Portrait of Dr Philip Cunliffe

Dr Philip Cunliffe

Senior Lecturer in International Conflict


Philip Cunliffe joined the School in 2009 after completing his doctorate in War Studies at King's College London. His doctoral research, which was funded by the ESRC, examined developing countries' personnel contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations across 1997-2007. His third book Legions of Peace: UN Peacekeepers from the Global South, which is based on his doctoral research, was published in 2013.

Previously Philip taught in the Defence Studies and War Studies departments of King's College London. Prior to his doctoral study, he completed his Master's in International Politics at Aberystwyth and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Somerville College, Oxford. In 2008 Philip was appointed to provide reports on Western Balkan politics for the Economist Intelligence Unit. He contributes regularly to the international media and has broadcast on local radio stations as well as BBC Radio 4, Al Jazeera, Russia Today and Press TV. He blogs at www.thefirstphilippic.wordpress.com and tweets @thephilippics

Within the School, Philip is responsible for convening the School's weekly 'Open Forum' for students and for overseeing the School's research ethics procedures. He also chairs the School's ESRC DTC committee. Philip convenes the Violence Research Network as of 2014/15, which will bring together a range of researchers investigating violence across the university. 

Research interests

Peacekeeping; Humanitarian Intervention; Responsibility to Protect; Self-Determination; Sovereignty; Critical Theory; IR Theory   




Philip is interested in supervising any viable and original projects that fall within his research interests. 




  • Cunliffe, P. (2019). Framing Intervention in a Multipolar World. Conflict, Security & Development [Online] 19:245-250. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14678802.2019.1608015.
    In this contribution to the forum, I draw attention to the persistent inadequacy of existing categories in the field of international studies to capture and frame patterns of intervention today. It is to be expected that this inadequacy will become more and more apparent as the unipolar system of the post-Cold War era evolves into a multipolar system in which patterns of intervention will become more complex. I will show this by focusing on two aspects of contemporary intervention. First, I will argue that patterns of intervention today invert the classical predictions and expectations of International Relations theory with regard to the behaviour of emerging powers (resulting in what I call ‘reverse revisionism’ – i.e. revisionism by leading states). Second, I will argue that the categories applied to understand Western interventions, already problematic in themselves, cannot be stretched to cover the behaviour of non-Western and emerging states.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2018). From peacekeepers to praetorians – how participating in peacekeeping operations may subvert democracy. International Relations [Online] 32:218-239. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0047117817740728.
    This article provides a heuristic study of three cases where participation in peacekeeping operations prompted military rule in the peacekeeper-contributing state. These three atypical cases contradict the theory of diversionary peace, which claims that contributing to peacekeeping operations abroad should stimulate democracy at home. The experience of these three countries also calls into question the conventional wisdom that strongly associates peacekeeping with liberal democratic institutions, outcomes and practices. Via triangulation across literature, reports, elite interviews and WikiLeaks cables, these cases are examined in order to identify more generalisable observations regarding how participation in peacekeeping may enhance the role of the military at the expense of democratic order and civilian rule in the contributing state. The theory of diversionary peace is shown to suffer from serious conceptual flaws. Some preliminary efforts are made to generalise the findings, with Ghana and Uruguay identified as warranting further investigation. A number of variables are identified as offering scope for generalisation, namely, revenue, leadership and military size. Several promising areas for further research are also identified: how military dependence on peacekeeping may make political systems more permeable to outside influence, how far the United Nations (UN) can politically influence its contributor states and how peacebuilding may affect peacekeepers’ understanding of their role in their own countries. By examining the feedback effects of peacekeeping on peacekeeper-contributing states, the article reverses the conventional focus of peacekeeping scholarship and contributes to the growing literature examining the wider ramifications and unintended consequences of liberal conflict management.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2017). The doctrine of the ’responsibility to protect’ as a practice of political exceptionalism. European Journal of International Relations [Online] 23:466-486. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354066116654956.
    The consensus on the doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’ has replaced ideas of humanitarian intervention with a new vision of the responsibilities that states have to protect their peoples from the most egregious suffering. The contention of this article is that this is a politics of exceptionalism, whereby power is legitimated by reference to its effectiveness in responding to emergency or crisis. By analysing the doctrine in this way, new light is shed on the debate surrounding the responsibility to protect. First, understanding the doctrine in terms of exceptionalism helps explain the paradox of how the doctrine has been assimilated so readily into institutional and state practice without manifesting any greater commitment to international intervention. Second, understanding these new security practices in terms of exceptionalism allows us to move beyond questions of imperialism. Once understood in terms of exceptionalism, it can be shown that the stakes in the debate on the responsibility to protect are restricted not only to relations between states, but also to relations within them:
    principles of representative government are to be substituted with paternalist and authoritarian visions of state power.
  • Cunliffe, P. and Michael Kenkel, K. (2016). Rising powers and intervention: contested norms and shifts in global order. Cambridge Review of International Affairs [Online] 29:807-811. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2016.1237048.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2016). From ISIS to ICISS: A Critical Return to the Responsibility to Protect Report. Cooperation and Conflict [Online] 51:233-247. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010836715612854.
    In light of the post-intervention crisis in Libya, this article revisits critically the vision of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) offered in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) – frequently taken as the conceptual bedrock for R2P doctrine. It is argued that the perverse effect of ICISS doctrine is to replace political responsibility with paternalism. The demand that states be made accountable to the international community ends by making states accountable for their people rather than to their people. The argument is developed across five critical theses. These include claims that R2P changes the burden of justification for intervention; that it usurps popular sovereignty in favour of state power; and that it diffuses post-conflict responsibilities. The article concludes that pre-emptive ‘human protection’ efforts risk crowding out questions of systemic transformation, i.e., what kind of an international order we want to live in.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2012). Still the Spectre at the Feast: Comparisons between Peacekeeping and Imperialism in Peacekeeping Studies Today. International Peacekeeping [Online] 19:426-442. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13533312.2012.709751.
    The sheer ambition and scale of UN peacebuilding today inevitably invokes comparison with historic practices of colonialism and imperialism, from critics and supporters of peacebuilding alike. The legitimacy of post-settlement peacebuilding is often seen to hinge on the question of the extent to which it transcends historic practices of imperialism. This article offers a critique of how these comparisons are made in the extant scholarship, and argues that supporters of peacekeeping deploy an under-theorized and historically one-sided view of imperialism. The article argues that the attempt to flatter peacebuilding by comparison with imperialism fails, and that the theory and history of imperialism still provide a rich resource for both the critique and conceptualization of peacekeeping practice. The article concludes by suggesting how new forms of imperial power can be projected through peacebuilding.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2010). Dangerous Duties: Power, Paternalism and the Responsibility to Protect. Review of International Studies [Online] 36:79-96. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0260210511000076.
    This article provides a critique of Louise Arbour's article ‘The responsibility to protect as a duty of care in international law and practice’. Proceeding through criticisms of Arbour's specific propositions, the thesis is advanced that the perverse effect of the ‘duty of care’ is to undermine political accountability and by extension, political responsibility. It is argued that this is an imperfect duty that no specific agent is obliged to fulfil. This poses insuperable problems of agency that are exposed in Arbour's efforts to actualise the doctrine. As there is no mechanism for enacting the ‘duty of care’, I argue that it will be powerful states that will determine the conditions under which the ‘responsibility to protect’ is discharged. This means that the ‘duty’ will remain tied to the prerogatives of states. In order to resolve this problem of agency, it will be shown how Arbour is forced to replace the idea of law with the principle of ‘might makes right’. The ‘duty of care’ is also shown to have regressive effects on the domestic sphere: the demand that states be made accountable to the international community ends up making states responsible for their people rather than to their people.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2009). The Politics of Global Governance in UN Peacekeeping. International Peacekeeping [Online] 16:323-336. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13533310903036384.
    This article examines the allocation of roles and responsibilities in the construction of UN peacekeeping. The case is made that decision making in UN peacekeeping is not only fragmented between various states and institutional actors, but also critically lopsided, with an uneven distribution of responsibilities and the majority of political, military and strategic risks falling upon those countries least able to bear them – poor and weak states. States that hold decision-making power are not the states that have to implement those decisions. The article concludes by arguing that this governance structure is not a symptom of organizational dysfunction, but that it serves a political function by allowing influence to be wielded without risk.


  • Cunliffe, P. (2020). The New Twenty Years’ Crisis: A Critique of International Relations, 1999-2019. [Online]. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Available at: https://www.mqup.ca/new-twenty-years--crisis--the-products-9780228001027.php.
    The liberal order is decaying. Will it survive, and if not, what will replace it? On the eightieth anniversary of the publication of E.H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939, Philip Cunliffe revisits this classic text, juxtaposing its claims with contemporary debates on the rise and fall of the liberal international order. The New Twenty Years' Crisis reveals that the liberal international order experienced a twenty-year cycle of decline from 1999 to 2019. In contrast to claims that the order has been undermined by authoritarian challengers, Cunliffe argues that the primary drivers of the crisis are internal. He shows that the heavily ideological international relations theory that has developed since the end of the Cold War is clouded by utopianism, replacing analysis with aspiration and expressing the interests of power rather than explaining its functioning. As a result, a growing tendency to discount political alternatives has made us less able to adapt to political change. In search of a solution, this book argues that breaking through the current impasse will require not only dissolving the new forms of utopianism, but also pushing past the fear that the twenty-first century will repeat the mistakes of the twentieth. Only then can we finally escape the twenty years' crisis. By reflecting on Carr's foundational work, The New Twenty Years' Crisis offers an opportunity to take stock of the current state of international order and international relations theory.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2020). Cosmopolitan Dystopia: International Intervention and the Failure of the West. [Online]. Manchester University Press. Available at: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526105738/.
    Cosmopolitan Dystopia shows that rather than populists or authoritarian great powers it is cosmopolitan liberals who have done the most to subvert the liberal international order. Cosmopolitan Dystopia explains how liberal cosmopolitanism has led us to treat new humanitarian crises as unprecedented demands for military action, thereby trapping us in a loop of endless war. Attempts to normalize humanitarian emergency through the doctrine of the 'responsibility to protect' has made for a paternalist understanding of state power that undercuts the representative functions of state sovereignty. The legacy of liberal intervention is a cosmopolitan dystopia of permanent war, insurrection by cosmopolitan jihadis and a new authoritarian vision of sovereignty in which states are responsible for their peoples rather than responsible to them. This book will be of vital interest to scholars and students of international relations, IR theory and human rights.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2017). Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution 1917-2017. [Online]. Zero Books. Available at: http://www.zero-books.net/books/lenin-lives.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2013). Legions of Peace: UN Peacekeepers from the Global South. [Online]. London: C.H. Hurst & Co. Available at: http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/legions-of-peace/.
    The huge number of security forces stationed around the world as United Nations peace keepers is second only to the global military deployments of the USA. But most UN peacekeepers come from the emerging powers and developing states that comprise the global South. This is the first book to analyse this phenomenon at the international level. Such unprecedented deployments show that peacekeeping is the most widely tolerated use of force in international affairs today. Far from signalling progress towards global governance, Legions of Peace argues that UN peacekeeping must be understood in the context of continuing economic inequality and the uneven distribution of global power. Philip Cunliffe contends that through UN peacekeeping Western states have used their domination of international institutions to harness the armed forces of the global South. In so doing, Western states seek to reduce the political and military costs of hegemony and stave off their inevitable, long-term decline in power. This strategy has profound political implications. Instead of transcending the 'scourge of war', by globalising peacekeeping the UN has made peace dependent on the extensive and sustained deployment of armed force - a development that bodes ill for the future.

Book section

  • Cunliffe, P. (2011). Sovereignty. In: Dowding, K. ed. Encyclopedia of Power. SAGE Publications Inc. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412994088.n342.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2011). Introduction to Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect: Interrogating Theory and Practice. In: Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect: Interrogating Theory and Practice. Routledge, pp. 1-8.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2007). Sovereignty and the politics of responsibility. In: Bickerton, C., Cunliffe, P. and Gourevitch, A. eds. Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of Contemporary International Relations. London: UCL Press, pp. 39-57.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2007). Introduction: the unholy alliance against sovereignty. In: Bickerton, C., Cunliffe, P. and Gourevitch, A. eds. Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of Contemporary International Relations. London: UCL Press, pp. 1-19.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2007). Politics without sovereignty?. In: Bickerton, C., Cunliffe, P. and Gourevitch, A. eds. Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of Contemporary International Relations. London: UCL Press, pp. 20-38.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2006). State Building: Power without Responsibility. In: Robinson, N. and Hehir, A. eds. State Building: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, pp. 50-69.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2006). Poor Man’s Ethics? Peacekeeping and the Contradictions of Ethical Ideology. In: Chandler, D. and Heins, V. eds. Rethinking Ethical Foreign Policy. London: Routledge, pp. 70-90.

Edited book

  • Cunliffe, P. (2016). Brazil As a Rising Power: Intervention Norms and the Contestation of Global Order. [Online]. Cunliffe, P. and Michael Kenkel, K. eds. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Brazil-as-a-Rising-Power-Intervention-Norms-and-the-Contestation-of-Global/Kenkel-Cunliffe/p/book/9781138946781.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2012). Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect: Interrogating Theory and Practice. Cunliffe, P. ed. London: Routledge.
    This edited volume critically examines the widely supported doctrine of the 'Responsibility to Protect', and investigates the claim that it embodies progressive values in international politics.

    Since the United Nations World Summit of 2005, a remarkable consensus has emerged in support of the doctrine of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) – the idea that states and the international community bear a joint duty to protect peoples around the world from mass atrocities. While there has been plenty of discussion over how this doctrine can best be implemented, there has been no systematic criticism of the principles underlying R2P. This volume is the first critically to interrogate both the theoretical principles and the policy consequences of this doctrine.

    The authors in this collection argue that the doctrine of R2P does not in fact embody progressive values, and they explore the possibility that the R2P may undermine political accountability within states and international peace between them. This volume not only advances a novel set of arguments, but will also spur debate by offering views that are seldom heard in discussions of R2P. The aim of the volume is to bring a range of criticisms to bear from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including international law, political science, IR theory and security studies.

    This book will be of much interest to students of the Responsibility to Protect, humanitarian intervention, human security, critical security studies and IR in general.
  • Cunliffe, P. ed. (2007). Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of Contemporary International Relations. London: UCL Press.

Research report (external)

  • Cunliffe, P. and Wanasinghe–Pasqual, M. (2017). Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: Sri Lanka. [Online]. Providing for Peacekeeping. Available at: http://www.providingforpeacekeeping.org/2017/09/18/peacekeeping-contributor-profile-sri-lanka-2/.


  • Cunliffe, P. (2015). Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. By Autesserre Séverine. Perspectives on Politics [Online] 13:241-242. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1537592714003855.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2014). The New Liberal Praetorianism. H-Diplo [Online]:280. Available at: https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/reviews/39046/cunliffe-sotomayor-myth-democratic-peacekeeper-civil-military-relations.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2012). Third World Revolutions Left to Smoulder Ali, T., Zizek, S. and Bello, W. eds. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding [Online] 6:107-120. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17502977.2012.655571.
    The Declarations of Havana by Fidel Castro. Introduction by Tariq Ali. London, New York: Verso, 2008. Pp. 120+notes. £7.99 (pbk). ISBN 978-1-84467-156-4.
    On Practice and Contradiction by Mao Tse-Tung. Introduction by Slavoj Žižek. London, New York: Verso, 2007. Pp. 186+notes. £8.99 (pbk). ISBN 978-1-844467-587-6.
    Down with Colonialism! by Ho Chi Minh. Introduction by Walden Bello. London, New York: Verso, 2007. Pp. 216+notes. £7.19 (pbk). ISBN 978-1-84467-177-9.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2011). Red Planets Bould, M. and Miéville, C. eds. Marx and Philosophy Review of Books [Online]:0-0. Available at: http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2012/443.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2010). Book reivew: The Causes of War. Acta Politica [Online] 45:493-496. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/ap.2010.20.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2008). Review essay of N. MacQueen’s Peacekeeping and the International System, A.J. Bellamy et al.’s Understanding Peacekeeping, E. Aksu’s The United Nations, intra-state peacekeeping and normative change, and M.W. Doyle and N. Sambanis’ Making War and Building Peace. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding [Online] 2:102-106. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17502970701810914.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2006). ’Unilateralism "Lite"’. Review essay of A. Lang’s (ed.) Just Intervention, F. Weissman’s (ed.) In the Shadow of Just Wars and J. Welsh’s (ed.) Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations. International Peacekeeping [Online] 13:278-286. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com.chain.kent.ac.uk/toc/finp20/13/2#.
  • Cunliffe, P. (2005). Review essay of T.G. Weiss et al.’s ’The United Nations and Changing World Politics’ and S. Chesterman’s ’You, the People’. Millennium: Journal of International Studies [Online] 34:276-279. Available at: http://mil.sagepub.com/content/34/1.toc.


  • Miettunen, J. (2015). Prefigurative Politics: Perils and Promise.
    Many recent social movements have been characterised by their commitment to direct democratic decision-making procedures and leaderless, non-hierarchic organizational structures. This political tendency also implies the search for autonomy from existing political institutions and practises. Movements seek instead to embody in the political action itself the social relations, ways of collective decision-making and values that are ultimately desired for the whole society. This prefigurative approach to social change is often criticized for being naiive or marginal. This thesis argues first that this is not the case, but that prefigurative politics is misunderstood due to its differing view on questions of strategy, organisation and ultimately the possibility of fundamental societal change. The dissertation first outlines the often implicit strategy or vision of change underpinning prefigurative politics. It then identifies as the key challenge for prefigurative movements their ability to avoid reproducing oppressive forms of power, ‘power-over.’ This understudied aspect is investigated through extensive ethnographic field research with the unemployed workers movement, MTD Lanús in Buenos Aires, and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. The thesis concludes that it seems impossible to completely avoid reproducing old forms of power. Often key individuals in the movements end up in a paradoxical position whereby, in an effort to ensure the group’s prefigurative nature, these individuals enjoy non-prefigurative influence. The findings imply that the state and corresponding political forms and practise are not the only source of hierarchic pressures. As such, it would be more useful to view prefigurative political action as desirable, yet impossible.
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