Research Themes

Social change and cultural conflict

Our researchers study the literary and cultural responses to modern war, from the eighteenth century to the present day, in national and transnational frames, and often with national and international collaborators. We specialise in questions of remembrance, reconciliation and identity, the book history of modern war, the history of censorship, the role of journalism in modern conflict, as well as the cultural work of distinct genres such as the military memoir, the war novel and travel writing. Hosting a cluster of researchers from different disciplines and with intersecting expertise in these fields, our School offers a congenial environment in which to investigate the cultural mediation of war, from a range of perspectives and approaches, and with unrivalled library resources.

Culture, literature and media in war

Our researchers study the literary and cultural responses to modern war, from the eighteenth century to the present day, in national and transnational frames, and often with national and international collaborators. We specialise in questions of remembrance, reconciliation and identity, the book history of modern war, the history of censorship, the role of journalism in modern conflict, as well as the cultural work of distinct genres such as the military memoir, the war novel and travel writing. Hosting a cluster of researchers from different disciplines and with intersecting expertise in these fields, our School offers a congenial environment in which to investigate the cultural mediation of war, from a range of perspectives and approaches, and with unrivalled library resources.

Cyber Security

Cyber is emerging as the fifth domain of warfare. We have scholars examining the challenges that arise in this domain for international norms, international law, international ethics and military strategy. We have particular expertise in China's activities in the cyber realm. We also have scholars examining Australia's cyber security strategy, the emergence and negotiation of norms in cyber space, and the risks and opportunities that emerge for our domestic democracy and privacy in this new networked age. UNSW Canberra is fast becoming the "go to" centre for multidisciplinary research into the new challenges of security in cyber space.

Maritime security in the Asia-Pacific

Maritime security issues have in recent years gained unprecedented salience in strategic policy planning and debates among countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The issues include maritime territorial disputes, freedom of navigation, naval expansion, competition over the control of strategic sea lanes, challenges to the law of the sea, piracy and maritime environmental security. In HASS, we focus on the key maritime security issues that have implications for the Australian Defence Force. Current research projects include the South China Sea disputes, East China Sea disputes, rising Asian naval power especially the Chinese navy, ‘grey-zone’ maritime threats, naval history of the region, and ASEAN.  Researchers in HASS include John Reeves, Chris Roberts, Shirley Scott, Carl Thayer, Jian Zhang and the Naval Studies Group.

Australia's Defence Force History

Academics at UNSW Canberra and especially its historians have made major contributions to researching and recording the history of the Australian Defence Force and its constituent services. UNSW Canberra, with its strong association with the ADF and its close working relationships with defence historical agencies, is uniquely placed to work with and for the ADF in this way. HASS historians, notably Prof. Jeff Grey and Prof. Peter Dennis, produced the Centenary History of Defence in 2001, and many HASS post-graduates have been members of the ADF or have investigated defence topics in history or international and political studies. Researchers in HASS and ACSACS include our Air Force Fellows, members of the Naval Studies and Special Forces Studies Groups, Prof. Tom Frame (who has published on the UNSW’s 50-year relationship with the ADF) and Prof. Peter Stanley, who is General Editor of the Army History Series.

China’s military moderation

China’s ambitious military modernisation program aiming at developing a ‘world class’ military is fundamentally altering regional balance of power and posing a formidable challenge to the strategic primacy of the United States and its allies in the region.  Understanding the nature and motivation of Chinese military modernisation is central to ensure regional peace and stability.  
China’s ambitious military modernisation program aiming at developing a ‘world class’ military is fundamentally altering regional balance of power and posing a formidable challenge to the strategic primacy of the United States and its allies in the region.  Understanding the nature and motivation of Chinese military modernisation is central to ensure regional peace and stability. Researchers in HASS are Kai Liao and Jian Zhang.

The Ethics of New Military technologies

Many people have questioned what the future of warfare will be like, or wondered what the soldier of the future will look like. Will the soldier of the future; enter into battle cocooned inside a protective suit of armour laden with gadgets, like the Marvel comic book and film character Iron Man; enter into battle in a virtual sense by piloting a remotely controlled device; or fight merely by managing attacks against the enemy’s computer systems through cyber-warfare? Members of the School of HASS are examining some of the ethical issues which might be raised by new technologies which are currently being developed, or have recently been adopted, for military use. Some new technologies might be thought to lower the political cost of war and thus raise questions about when it is, and is not, ethically justified to go to war, issues that are being examined by researchers such as Tony Burke, Toni Erskine, and Ned Dobos. Technologies which cause new or novel problems for military personnel in combat raise different ethical issues, and these are being examined by researchers such as Toni Erskine, Stephen Coleman, Deane Baker, Lindsay Clark and Tim Aistrope.

Data analysis of military operations

 

The ‘Australia’s Vietnam War’ website project aims to create a web-based, interactive visualisation of Australia’s (and New Zealand’s) involvement in the Vietnam War. The website (https://vietnam.unsw.adfa.edu.au) currently shows approximately 6,500 ground combat incidents involving the Australian Army. Further research is underway to add combat data about Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy operations. Other research will add biographical information on all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died during the campaign, Australian Civil Affairs projects and social structure of each of the villages in the Australian Area of Operations. Related research includes work on US combat operations in Vietnam and assistance to Vietnam in identifying the burial sites and other details relating to those of their soldiers who died as a result of battle with Australian and New Zealand forces.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

After a series of failed interventions in the 1990s to protect civilians from war crimes and mass atrocities, a new doctrine was adopted by UN-member states in 2005 termed “The Responsibility to Protect” (RtoP), and new high level advisors appointed by the Secretary-General. The doctrine holds that state sovereignty includes a responsibility to protect populations from war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that international society can assume that responsibility if a state is unwilling or incapable of doing so. This growing norm has provoked numerous political and conceptual complexities that have inspired researchers around the world, including HASS Researchers such as Anthony Burke, Ned Dobos,Toni Erskine, and a number of graduate students, who are working on the ethics and politics of intervention, global governance and RtoP, and cyber effects and genocide prevention. This is a part of the work pursued by members of the International Ethics Research Group.

Climate Security

Since 2006, concern about dangerous anthropogenic climate change as a national and international security threat has been growing in prominence. It has been debated in the UN Security Council, been the subject of numerous think tank studies, and is shaping defence strategy and preparedness in many states. In particular, interest has focused on concerns that global warming beyond 1.5C will cause major direct threats from more intense drought, disease, fire and storms, and also be a ‘threat multiplier’ for conflict, disease and food insecurity. HASS Researchers working on climate change and security include Anthony Burke, John Connor, Shirley Scott, and a number of graduate students. HASS research includes the role of the Security Council, theory and ethics in climate security, historical climate-related conflicts, and global security governance and climate.

Military History

The military history research program leads the discipline nationally, with a significant and growing international presence in the study of armed conflict and society in historical perspective. Individual researchers specialise in both the broader impact of war and armed conflict upon society and the technical dimensions of war expressed in strategy and policy, doctrine, administration, logistics, tactical systems and modern staff structures, and on land, sea and air. We also have specific expertise in German, US, Australian, French, Ottoman and Turkish, British and Empire/Commonwealth military history, the two world wars, and in the fields of naval and maritime history. The Academy Library contains the best and most extensive collections of military history in the Southern Hemisphere.

Australian Literature

Our researchers initiated, and remain a vital part of, the Australian literature e-resource AustLit, the premier bibliographic tool in Australian literary studies, and the Academy Library holds an unrivalled manuscript collection relating to contemporary Australian writers. The Australian Scholarly Editions Centre has been hosted by the School since 1993, publishing authoritative editions of major Australian texts. Our researchers have expertise in most of nineteenth and twentieth-century Australian literature, employing interdisciplinary cultural history and theory, including book history, textual studies and international comparative frames. We offer outstanding resources for higher degree research in these fields.

Global Security

Our researchers in this area concentrate on long-standing and emerging challenges in national, regional and global security, with a particular focus on: Australian defence and security policy; the Asia-Pacific region; nuclear weapons; human security; and global security governance. We pursue a range of interests: managing strategic stability and preventing conflict; relations with a rising China; military diplomacy; nuclear arms control and disarmament; security ethics; and the politics of security. Our researchers are also leaders in applying non-traditional approaches such as human security, resilience and cosmopolitanism to new security challenges: climate change; natural disasters; systemic insecurity; ethnic conflict; terrorism; and post-modern conflicts. The Academy Library’s unrivalled collections in defence and security studies make this an ideal venue for this type of research.

International ethics, norms and law

Our researchers draw on thoughts and principles from political theory, international relations and moral philosophy, combining those theoretical ideas with practical considerations of international law and the norms of established international practice, to provide answers to a range of diverse and pressing problems in world politics. Researchers in this area pursue a range of interests: pacifism and conscientious objection; the ethical impact of new military technologies; global distributive justice; gender and identity-politics; problems of counter-terrorism; cyber security; the responsibility to protect; the ethics of intelligence collection; and the moral responsibilities of international organisations, such as states, corporations and NGOs. With world leading researchers we offer outstanding supervision and resources for those wishing to conduct higher degree research in these areas and related fields.

Asia-Pacific Politics and Security

The School supports interdisciplinary approaches to understanding Australia’s neighbouring region, one of the most dynamic but also most volatile in the world. Our researchers use the methods of social anthropology, political science and history to explore the changes underway in the region. Current research topics include social development, policy and security studies, and civil society. The Academy Library and Asian language collection at the nearby National Library of Australia offer outstanding research resources. We have hosted the Asia Pacific Seminar Series for more than a decade to share current research with our local, national and international colleagues, and we have a small but vibrant group of research students working on topics with a focus on Southeast and East Asia.