same civility into the conduct of real-world international relations from those positions of power and influence which chances are you will go on to occupy, the world will be a better place.
I thank you for your patience and for your attention.
How did you get the job?
I had discovered this wonderful subject called International Relations in 1964-65 and soon decided the job that would make me happiest would be spreading the good news of IR to students and doing my best to share my enthusiasm with them. I graduated in 1967 and applied for an Assistant Lectureship in IR at two universities when they advertised in The Times a few months later. One university (which shall be nameless) never replied, but LSE did, and I was shortlisted and interviewed. My publications list, just a year on from graduation, was understandably slender, so I think my enthusiasm for IR and for teaching students must have won me the job. I was 22 when offered the job, and 23 when I started work at LSE. I had met, through the Conflict Research Society in which I was active 1965-1973, individual IR Lecturers from UCL, Sussex and Swansea. But I didn’t know any of the existing IR staff at LSE until I got the job (the only LSE staff I did know, through the Conflict Research Society, were social psychologists who raised the odd eyebrow at my wanting to join the IR Department, presumably because they thought it too conventional). I remember finding the LSE Calendar in my nearest public library, in Stoke Newington Church Street, and looking up the descriptions of IR lectures and courses so as to give me some idea of who taught what among those who would soon be my colleagues. Thus slightly briefed, I met five of them at the Goodwins’ home in Epsom (Professor Geoffrey Goodwin, then Convenor, having invited me down to lunch with them after my appointment) and met the rest when I started work on 1 October 1968.
Without a PhD?
I know, it would be unthinkable nowadays. But at the time it was less universally required, at least in some subjects. The IR Department I was joining at LSE had plenty of other academic staff without a doctorate. We just got on with teaching, and research as part of the job description, and with writing for publication rather than pushing ourselves through the scholastic hoops required of a thesis.
Do you wish you had a PhD?
No. Having seen so many of our research students struggle towards one, I’m relieved that I never started a PhD. Some of my contemporaries among IR lecturers did start a PhD and it took them an age to complete (or abandon) because they were so fully occupied as university teachers. I’ve always taken great care to disclaim the ‘Dr’ prefix, when it’s been mistakenly applied to me, because all kinds of trouble await those who pass themselves off as having a PhD when they don’t – and also because (having supervised and examined PhD students) I respect the hard work that a genuine PhD represents.
What was it like joining the Department so young?
I was very conscious of being the ‘youngster’ of the Department for my first six years on the staff. Everyone else, mostly in the career grade of Lecturer, was in their late twenties or older. That included Adam Roberts, then 28, who had been appointed from the same set of interviews as me. (He was the one candidate I did know, from years back, and by appointing both of us to what had been advertised as a single job the Department expanded its academic staff from 12 to 13.) It was a great relief to this self-conscious ‘youngster’ of the Department when someone a few years younger, Chris Hill, was appointed a Lecturer in 1974. (The Assistant Lecturer title disappeared from LSE as from most UK universities in July 1969, although the long Lecturer scale continued to embrace what was in effect a succession of probationary, post-probationary, efficiency-bar and tenured grades, with reviews every few years for the next step up.)
What was the LSE campus like?
Houghton Street and Clare Market were not yet pedestrianised, and every evening the newspaper vans would charge out of Portugal Street at alarming speed to get the first editions out, speeding through the campus to the Aldwych. (For many years Westminster City Council supported LSE’s pleas for pedestrianisation which date back to 1959 but the Greater London Council as the strategic authority refused because it feared the traffic displacement effect…)
Why Portugal Street? Because the newsprint depot of W H Smith, key to Fleet Street newspaper distribution at that time, stood on the site of the old King’s College Hospital, where the Library stands now. It was W H Smith that sold the building, with its handily reinforced floors for bearing heavy loads, to enable LSE to move its library there in 1978. (Norman Foster’s redesign, atrium and all, came twenty years later and the present building was opened in 2001.)
The bookshop which is now a branch of Waterstone’s was then The Economists’ Bookshop, founded in 1947 as a joint enterprise of The Economist and LSE. (Later LSE sold out its interest, but in the 1970s there were still LSE directors on the board whom we lobbied to try and get IR better represented in the bookshop.)
Most central admin was newly settled in Connaught House. The Old Building contained the Old Theatre, Shaw Library, SCR and catering outlets as now, but the rest of it was largely taken up by the Library, including the area the Student Services Centre now occupies and everything behind it. LSE also had the St Clement’s and East Buildings, and rented parts of the ‘island site’ (including King’s Chambers and Lincoln Chambers) and the Parish Hall adjoining it. The Anchorage (at the back of the Three Tuns) was the Director’s lodgings, with one of the portering staff doubling up as his driver. Beyond, there were higgledy-piggledy staircases leading up to old legal offices in Clement’s Inn Chambers (where Towers 1, 2 and 3 now stand) and here the celebrated research team assembled for their input to the 1963 Robbins Report on UK university expansion had become LSE’s own Higher Education Research Unit.
IR staff were mostly in the East Building (where International History is now) but a few of us had outlying rooms in Lincoln Chambers at 3 Portsmouth Street, looking out over the Old Curiosity Shop or across Sheffield Street to St Philip’s Hospital. I was in Lincoln Chambers for my first four terms and only ‘graduated’ to the East Building in January 1970. My first room was L 55 and my first tutee (Basil B. Zavoico, General Course) came to see me there. But after a few days I was switched to a top floor room as I was in better heart (literally) than Lucjan Blit who was spared stairs, and cardiac problems, by being given my ground-floor room in which to write on the (very sad) history of the first (1878-1886) socialist party in Poland. I didn’t begrudge him; and although L 310 was a large, shared room that was the only one I ever had to share. I enjoyed single offices for the next 41 years.
As always, LSE was a building site. In 1968-70 it was the eastward extension of St Clement’s Building and the Clare Market Building connecting it to the East Building. (Notoriously, they have not worn well and are the part of the ‘central core’ destined for demolition in the next few years.) No sooner (or so it seemed) was that building work complete in the early 1970s than Clement’s Inn Chambers were demolished (the Suffragettes’ stone commemorating the Pankhursts and the Women’s Social and Political Union now marks the spot) and pile-driving started for the towers between the LSE campus and the Royal Courts of Justice (not at that time for LSE, but for Mobil the oil company) which are now LSE’s buildings U, V and W. There was no LSE presence on the Aldwych except Connaught House. Where the LSE Garrick restaurant is now stood Williams & Glyn’s Bank, facing the Westminster Bank on the other corner of Aldwych and Houghton Street. After it came commercial offices (including Clement House) all the way down the Aldwych until Romano’s basement restaurant…now the basement of Clement House, entered as I remember through doors where the East Staircase doors are now.
Who were the staff of the Department then?
Until 1968 the Department had, like most LSE departments except the very largest, just one Professor who was its permanent head, or Convenor. Geoffrey Goodwin had occupied this role and the Montague Burton Chair since 1962. In 1968 Fred Northedge was promoted to become a second Professor. (They then rotated the Convenorship every three years, as did subsequent pairs of Professors, Susan Strange from 1978 in succession to Geoffrey Goodwin, and Fred Halliday from 1985 in succession to Fred Northedge, until the number of IR Professors started to increase from 1989.)
With Fred Northedge becoming a Professor and Hedley Bull leaving for ANU (and later the Montague Burton Chair at Oxford) also in 1968, this left just two Readers, Coral Bell and a newly promoted Philip Windsor. Alan James was the sole Senior Lecturer. In the Lecturer grade were Geoffrey Stern and Michael Banks from 1960, Peter Lyon from 1963, Michael Donelan from 1964, James Mayall and Paul Taylor from 1966, Robert Hunter from 1967 (covering Michael Banks’s 1967-1969 secondment to the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict at UCL) and finally Adam Roberts appointed with me in 1968. Robert Hunter, who later became the US Ambassador to NATO, was on leave during the US Presidential election campaign of 1968 as a speechwriter for Hubert Humphrey (who lost to Nixon), in consequence of which I was launched on arrival into a double load of personal tutees – Bob’s allocation as well as mine – meeting with whom filled my week most amply. It was several months before it was tactfully suggested to me that I ought to cut back on the tutorial meetings and devote a day a week to my own research and writing.
Our admin staff numbered three. Ella Stacey was the Department Secretary and ran the show from a tiny office in the East Building guarding the bridge to the Old Building. Wendy Gibbons and Angela Hallett shared an office nearby and looked after half the academic staff apiece. All three secretaries produced prodigious quantities of typing. I was helped in many ways by Angela as my secretary to 1972 and we were all well managed by Ella until she left in 1976 to work for the British Horological Society.
Both Professors set up opportunities for us to work out our view of IR (if we had one) as a Department, in staff seminars and the like. I’ve noted, ruefully, one of Fred Northedge’s remarks from a 1971 seminar: ‘An IR-ist, like any other intellectual, is a walking bundle of problems.’ (I shall quote him again, later on in these Reflections.) But looking back over my notes from that time what comes through most strongly is the toleration of diversity. We never felt under pressure to conform, in the name of a narrow orthodoxy, but stayed as varied then as now in our individual approaches to the IR discipline.
Is 42 years at LSE a record?
No. Someone retired recently with 50 years’ service, having joined the estates/works department as an apprentice when he left school at 15. But I think 42 years is the longest anyone has served continuously in IR. Geoffrey Stern clocked up 40 years in January 2000 (he announced it at the Continuum party to launch the new edition of his book The Structure of International Society) and retired in September that year. But if we add the three years he spent in the Department as an undergraduate in the 1950s his total remains unchallenged!
Are you disappointed that LSE didn’t move to County Hall?
No, because I never thought it would. It was certainly a great disappointment to John Ashworth and those who hoped he would lead the School across the river. The Academic Board meeting which approved the bid was more crowded than any I can recall since the 1960s. And there would have been a certain historical neatness in LSE moving to the old headquarters of the London County Council, given that its first students in 1895 had been LCC local government staff coming to evening lectures after their day’s work. But by 1992 County Hall was too closely associated with the LCC’s successor, the Greater London Council, and its abolition under the Thatcher government, for ministers to look kindly on another politically lively institution being helped to move in. And without government benevolence the bid was doomed to failure.
Did we nearly become the University of Croydon?
A curious historical footnote: when I joined LSE in 1968 the ripples were only just subsiding in the Academic Board from a decision to stay put in London WC2 and not move out to a (presumably more spacious) site in Croydon. This was at a time when Acton CAT had become Brunel University and moved out to Uxbridge; Battersea CAT had become the University of Surrey and moved out to Guildford; and Northampton CAT had nearly become the University of St Albans before deciding to stay put in Northampton Square close to the City of London and become City University. So we never became the University of Croydon (or even the Croydon campus of the University of London).
What were the students like?
Fewer in number, and very different from now in nationality and gender! The undergraduates were 80% from the UK. In IR and most other subjects at LSE (as elsewhere) men greatly outnumbered women. My impression is that our undergraduates were quite often the first in their family to have a university education (which could mean the pressure of parental expectation was intense – parents might, until ‘put right’, think any degree but a First meant failure). Their families could not have afforded to subsidise them so it was just as well that the UK paid both their university tuition fees and their maintenance grants.
Postgraduate students were overwhelmingly North American, Canada as well as the US producing large numbers. Very few UK students went on to a Master’s degree.
Upheavals in particular countries produced student influxes. Czechoslovakia was invaded on 20 August 1968 and dissident students fled West. The Kavan brothers came to the UK, Zdenek becoming a Lecturer in IR at Sussex and Jan studying IR here. In 1998 Jan Kavan became Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic and in 2002 President of the UN General Assembly. Greece had fallen under military dictatorship in 1967 and Greek students escaping repression became, with Greek Cypriots, the next largest overseas student group at LSE after Americans and Canadians. The Greek Colonels were overthrown in 1974, democracy was restored in its ancient birthplace, and I (mistakenly) expected fewer Greek students to come here – but happily for LSE the connection remained close. Since then both mainland Greece and Cyprus have contributed staff to the Department, to our benefit past and present.
Are students more demanding now they have to pay more?
I don’t buy the common notion that students are more demanding now that they have to pay more. In my experience they always expected high standards of tuition and teaching from LSE – and quite right too. Whether it was the taxpayer or the family or the individual (having saved up the money in employment) that was paying, the students I knew expected value for money. And I always did my best to provide it.
How have they changed?
The most noticeable changes have been in nationality and gender. There are fewer British students among the wide spread of nationalities of IR undergraduates. There are many more women. At the postgraduate level Americans and Canadians are still plentiful but have been joined by many Chinese and other nationalities. Continental Europe is much better represented now, among undergraduates and postgraduates alike.
Do they have it easy?
Not at all. An LSE education is an arduous one where people have to make their own best use of resources and have to work hard to get results. Skills in time-management and other aspects of being well-organised and highly motivated to succeed are needed. Fortunately, most of the students I’ve known have had these skills and qualities. My job has been to encourage them and see these skills and attributes flourishing. Ours is a highly competitive entry and we assume with reason that those who’ve made it into LSE have the wherewithal to succeed.
What’s more, I’ve been entrusted with personal confidences of all kinds by so many students over the years that I know what difficult and sometimes distressing circumstances they have to surmount. They don’t often show it, and so may give a misleading impression that nothing could possibly go wrong in their lives. That said, I know many do come from backgrounds of some ease; but in my experience they are often keenly aware of their privileged position and concerned to put their social status and skills, and their LSE education, to good use. There is plenty of practical idealism around and many ‘good citizens’ among our students. We are privileged to see them and to help them organise their ideas at years of formative importance in their lives, as they plan how to carry their good citizenship out into the wider world.
What do you mean by a ‘good citizen’?
We have students who go out of their way to help others. The effect is to deepen the spirit of civility we cultivate in our dealings with one another, and to enrich the educational experience (in the broadest sense) of LSE. Sometimes it’s shown simply in one student comforting another in distress, or interceding when another is in trouble, or serving the School community as a whole; but I have in mind, too, initiatives like the LSE Asian Society in the early 1970s bringing LSE students of different Asian nationalities together socially, for an evening reception in the Shaw Library when relations among their governments were strained and the continent was scarred by wars in south and south-east Asia; and this could be replicated for other continents and other student societies at their best and most generous. Good citizens improve the texture of their society and strengthen its resilience. They uphold standards of decency and fairness, two of the qualities essential to ‘the good life’ in the university as elsewhere. Some are natural leaders, but good citizenship is more widely diffused and we all benefit from its prevalence. That applies within LSE and in the wider world.
What have you liked most about the job?
So many things. Its variety: university teaching, research, scholarly writing, policy advice, committee work and academic administration – and all in varying proportions at different times over these 42 years. Its high standards of professional ethics and discipline (largely unwritten and self-policed but still quite demanding). The hard-won job security (compared with the chronic insecurity of people on short-term contracts or living from research grant to research grant) of a career-track post, with research as part of the job funded by one’s basic salary and expenses. The long-term plan of securing promotion out of the career grade of Lecturer halfway through my years at LSE: to a Senior Lectureship in 1989 (exactly halfway through), and then to a University Readership, which had always been the height of my academic ambition, in 2002. The view from D609 down Arundel Street to the Thames and across to Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank. Sunlight glinting on the river in the mornings and floodlighting of the local landmarks in the evenings. Bell-ringing practice from St Clement Danes on weekday evenings and the playing of ‘Oranges and lemons’ from its carillon every three hours with occasional hymn tunes in between. The friendly catering staff in the SDR and the Brunch Bowl (and before that in the old Robinson Room Restaurant). Above all, LSE IR people, admin as much as academic, and especially the meetings with tutees and colleagues, which I’ll miss most of all.
And what not?
Marking batches of handwritten exam scripts, against ever-tighter turn-around times – especially struggling through the (few) barely legible answers only to find, at the end, that they’re not saying much anyway. I know all the reasons why we stick with traditional exams but it’s high time LSE stretched the timetable for the many stages of marking and processing marks so the pressure on examiners (internal and external) was less unreasonable. Marking dissertations hasn’t felt so pressured, and as they are all typed there isn’t a problem of legibility, so I’ve disliked it less. I’ve also shared IR colleagues’ frustration with the patchiness of LSE central admin (the ‘systems’ not the people) – brilliant in parts, less so in others. And I despair of LSE’s surprisingly hamfisted attempts at designing forms and surveys…it’s not as if social scientists have ever been thin on the ground here.
Why spend 42 years at LSE?
It would be foolish to pretend that I’ve been overwhelmed with opportunities to move elsewhere. There have been a few tempting ones. But there have been many positive reasons to stay. Above all, this Department has simply proved the ideal setting in which to practise my profession of university teacher and to deepen my understanding of IR. I’m especially glad about five things that have remained constant over these 42 years: the LSE itself has steered clear of mergers and acquisitions (unlike all the other larger Colleges of the University of London); it has narrowly managed to stay inside the University (unlike Imperial College and despite much institutional impatience) as the latter has evolved into a looser and looser confederation; the IR Department has stayed independent both of Politics/Government and of International History, instead cooperating sensibly with both; teaching has continued to embrace lectures and classes and seminars; and, the most valued constant of all from my point of view, the Department has retained a serious commitment to the tutorial relationship.
For me, tutees have been the most important people in my professional life – closely followed by the members of the classes and seminars I have taught. I have found great job-satisfaction in getting to know bright, likeable and sharp-witted students of high ability and seeing them develop in their intellectual and personal lives over three years. They change so much between 17 and 20, or 20 and 23, and with tutorial encouragement leave LSE on the brink of their careers having had a thorough education in IR. And while there is less opportunity to observe comparable development in the one-year students I’ve supervised on the MSc or the General Course, just because it’s not three years, I’ve still met many memorable people on those programmes and derived much satisfaction from getting to know them too.
Why the specialisation in International Institutions/International Organisations?
I had to think hard when one of my tutees asked me this. The answer, I concluded, has to do mostly with my temperament. I’m not so much at ease in the airier regions of IR-theoretical discourse: as our former professor Fred Northedge once said, in protest, after a colleague’s awe-inspiring display of meta-hyper-theoretic abstraction in a staff seminar c.1969, ‘I’m a plain blunt man; I like to keep my feet on the dirty earth, not travel round in the higher realms of learning and speculation.’ With II/IO there is room for concepts and norms but also enough firm facts to keep our feet on the ground. I like treaties and constitutions and secretariats, and also the fascination of seeing how II/IO structures adapt to survive (or not). I like II/IO as a dimension of IR fairly close to the boundaries of international law and diplomacy, in both of which I have always had a lively interest.
Even more than my undergraduate teaching in this area, which goes right back to 1968/69, I enjoyed teaching the MSc seminar in International Institutions which I took over from Professor Geoffrey Goodwin on his retirement in 1978. Here I helped successive cohorts of bright graduate students hone their skills – especially the skills of conceptual dexterity, identification of normative development, and ‘compare and contrast’ – in the advanced study of the League and UN, their Covenant and Charter. I think this seminar peaked in 2007/08 although I ran it for one more year after that.
What else have you taught?
In 1968 and for about ten years afterwards all of us in the Lecturer grade had to teach a Structure of International Society class. (Subsequently GTAs were recruited for this task, and Lecturers and grades above taught mainly second- and third-year undergraduate classes, and of course MSc and research seminars.) The Structure classes kept us in touch with first-year students and also, rather usefully, required all of us to retain a certain generalist capability across the (then much narrower) field of IR.
But my main other teaching was in thematic, stand-alone lecture series: from 1969 to 1973 Conflict, then (jointly with Adam Roberts 1970-1981 and then on my own 1982-2006) Disarmament and Arms Limitation, and its spin-off series International Verification. These corresponded to my main area of research, writing and policy advice: the diplomacy of disarmament. Stand-alone lecture series were for all students interested, at whatever level, and were not exam-related. Examples were Sovereignty (Alan James), Imperialism (Adam Roberts), New States in World Politics (Peter Lyon) …and mine was the last survivor. They were edged out in favour of teaching only exam-related lecture series as the curriculum narrowed.
Disarmament and Arms Limitation and International Verification continued until 2005/06 with students who were usually a mixture of research, MSc and General Course. During the Cold War it was appreciated particularly by Americans who had previously understood ‘arms control’ in narrowly US-Soviet terms and had their horizons broadened by learning about the wider subject and the contribution of other states and NGOs. Although not designed for Whitehall it also attracted FCO and MOD specialists on sabbatical or study leave and NGO people by special permission. I resisted turning it into an examinable course but was glad to see one or two dissertations or research papers flowing from it – and, latterly, occasional internships with VERTIC, the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre here in London with which I’ve been associated since it began in 1986, and of which I have been a Board member and Trustee since 2004.
And as well as disarmament?
In the late 1960s and early 1970s most of us Lecturers had to teach many more undergraduate classes than now. Although my main ones were Structure and International Institutions, I also contributed to Theories of International Politics and shared with Professor Fred Northedge an open seminar on Current Issues in International Relations which was a useful introduction to how to bridge the gaps between theory and practice as well as the mechanics of moderating a discussion.
We distributed reading lists for lecture series, and termly programmes for seminars and classes, but were very proud of showing how economical we could be in the energy crisis winter of 1973-74 when LSE as a whole cut down its paper consumption by 25%. Nothing to do with saving trees, or going electronic; in those far-off days it was simply an economic necessity.
I started giving International Institutions lectures in 1972/73, first a few on the UN, then taking over the League/UN segment which Alan James had taught. It became International Organisations thirty years later and I was its course coordinator at various times, finally 2007-09. As well as giving lectures, I always taught at least one class, latterly two. Towards the end of my career the International Organisations lectures and classes became my main contribution to the undergraduate curriculum, as the International Institutions MSc seminar and (intermittently) research seminar were to the postgraduate.
Along the way I sometimes helped out with other courses offered from the Department, both for our own BSc, MSc and research students, and for diplomats (usually British but in 2001 Kuwaiti). After the Cold War, we helped a visiting IR lecturer from newly-independent Slovenia with developing curricula for the University of Ljubljana, and Estonia’s first post-1991 ambassador to Prague, a ballerina married to a Czech, for whom Professor Margot Light organised a special course. There was talk of offering a course to Poland’s diplomatic service but having admired the quality of Polish diplomacy at Geneva I felt they were unlikely to need any help from us.
Why have you concentrated on biological disarmament?
Certainly not for career reasons! Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia, recently wrote ‘Arms control and disarmament is a grinding, unglamorous business that brings few quick returns.’ He was writing about ‘Taking disarmament seriously’ (something of which he has been a fine example since the 1980s) among governments, but the same could be said of AC&D and especially its disarmament ‘half’ as an area of academic concern. I was warned early on that it wouldn’t advance my career. So it came as something of a relief to attain my long-cherished ambition of a University Readership in 2002 despite my choice of such an unfashionable pursuit as disarmament.
Disarmament (in theories and concepts, governments, IOs and NGOs in interaction, policy and negotiation, diplomacy and law, compliance and verification, treaties and their review and reinforcement) has always been my subject: not weapons, or science, on neither of which (to the disappointment of enquiring journalists over the years) have I ever claimed any competence. And central to my writing has been the unofficial trilogy of The Diplomacy of Biological Disarmament (1988), The Evolution of Biological Disarmament (2001) and The Future of Biological Disarmament (2009), each written several years before its eventual publication. They and a much larger number of policy memoranda and textual proposals all build on my specialisation in the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
Persuading my publisher to allow ‘disarmament’ in my last book’s title instead of ‘weapons’ was an uphill struggle, just as attention to disarmament is constantly at risk of becoming submerged under fashionable paradigms of counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. The treaty with which I’ve been most closely associated, since it was first proposed and then negotiated in 1968-1971, has been subjected to just such a risk. If there are two things distinctive about my writing on biological disarmament that I hope will survive one is this insistence that the BWC should be seen as a disarmament treaty and other paradigms serve only to distort it. The other is that the BWC owes much to its British origins in the 1960s (for all that the British concept of a BWC was diluted in negotiation), and something to British initiatives to reinforce its operation after entry in force through the review conference process since 1979-80, but still needs much strengthening of its institutionally under-resourced treaty regime – and this is still where Britain (and others) should lead the way .
Disarmament has been a personal commitment of mine for 50 years now. I realise I am fortunate to have been able to fit so much of my academic work around this commitment. It has meant pursuing a narrow area of specialisation and I am keenly aware of other roads not taken – tempting research questions I would have liked to explore in other areas of IR – but the choice was mine.
But why biological? What aspects captivated you to motivate your work?
Probably more than anything the old idea of the weaponisation of disease as ‘public health in reverse’ and therefore as an evil needing to be opposed. Back in 1888 Louis Pasteur presented the ground-breaking advances in microbiology in starkly Deuteronomic terms as offering humanity a choice between life and death. The idea of the world uniting to make war on germs not with germs may sound like a simplistic slogan from the 1960s, but it has been a powerful motivation for many people I have admired in older generations, and it remains influential for me.
I was also motivated by the BWC being ‘Britain’s disarmament treaty’, at least in prospect from 1968 and to some extent in practice, with powerful support over the years from health professionals, scientists, scholars and ordinary people in churches and secular NGOs across Britain. And in 1968-69 I was involved in several of them. In 1975 I was a guest of the FCO witnessing the BWC’s entry into force. And in 1980 I had the privilege of helping represent the UK, as a State Party to the BWC, at its first Review Conference as a full member of the British delegation on secondment from LSE. This, under the generous leadership of a fine ambassador (David Summerhayes) for a memorable three weeks at Geneva, was my one and only ‘official’ role: all my other involvements in the BWC have been non-governmental. So my advice and advocacy, while better received by some governments than others, have been available to all. And my long experience of the BWC’s history and even its pre-history has I think been an accumulating asset, if used with discretion. There is something to be said for mastering one treaty thoroughly rather than spreading onself too thinly over many.
Nuclear disarmament and chemical disarmament remain very dear to my heart too, and I have written a little on the first and rather more on the second. I long to see a Nuclear Weapons Convention, as a real disarmament treaty, after the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In this trio it is nuclear weapons that are anomalous because they are not yet subject to real disarmament but only to partial measures of arms control. Fortunately there are plenty of people to make the case for nuclear abolition (the ‘road to zero’) leaving me to concentrate on the treaty with which I am most closely associated: the BWC.
What has lecturing meant to you?
Standing up before an audience is central to university teaching and for me, as no doubt for many others, lecturing has been a great privilege as well as sometimes very testing.
As someone who delights in dispensing (not always useless) information, I have sometimes had to remind myself that information can be provided in different ways and lectures have other purposes. When I trained in lecturing in 1969 little Penguin paperbacks with titles such as What’s the Use of Lectures? and Teaching and Learning in Higher Education were constant checks on unthinking information-giving. So I have always had other purposes in mind for my lectures. One of the main ones has been that of making sense out of apparent chaos, guiding students through a confusion (and often a literature) of competing ideas, finding patterns and exploring concepts and principles, in accordance with the IR-academic task so felicitously expressed by Alan James:
‘Academics…have the task of trying to see if any sense can be made of international relations, of teasing out plausible generalities about the nature of life at the international level.’
Sovereign Statehood (1986) p 8.
Trying to live up to that job-description I have always found it fascinating to construct a series of lectures and ensure their internal logic and their congruence with a course syllabus. This has to take into account what else the students who will be hearing the lectures have studied, so as to maximise synergy, accumulation and integration of learning. (Yes, I did do a course on curriculum development, following up my earlier training at Lancaster. I remember some pursed lips when I tried, unwisely, to enthuse colleagues on my return.) International Institutions used to be taught after undergraduate students had already come a long way in their study of International Politics, International History and International Law. Now most of those studying it are studying International Political Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis concurrently, and International Law has long – to my lasting regret – ceased to be compulsory (though, in my experience, those who have already studied it or are studying it concurrently with International Organisations get more value out of the latter).
That’s about the lecture series. Composing individual lectures in my experience has been a process of note-making, reference-checking and cerebral activity running up to the moment of delivery. That doesn’t mean they can be left to the last minute, just that they loom larger as the moment approaches and should not be so over-prepared that they lose freshness. Sometimes a tight structure is needed, sometimes a form looser and more free-flowing. In recent years I have tended to prepare a text open to last-minute changes which, revised immediately after delivery, can be posted (latterly on Moodle) as a lecture summary. I have resisted the notion of posting a lecture text in advance, not just as likely to reduce attendance, but as misunderstanding the intensely personal, even dramatic, nature of the lecture as an occasion.
After all the pedagogic requirements of clarity, organisation, pacing, projection, reinforcement and recapitulation have been met (and it would have been unprofessional to neglect any of these, long before the dangerously mechanistic specification of ‘learning outcomes’ had become the fashion) I believe there is a legitimate place for job satisfaction. A lecture is, among other things, something akin to a dramatic performance. The students are an audience joining the lecturer on an intellectual journey. That imposes a heavy responsibility on the lecturer. If the lecturer isn’t tense, he/she isn’t trying. But if he/she isn’t enjoying the performance, the audience won’t either.
What has it been like teaching classes (and seminars)?
I must confess that even after forty years’ experience of class teaching I still approached each new group in October with trepidation. So many blank faces looking to me for initiative: would they ever start to cohere as a well-motivated group? I had to keep reminding myself that the students would soon become individually delineated in my mind: by January I would have a good idea of most people’s interests and aptitudes and by May I would be so keenly aware of the class members as individuals that I would be regretting the imminent farewells to each one.
One of the most rewarding things I’ve found in teaching classes is the way the class does come to cohere as a group, as its members grow in confidence and I have been able gradually to stand back and make the transition, unobtrusively I hope, from a more didactic to a more enabling role.
Gender balance has changed very much for the better since 1968. Looking at my oldest class register I find 11 M, 2 F in 1968-69. Even as late as 1977-78 I taught a Structure of International Society class with only 2 F. One of the two female members of that class told me that mine was the only one of her four first-year classes in which women were heard and listened to. She was (she told me) sufficiently impressed to change her subject to IR and proceeded to a First in 1980, a PhD in 1983 and a starry academic career culminating in a Chair in Global Politics and a Pro-Vice-Chancellorship for Education.
It has always been a vital part of my class teacher role to try and draw the more reticent members of a class into discussion, but in recent years this has been a matter of cultural background more often than gender. Many students come from cultures where reticence is valued as an indicator of respect, and it takes careful handling of the class to overcome this problem without making things worse. (In passing I wonder whether LSE still receives recommendations for students which emphasise how docile, obedient and well-behaved the applicant is…an unfortunate misunderstanding of what we are looking for, I fear.) The class teacher is often privy to confidential information on individuals’ problems – especially since the advent of Individual Student Support Agreements. As weIl as looking out, discreetly, for those students I have sometimes felt the need to be protective of people with ‘unpopular’ nationalities, bearing in mind that students are not there to defend ‘their’ governments and a good class teacher should always be alert and not let them be manoeuvred into that position.
Most of the above applies also to seminars, although with everyone there already possessing at least a Bachelor’s degree and having three or four years of university life behind them the problem of undue reticence is lessened. Also, with 90 minutes each week the time constraint is less stifling. So I have found the pacing easier in seminars.
In years to come, will people wonder why throughout 1968-2010 undergraduates had only classes of an hour’s duration, but postgraduates were allowed seminars half as long again? I have long thought it a status distinction devoid of pedagogic justification.
What have been the best memories of your 42 years in the Department?
Straight away I discovered what helpful colleagues I was joining. The Department has continued to be a remarkably friendly and collegial workplace (horror stories from elsewhere abound) even though with expansion it became inevitably less close and cohesive in and after the 1980s than it had been earlier. In latter years I have tried to encourage newer and younger members of staff as I was myself encouraged by older examplars when I was new to the Department.
My early memories of the Department include the example of three helpful colleagues whom I think of (though they would be surprised to be bracketed together) as three of my most admired Emeritus Readers in IR. At the time all three were in the Lecturer grade. Michael Banks collected me uncomplainingly from Esher station and calmed me down when I had somehow managed to get myself on the wrong train from Waterloo on my way to meet my future colleagues at the Goodwins’ house in Epsom. Michael Donelan arranged the Departmental wedding present to Linden and me and helped me choose the silver sugar tongs (c.1790, a fine piece of Newcastle craftsmanship), about which he knew much more than I did. Peter Lyon was an inexhaustible source of bibliographical wisdom, much needed by me, on every IR topic: ‘Well, no doubt you’ll already have read a, b and c…but you might care to have a look at x, y and z.’
In my early years here I enjoyed chairing the Department’s Staff-Student Committee, and before that being the staff rep on the Grimshaw Club Committee. Adam Roberts and I as the two 1968 recruits to the Department alternated in these roles through the 1970s. These roles, and organising Cumberland Lodge weekend conferences for the Department, were good ways to get to know a wider range of IR students than just my own tutees and members of the classes I taught. It is tempting, but would be invidious, to name the most memorable of the students I met in those years.
Academic years for some years from 1968 tended to begin with an open meeting full to capacity with students, at which IR staff would lead a panel discussion on that summer’s international crisis: Czechoslovakia, Cambodia…and in April 1982 Chris Hill revived this tradition with a memorable open meeting on the Falklands crisis which had turned into a war. I have good memories of tolerance and open-mindedness as we all struggled to make ‘IR’ sense of what had happened without minimising the suffering being experienced in the real world.
Readership in the University of London (traditionally marking the transition from Recognised Teacher to Appointed Teacher) has always meant a lot to me because of Readers I have known and admired, at LSE and King’s and UCL and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. So I have especially good memories of the Department’s party to celebrate our (then) one and only Senior Lecturer, Alan James, gaining his Readership by promotion in 1970.
I have other good memories associated with promotions (not just my own) especially when a deserving colleague has at last made it out of the career grade of Lecturer to a higher grade. (‘They’ve made me up to sergeant’ was how one such, of the National Service generation, announced his Senior Lectureship.) Some good colleagues have had to wait a regrettably long time for this recognition.
That was, happily, not my case: I achieved Senior Lectureship, as hoped, exactly 21 years into my 42. A particularly good memory is of Michael Leifer coming out of the Convenor’s room looking positively happy – he had just been told of his promotion to a well-deserved Professorship – as I went in to learn that I too, at my lower level, had been successful in the 1989 promotion round. (Michael was a most valued IR colleague from 1969 to 1999, when he retired, and also gave great service to the wider School, as Pro-Director 1991-1995.)
We moved to Clement House in September 1996, and the following month Millennium celebrated its 25th anniversary with a conference which made full use of our seventh floor and showed off our new LSE home to advantage. As a contributor to Vol I No 1 (‘ Sims v. Windsor on Disarmament’) back in 1971 I was one of the conference speakers in 1996. Until that conference I don’t think we had fully appreciated the difference Clement House would make. It had looked dusty and unpromising when we had looked round the long-unoccupied building in 1994, trying to visualise it partitioned into classrooms and offices; but since then the Bovis-LSE partnership had done great work on it – and a true craftsman, a Kerryman from south-west Ireland, had installed a fresh staircase at the west end and I remember his pride in his work – so the Department’s decision to move there (after 16 years in the old W H Smith Memorial Hall area at the back of the Old Building, to which we had moved from the East Building in 1980) was throughly vindicated in the event. Other Departments had warned that moving into Splendid Isolation at 99 Aldwych would marginalise us from the mainstream of the School, but that was not the outcome. Chris Hill (who as Convenor had led us into Clement House) and later Chris Brown were Vice-Chairmen of the Academic Board, Mark Hoffman served as Dean of Undergraduate Studies and then Associate Dean for the General Course, and other School-wide contributions were made to the life of LSE and its research centres and committees by many of us; students streamed in and out of Clement House and still do in ever-increasing numbers. Clement House has proved an outstanding success in the life of the Department.
Of all our social occasions, the most memorable was the supper party and river trip of The Golden Salamander up and down the Thames through the evening of 13 July 2004, a present to the Department by Paul Taylor and Chris Hill as they were about to leave us, Paul for retirement and Chris for the Sir Patrick Sheehy Chair of IR at Cambridge (in which he succeeded another long-time LSE colleague, James Mayall). It was a fine clear evening and for me at least gave a quite new perspective on London, not least the variety of bridges, piers, wharves and riverscapes and the amazing length of the Palace of Westminster as we passed alongside. It was the best IR party of all the many I have known. I doubt if it will ever be emulated.
And most recently I have happy memories of the ovation and presentation with which the IR 203 students rounded off my final lecture, on 16 March 2010, and the deeply gratifying sentiments they expressed on my farewell card (and in the after-lecture coffee over which we wound down in Café Pepe, which was itself to close for ever just three days later).
And in the wider LSE?
In recent years I’ve been invited to speak at LSE student society meetings, all of which I’ve much enjoyed: Amnesty International Society, Grimshaw Club and United Nations Society. All of them were animated by IR undergraduates. The UN Society became the largest student society of all with a great increase in membership around 2007-08 for which much of the credit must go to its successive Presidents, Marco Moraes and Gabrielle Morin. I was invited to open their 2007-08 academic year with a talk on the UN, the favourable reception of which buoyed me up for the rest of the year. It was the first time for many years that I had been back in H 216, the lecture room in Connaught House where I had given International Institutions lectures in the 1970s. That added to the significance, for me, of this student meeting of happy memory.
But in the wider LSE the time I most enjoyed was 1992-1998 when I chaired two ‘undergraduate school’ committees: Admissions from 1992 and, concurrently, Academic Studies from 1993. It was Michael Leifer, by this time Pro-Director, who asked me to serve in these capacities, and I shall always be grateful to him, for that as for much else. I was able to chair committees on which most Departments were represented, so I got to know a little about all of them; I met colleagues across the School who shared my concern for students and for improving the structure and management of their undergraduate curriculum; I had excellent committee secretaries in David Ashton and later Louise Burton, whose careers as (then) junior academic administrators I was able to help nurture through to the higher reaches of university administration; I worked closely with senior administrators whom I liked, Jonathan Bursey as Academic Registrar 1984-1994, George Kiloh as Academic Registrar 1996-2005 and Ian Stephenson as their Deputy and as Acting Registrar 1994-1996; I helped with three sessions of the first institutional audit LSE had to endure in the name of teaching quality, in 1993; I was able to deal with individual student cases, working often among the staff in the Admissions and Registry offices on the third floor of Connaught House; and in 1998 the Undergraduate Office into which they had merged honoured my wife Linden and me with a farewell party and a presentation by David and Louise on the completion of these two chairmanships.
I returned to the role of a senior academic office-holder with School-wide responsibilities twice more, chairing the Teaching Quality Assurance Committee 1999-2002 and the Graduate School Board of Examiners 2005-2009, and am glad I did, not least from the opportunities they gave me to work with Simeon Underwood, whom I helped appoint to TQARO in 2000 and who succeeded George Kiloh as Academic Registrar in 2005; but 1992-1998 remains for me the most satisfying time of all in my service to the wider LSE.
Who was the best Director?
LSE has been fortunate in all the Directors I’ve known, including the three still very much alive: Sir John Ashworth, Lord (Tony) Giddens and Sir Howard Davies. I’ve had few (but always amicable) dealings directly with any of them but I’ve appreciated what they’ve done, in different ways having to stand up for the School and its interests.
Of the three no longer living, Sir Walter Adams (1967-1974) wrote me a charming letter on Linden’s and my marriage saying yes we could live 31 miles out (the standard Lectureship contract limited me to a 30-mile radius) and he hoped we’d be happy there. At his Receptions for Staff in the Shaw Library his (LSE-uniformed) driver appeared as the butler to announce arriving guests. In the 1930s as a young Economic History lecturer he had helped Beveridge found the Academic Assistance Council to get refugee scholars and scientists out of totalitarian Europe to safety in British universities. By 1968 he was already looking strained and ill. His chain-smoking and the stress of ‘the student troubles’ and LSE’s general turbulence at that time got to him, and Pro-Director Cyril Grunfeld had to deputise towards the end.
I G Patel (1984-1990) had the tiniest signature I’ve ever seen. He introduced art to the School as a kind of civilising mission, and also pushed ruthlessly through committee procedures to create a new BSc Management degree which cut across the patterns of our then undergraduate provision. I admired him for chairing his first meeting of the Academic Policy Committee with complete equanimity on the day his prime minister, Indira Gandhi, had been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards – when most of us, if high up in the Indian public service (he had been Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and Director of India’s Institute of Management), would have been devastated and would probably have shown it.
But the best of the three was Ralf Dahrendorf (1974-1984). An LSE research student in the 1950s (PhD 1956), he had become a professor of sociology at Konstanz and a prolific writer, but left academia dramatically in the late 1960s for a political career, first in his state legislature in Stuttgart and then in the federal government in Bonn. By 1974 he had been West Germany’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and then the European Commissioner for Education, Science and Research. Ten years at LSE were intended to relaunch him at age 55 into German politics as leader of the Free Democrats. But Hans-Dietrich Genscher got that job in 1984 and there was no future for Dahrendorf in the FDP. So Dahrendorf stayed in Britain, and, naturalised, became Sir Ralf, Warden of St Antony’s College Oxford, and eventually in 1993 a member of the House of Lords. Until his death he remained an articulate proponent of a certain classical liberalism in politics and society. And we never forgot his bravery as a young social-democrat distributing leaflets in the Germany of 1944 and persecuted by the Nazis while still at secondary school.
At LSE, to which he brought in 1974 a clear but (I think) misguided vision, I admired him most for the good grace with which he did a complete turnaround in 1975: after a first year trying to persuade LSE to share his vision and become a ‘British Brookings Institution’, or a think-tank, or an all-graduate school, he bowed to the overwhelming weight of opinion which valued undergraduate teaching and spent the remaining nine years energetically championing the School as it was – and is – including its undergraduates. He had to cope with LSE’s financial crisis in 1980 and persuaded us all to expand student numbers very quickly. (That was when our Department introduced a postgraduate Diploma programme which ran for over 20 years and a little later, in 1984, the MSc International Political Economy which survives.) In the run-up to 1995 he was the one person everyone could agree on as the ideal author of LSE’s centenary history. (We’ll forgive him the paucity of references to IR.) He even survived the Director’s Christmas parties for children of staff, at which he always looked very tense but relaxed a little when a very young Sims solemnly informed him that giving parties for children was what LSE was best at.