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Taboo or Not Taboo? Mapping the Use of Chemical Weapons and Deterring Future Threats in the 21st Century


Project Description

This PhD offers an excellent opportunity to contribute to important policy debates around the strength and effectiveness of the chemical weapons taboo in the 21st century.

Project description
Recognition of the taboo around chemical weapons use has formed the basis for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the development and use of chemical weapons and has near universal membership. The success of the CWC would indicate that the taboo is now an established and embedded international norm. However, the use of chemical weapons in Syria (since 2013) and the Salisbury attacks in June 2018 demonstrates that this may not be the case.

Using open source data, you’ll compile information about the use and attempted use of chemical weapons since 2000. This will create a detailed record of the extent and circumstances in which the norm has been violated within a 21st century context, addressing a crucial gap in existing research.

You’ll also use open source documents and conduct elite interviews with government policy specialists and academics to explore the understanding and transformation of the taboo in three different contexts from which the taboo originally evolved: assassination, terrorism, civil war and asymmetric conflict. Using comparative methods, you’ll develop a comprehensive account of the robustness of the CW norm today. Your research will make a significant contribution to academic literature addressing norm formation/ the institutionalisation of normative practices, and to policy-related work into measures to deter chemical weapons (as well as other weapons of mass destruction) in the 21st century.

Research of this kind is considered to be of crucial importance to the academic and policy communities, delivering pressing and up-to-date information about the relevance of the CW threat in the 21st Century, and offering an original contribution to research within this field.


Candidate specification
You must be a UK or EU resident and hold a good honours degree (2:1 or above) from a recognised higher education institution.
We require English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Additionally, you should meet the following essential criteria:
• A background in the broad area of International Relations and Political Science. Applicants with other disciplinary backgrounds (Sociology; Language-based Area Studies; Cultural Studies; Anthropology; Psychology) will be considered, although preference will be given to applicants with an expertise, or strong interest in security and defence related subjects;
• Good written and communication skills;
• Good time management.

In addition, it is desirable that you:
• Hold a Master’s degree;
• Have experience of advanced research skills (postgraduate level or equivalent);
• Have experience of working with government decision makers and the policy community;
• Have an awareness of chemical weapons non- proliferation and arms control initiatives.

How to Apply
Please contact Dr Patricia Shamai () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting both the project code and the project title.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form, making sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.

Please also submit a research proposal (up to 1000 words), detailing how you would develop this project:
• What research questions would you pose?
• How would you design the project?
• What research methods would you use?
• How would you engage with/ build on existing research?

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SASH4370219 when applying.

Funding Notes

The studentship will include tuition fees at UK/EU level for three years, a stipend in line with RCUK rates (currently £14,77), and up to £1500 research expenses for the duration of the studentship, subject to satisfactory progress.

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