Joshua Baker

Imagining empathy: counterfactual methods and the United States-Iran security dilemma

Supervisors: Professor Nicholas Wheeler and Professor Scott Lucas

My research lies primarily in the fields of international relations and security studies. I am interested in integrating multi-disciplinary research on empathy, trust, and emotions with more traditional IR concerns of international conflict, diplomacy, and nuclear politics. I am also interested in qualitative methodology and philosophy of social science, particularly in relation to the use of historical case studies in IR. My empirical interests are in US foreign policy, Iran’s nuclear programme, nuclear politics and diplomacy, and negotiation and mediation.

To these ends, my PhD research has explored the under-theorised way in which IR scholars (particularly security dilemma theorists) have drawn on the concept of empathy, and in response has developed a conceptualisation of empathy for the security dilemma that draws on a rich literature across philosophy and psychology. Using a counterfactual methodology, it explores this empirically through an extended case study of US foreign policy towards Iran since 2001. This has entailed two research trips to the United States, during which I interviewed a number of former US officials regarding policies towards Iran during the Bush and Obama administrations.

Building on these interests and my PhD research, I am currently also involved in a collaborative project on multi-national perspectives of the 2010 Tehran Declaration and the politics of mediation. This project is being conducted with Matias Spektor (FGV) and Nicholas Wheeler (Birmingham), and will be developed further during a fellowship at FGV in Spring 2016. 


I am currently a final year PhD student in the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS), and the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security (ICCS). Before coming to Birmingham in October 2012 I studied at the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth.

During May-June 2015 I was a visiting PhD student at the Centre for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This trip was funded by an ESRC Overseas Institutional Visit grant. From May to July 2016 I will be Stanton Fellow in International Security at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) in São Paulo, Brazil. This trip will be funded by the Stanton Foundation.

I currently teach undergraduate International Relations theory in POLSIS, where I have previously taught undergraduate International Security. I am also currently an Associate Tutor at the University of Leicester, where I teach an MA (Distance Learning) module in International Security.

My PhD has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


  • BSc (Hons) International Relations with Politics (First Class), University of Plymouth
  • MA International Relations of the Middle East (Distinction), University of Exeter

Research interests

  • Security studies
  • US foreign policy
  • Trust, empathy, and emotions in world politics
  • Politics of non-proliferation and nuclear weapons
  • Qualitative methodology

Teaching responsibilities

  • 2015/16 – Introduction to International Relations Theory
  • 2013/14 – International Security

Professional memberships

  • BISA
  • ISA

Conference papers

‘US-Iran relations 2001-2010 and the narrative of missed opportunities’, Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), São Paulo, June 2016

‘Understanding the Iranian nuclear crisis’, Guest lecture to 6th form students at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, April 2015

‘Empathy and an “Ethics of Difference”: Conceptualising Empathy in International Relations’, International Studies Association Annual Convention, New Orleans, February 2015

‘Empathy and the Security Dilemma: Existing Perspectives and New Directions’, European Consortium for Political Research General Conference, Glasgow, September 2014

‘Empathy, The Security Dilemma and the Problem of Other Minds’, British International Studies Association Annual Conference, Dublin, June 2014 (panel convenor)

‘Imagining Empathy: A Counterfactual Methodology of the Emotions’, Counterfactual Histories and Possible Futures PhD Workshop, University of Helsinki, February 2014.

‘Making Empathy and Reciprocity Work: Lessons From the  Iran Nuclear File’, European University Institute, Florence, June 2013 (non-presenting author – with Nicholas Wheeler)


‘Trust or verification? Accepting vulnerability in the making of the INF Treaty’, in Kilme, M. Kreis, R. and Ostermann,  C. (eds.), “Trust, but Verify”: The Politics of Uncertainty and Transformation of the Cold War Order (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, forthcoming 2016) (with Nicholas Wheeler and Laura Considine)

‘Iran Nuclear Deal is Built on Trust as well as Verification’, Birmingham Brief (2015), available at (with Nicholas Wheeler)

‘Deciphering Obama’s Letter to the Supreme Leader’, Birmingham Brief (2014), available at (with Nicholas Wheeler)

Book reviews in Political Studies Review

Contact details


Twitter: @j_baker89