PhD Candidate Profile – Thomas Hughes
Thomas Hughes is an international student from the UK, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University, an editorial assistant at the Centre for International and Defence Policy, and a graduate fellow at the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network. His primary areas of research are on confidence-building, deterrence, and strategic culture, with his dissertation focusing on the political effects of military exercises in Europe. Thomas co-edited the 2018 book North American Strategic Defense in the 21st Century, and has also published work on the use of, and attitudes towards, Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Thomas gained his MA from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Denver, in 2016, and has also worked for the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.
What is your area of research?
The focus of my research is on international security. I’m really interested in looking at how states interpret the world around them, and how they use their militaries to show off or threaten others. Ultimately, the research is about what makes states think that someone else poses a threat, and how we can develop confidence within the international community so that suspicion and fear doesn’t lead to conflict. More specifically, my research examines the way in which states react when others look like they are improving and showing off their military capability, and the effectiveness of regulation that has been put in place to try to create ‘transparency’ and give states more of an insight into what others are doing.
Why did you decide to pursue this area in particular?
I find the idea of how we perceive the actions of others to be really interesting, and I think it is an incredibly important part of international relations. The possibility that small incidents and misunderstandings lead to a bigger conflict is a real and worrying one, and we have seen states using their military capability to posture and ‘show off’ increase a lot over the past few years. Most importantly, the subject offers a great opportunity to better understand what makes states trust and distrust each other, as well as how they can more effectively communicate and develop pathways to more positive relationships. This can have beneficial implications well beyond the realm of international security.
What impact do you hope your research will have?
By exploring when and why countries perceive themselves to be threatened, and how they react to this, I hope that my research will encourage foreign policy-makers to think carefully about their actions, and provide some pointers to the creation of frameworks that will ultimately allow states to build trust in each other. At its core, the research is about helping to ensure that misinterpretation of events and misplaced fears do not result in war. So, for example, my research could help Canadian policy-makers to ensure that the increase in military activities that we are seeing in the Arctic at the moment do not spiral into greater acrimony. Canada has legitimate defence and security objectives in the region, but the key question is how these can be communicated and achieved without Canada and its allies being perceived as aggressive, and thereby increasing the possibility of conflict. If my research can, even just a little, help the international community navigate through these sorts of potentially risky environments and encourage policy-makers to find solutions cooperatively rather than relying on military posturing to get their message across, I will delighted!
Why did you choose Queen's for your PhD?
I was keen to stay in North America for my post-graduate studies and the department has an absolutely superb academic reputation, as well as a reputation for being a supportive and friendly environment, which is incredibly important. The Centre for International and Defence Policy made Queen’s particularly appropriate for my research interests, and when I spoke to faculty at my MA institution, they spoke incredibly highly of Queen’s, so the decision wasn’t a difficult one! And how could anyone resist Kingston’s myriad charms?!
What do you have planned for the next year?
In academic terms, the completion of the dissertation (hopefully)! It will also be great to teach in the Winter term - having the chance to engage with students in the classroom can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. After that, the world is my oyster! I am hopeful that my research and experience will lead to some interesting opportunities both within academia and in the policy realm, and I’m excited to see what will emerge. In addition, my partner is moving to New Brunswick to take up a position at Moncton University and I’m looking forward to exploring the Atlantic Provinces with her (as well as doing some trout fishing). And celebrating England’s victory in the European Soccer Championships next summer, of course!