Become a Managing Editor!


Have you thought about publishing a respected academic journal and managing work of its editorial team?

Interstate is looking for a new Managing Editor for the coming academic year 2019/2020. The offer is directed at both undergraduate and postgraduate students from Aberystwyth University.

Please, send your CV and a short note about yourself, including why you are interested in the post and how you will contribute to the team as its Managing Editor:

Deadline for applications is 21/04/2019.

To find out more about our work, please visit:

If you have further questions, please contact:

– Agata Kusiak, Managing Editor


In defence of strange obsessions: heritage, curiosity, and PhD research

o-XENOPHOBIC-ATTACKS-SOUTH-AFRICA-900                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo copyright: Ihsaan Haffejee

By Tom Vaughan

One of the great pleasures of self-designed PhD research is an unparalleled freedom to craft a vocation and professional identity from personal interests and convictions. Many of my peers here in the Department have been moved into academic research by their political passions, wielding their projects as intellectual weapons in many urgent and necessary battles. Unfortunately, I cannot claim such admirable motives.

When I began my PhD on South Africa and the global nuclear order in 2016, I was interested by questions of international equity and the possibilities for global nuclear disarmament. I wondered what insights this under-researched corner of the world nuclear complex (and pioneer of unilateral nuclear disarmament) could offer towards a retheorizing of international nuclear politics and the distant goal of a nuclear-free world.

However, as I got to grips with the subject matter, old curiosities and fascinations got the better of me. I found myself scouring ever-more-neglected corners of the internet and searching for increasingly scarce books to read about the technical specifications of long-decommissioned uranium enrichment plants and the whereabouts of filled-in warhead test shafts. I dug up images of boarded-up research centres populated only by dusty Bakelite telephones and eerie stacks of empty, unused bomb casings. I pored over satellite images searching for the ghostly imprints of long-gone supply roads leading to secret Kalahari military bases.

Remembering my exploits as a teenage ‘urban explorer’, a slightly strange hobby entailing ‘gaining access’ to and photographing abandoned buildings, it dawned on me that I was no activist-academic, however much I might like to claim that mantle. Rather, what drives and focuses my research is a fascination with the past; in particular its obscure, arcane, and often morbid relics, and their spectral presence in contemporary political life. South Africa’s nuclear infrastructure—some of it repurposed for civilian uses, much of it dismantled or left to rot—reminded me of the Victorian asylums and hulking East End flour mills which had captivated me as an oddball Sixth Former.

I was then, and am now, bewitched by heritage: not the mythic stories of national heroes or opulent National Trust mansions, but the ways in which we have inherited the actions, beliefs, and infrastructures of past generations, and how we attempt to organize contemporary public life around the physical and ideational ruins of the past.

In this sense, postcolonial scholarship is concerned with heritage. Put very crudely, postcolonial thinkers contextualize today’s global issues by looking to the past, exposing the genealogies of political structures and dominant ideologies by locating their intellectual heritage in imperial and theological thought which took root many centuries ago. I do not call myself primarily a postcolonial scholar but find such literature immensely helpful in framing the empirical questions of project on South Africa, a still-fractured state with a tumultuous past.

Ann Laura Stoler has famously written about ‘imperial debris’: the physical remnants of imperial formations, which ‘harbor political forms that endure beyond the formal exclusions that legislate against equal opportunity, commensurate dignities, and equal rights’ (2008: 193). Material ruins become deeply political when they are imbued with political significance, continuing to affect our daily lives and our politics but ‘ceasing to function in the ways they once did’ (ibid: 203). South Africa, as a post-colonial and post-apartheid state, is littered with debris. Keith Breckenridge and Antina von Schnitzler are two innovative researchers who have investigated the lingering socio-political effects of ‘apartheid debris’ on everyday life in South Africa, by examining how apartheid-era utility metering techniques and biometrics (respectively) have been inherited and put to use—in very different ways—by successive African National Congress (ANC) administrations. However, like many other aspects of South African politics, the ongoing significance of South Africa’s abortive nuclear weapons programme—not only in South Africa, but also internationally—has received precious little attention within the Western academy.

One aspect of my research is the quest to uncover the continued, albeit hidden, influence of apartheid through South Africa’s nuclear infrastructure. Gabrielle Hecht (1998) has defined ‘technopolitics’ as the pursuit of political goals through technological projects and choices, and the apartheid regime of 1948-1994 sought to bolster its power, enforce social control (von Schnitzler, 2016) and stoke pride in Afrikaner identity through state-backed scientific and technical projects (Dubow, 2006). These projects included relatively benign public infrastructure like the Orange River Dam and the Koeberg nuclear power station, but—combined with Pretoria’s fears of encirclement, the growing influence of anti-colonial ideology in Southern Africa, and a Soviet-backed ‘Total Onslaught’—also encompassed the construction of nuclear weapons research labs, a uranium enrichment facility, six and a half functional nuclear warheads, and intermediate-range missiles to deliver them.

The National Party government, under Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk, had fully dismantled its nuclear weapons and facilities under supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by 1991 (foreseeing a transfer of power to a black majority administration), but only publicly confirmed their existence in 1993. Under Nelson Mandela and the ANC, South Africa quickly cemented its status as a disarmament success story and became a leader in global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, putting pressure on the nuclear-weapons states and highlighting the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

This is an uplifting narrative, and we should certainly not discount the efforts of South Africa’s diplomats, many of whom like Abdul Samad Minty are veteran anti-nuclear activists, in pushing for a nuclear-free world and helping to bring about milestone agreements like the UN’s nuclear ‘Ban Treaty’ of 2017. However, I am interested in the ways in which apartheid’s legacy, specifically in the form of nuclear ‘debris’, might still affect the conduct of South African nuclear politics and diplomacy. The nuclear research infrastructure, technical expertise, ideas about South Africa’s position in the nuclear world, and even the highly-enriched uranium (HEU) that once made up the cores of nuclear warheads all remain from the apartheid years and continue to influence how South Africa relates to nuclear technology and politics.

Needless to say, much has changed since apartheid, and successive ANC governments have worked to repurpose South Africa’s inherited nuclear resources towards the ends of liberal democracy and international co-operation. However, technopolitical choices and the ideologies and attitudes they create (which Hecht calls ‘technopolitical regimes’) are durable and may well have persisted beyond the point of formal political ‘transition’. My research poses, and hopefully will answer, several intriguing questions about this heritage:

What happened to the scientists and officials involved in the apartheid weapons programme? How is their knowledge passed on and used? Have their attitudes towards nuclear technology and South Africanism persisted? If so, where? How do the technological and material choices embedded in the inherited nuclear infrastructure affect what the ‘new’ South Africa can do with it? How does the ANC use its inherited nuclear resources, domestically and internationally? Does South Africa need nuclear technology to stay globally relevant? Do today’s anti-nuclear activists see links between nuclear technology and the apartheid regime, and if so, does holding on to this heritage affect the pace or nature of ‘transition’? Is the international nuclear order itself complicit in these impacts, or responsible for any of South Africa’s historic violations of its own rules and norms? I anticipate that my fieldwork in South Africa, starting next year, will throw up unexpected answers to these questions, and of course present many more new questions which I have not yet thought to ask.

When my broader conceptual framework is applied to these questions and the data I collect overseas, I hope to sketch a broader picture of nuclear South Africa past and present, its interactions with the institutions of the international nuclear order, and question some of the assumed relationships between ‘local’ and ‘global’ political activity, between the material and ideational components of international politics (influenced by the work of Daniel Deudney and Gabrielle Hecht. While an ethnographic project would be an immense contribution to the state of the field, this is unfortunately not where my skills and expertise lie. Instead, I aim to foreground the role of technology in IR theorizing, as many scholars are increasingly advocating (Mayer et al. 2014; Fritsch 2014). Most of all, through my thesis I will try to demonstrate that South Africa’s tortured history and erstwhile nuclear encounter can provide scholars with a fresh perspective on the complexities of international nuclear politics, as well as the implications of nuclear technology for place-specific claims to democracy and post-colonial justice.

All of this is very complex, and perhaps sounds as ambitious and high-minded as anything that an ‘activist academic’ might hope to produce through their research. However, what motivates my intellectual curiosity is not, alas, the very honourable impulse to make the world a better place. It is a long-standing, perhaps odd, and definitely geeky fascination with the hidden, the abandoned, the off-limits: the inherited. Activist approaches to academic research are immensely valuable and perhaps needed more than ever. However, I have come to believe that an attraction to the esoteric, the arcane, and the downright weird might be just as good a place to start.


David Lloyd George and the Formation of the Royal Air Force

By Martin Wade

The leafy Welsh village of Llanystumdwy is not traditionally known as the cradle of the world’s first independent Air Force.

But it was here, in his home town, that the wartime British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, came to ponder how the Great War could be won.

Among the problems he tussled with was the slaughter on the Western Front, but also the nightly German bombing raids on London which killed hundreds.

There was clamour for action as the bombers ranged over the city seemingly without challenge.

It seemed also air power could by-pass the quagmire on the Western Front and end the slaughter in the trenches.

These two problems would, in different ways, focus attention on how air power was used in ways that live with us still.

For much of the First World War British air power was wielded by the Army and the Navy. For the Army, the Royal Flying Corps was set up in 1912 and was designed for artillery spotting, reconnaissance and generally to support ground troops. The Royal Naval Air Service was born later with the aim of mounting coastal patrols, mounting ship-borne and surveillance over water. Both services were intended to fight in support of the aims of the Army or the Navy.

When the First World War broke out, air power was in its infancy. The first powered flight in an aircraft had only taken place 11 years previously in 1903. But as the war continued into its third year, it became clear that the potential for this new power was not being used effectively.

By 1917, aircraft had grown from the flimsy, underpowered and lightly armed craft of 1914 to heavy bombers capable of carrying heavy bombloads.

Then raids by German aircraft like these brought the terror of war to people at home, far away from the Western Front.

Although Zeppelin airships had carried out raids on Britain earlier in the war, they were small beer compared to the attacks by twin-enigined Gotha bombers.

Through the summer of 1917, the German bombers launched further raids on London, killing hundreds. There was dismay at how the air defences and fighters of the RFC and RNAS seemed unable to stop the attacks.

The raids became fiercer still when the Gotha bombers were joined by Riesen (or ‘Giant’) planes. These aptly named aircraft carried a crew of five and a bomb load of 1,000kg.

Around 1,000 British civilians died as a result of air raids in the First World War. While this is much lower than the number killed in the Second World War, these raids had a psychological effect out of all proportion to the physical harm done.

During one attack, 100,000 rushed to take shelter in the London underground; on following nights, hundreds of thousands more did the same whether or not there was a raid.

This terror and new measures, such as black-outs that now had to be taken, made the British people very aware of their new helplessness.

Importantly, while reporting of news from the battlefield was subject to censorship, there was no such restriction on reporting the raids on London.

And so, the clamour for action grew. As Lloyd George later recalled in his war memoirs, he recognised that call:

“At the slightest rumour of approaching aeroplanes, tubes and tunnels were packed with panic-stricken men, women and children. Every clear night the commons around London were black with refugees from the threatened metropolis.”

He saw that people were not cowed by the attacks, rather they wanted to take the fight to Germany: “It is right, however, to record the fact that the undoubted terror inspired by the death-dealing skies did not swell by a single murmur the demand for peace. It had quite the contrary effect. It angered the population of the stricken towns and led to a fierce demand for reprisals.

That summer, as the raids continued, and defences again failed to stop them, Lloyd George saw that existing air power should be bolstered.

On 13 June, he proposed a large increase in the production of aircraft, even if this meant at the expense of other weaponry. The War Cabinet agreed, and soon it was decided that the Royal Flying Corps should be almost doubled in strength from 108 to 200 squadrons, and that the Royal Naval Air Service should be similarly expanded.

But problems remained with reliance on the two services to play what was a subsidiary role for them. After raids on June 13, two squadrons were withdrawn from Field Marshal Haig’s command to reinforce home defence but, were returned on 6 July, the day before the next big raid. After the raid they were called for again, but Haig only agreed to release one.

By this time both the RFC and the RNAS had 1500 aircraft each but co-operation between them was still poor. Also, anti-aircraft defence was not controlled by either of them, instead was organised by the army.

There had been earlier attempts to co-ordinate air power more effectively and for the Army and Navy to co-operate in this field.

Earlier ineffective responses began with the Derby Committee, set up in 1915 after the Zeppelin raids. The aim of the committee had been to co-ordinate air policy, but the exasperated Lord Derby resigned saying: “It appears quite impossible to bring the two wings closer together…unless they are amalgamated into one service”.

There were calls then for a stronger air policy which prompted a candidate to stand at a by election in 1916 when Noel Pemberton Billing contested the Mile End seat as an independent candidate in 1916. He fought on a platform of support for air power and the creation of a separate air force, unattached to either the British Army or the Royal Navy.

Later an Air Board was formed in 1916. When David Lloyd George became Prime Minister, he put Lord Cowdray at head of committee. This too, failed to improve the supply of aircraft and engines and to make the Army and Navy co-operate effectively.

As the raids carried on, Lloyd George could see that a more radical approach was needed.

Lloyd George responded to this with the appointment of General Jan Smuts to head a committee to investigate.

Formed on July 11, the committee was made up of the Prime Minister, Smuts, together with representatives of the Admiralty, the army general staff, the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, and other experts as required. They examined, ‘the defensive arrangements for home defence against air raids’ and ‘the existing general organisation for the study and higher direction of aerial operations’.

The part dealing with organization and the higher direction of air operations was delivered to the War Cabinet on August 17. Lloyd George’s biographer John Grigg, tells how its significance was “immense”.

Smuts’ emphatic answer, which he gave with the full support of Lloyd George was: “Unlike artillery, an air fleet can conduct extensive operations far from, and independently of, both Army and Navy. As far as can at present be foreseen, there is absolutely no limit to the scale of its future independent war use.”

But there were other pressures which made clear in Lloyd George’s mind the need for a new way of organising air power.

While civilians in their hundreds were being killed as German bombs rained down on London; hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were killed as the Passchendaele offensive ground to halt in the mud of Flanders.

As Grigg noted: “David Lloyd George was acutely aware that the Passchendaele offensive was going nowhere but to a great many graves”.

Lloyd George had become Prime Minister because he was expected to prosecute the war more vigorously and effectively. He was determined that the war should be fought without such profligate waste of British life.

So the idea that there might be a new way of achieving victory, ending the bloody stalemate and by-passing the trenches appealed greatly to the Welshman.

Lloyd George could not have failed to be impressed by Smuts when he said: ‘while our Western Front may still be moving forward at a snail’s pace in Belgium and France, the air battle will be far behind on the Rhine, and … may form an important factor in bringing about peace’.

These then were the two main points which Lloyd George seized upon as he pondered how best to use air power.

There was much opposition from both the Admiralty and from the Army, but Lloyd George recalls in his memoirs how there was no firm decision until the middle of October. In that time, he held firm against the opposition from the two existing services.

Once the decision was taken to create a separate air arm and an Air Ministry, the Bill was debated in Parliament. Lloyd George told the House how this power could transform the war: “The heavens are their battlefield. They are the Cavalry of the Clouds. High above the squalor and the mud, so high in the firmament that they are not visible from earth, they fight out the eternal issues of right and wrong. They are struggling there by day, yea and by night in that titanic conflict between the great foes of light and of darkness. They fight the foe high up and they fight low down.”

The bill to establish an Air Ministry was given the royal assent on November 29. The work then began to create the world’s first independent air force in April 1918.

That momentous decision taken by Lloyd George then was driven by the same need faced in later years. The need to protect the skies over our country – as vital now as it was in the Second World War and the years since. It was driven also as a means of delivering power and avoiding the heavy cost in lives that battles on the ground will bring.

His role in creating the RAF was commemorated at Llanystumdwy in January when Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier was joined by the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas and other distinguished guests at the David Lloyd George museum.

David Lloyd George Commemoration Event

This image was taken at the Llanystumdwy memorial parade held in January 2018

A note about the Author: Martin Wade graduated with a degree in International Politics at Aberystwyth in 1992. Since then he has worked as a journalist and currently also serves as an RAF Reservist.