Benjamin Zala

Rethinking Polarity for the Twenty-first Century: Perceptions of Order in International Society

Supervisors: Edward Newman and Marco Vieira

My research focuses on the concept of polarity (the number of great / superpowers that exist at any one time) and focuses on the importance of perceptions of structural power in shaping the way changes in polarity affect the foreign policies of states.

The thesis uses the insights of the English school of International Relations to build a framework in which the concept of polarity can be used in a way which takes account of both the material and social elements that constitute great power status. This allows for a theoretical framework that can be used to analyse shifts in the perception of the polarity of the international system on the part of important actors (eg. the debate around whether the current order is unipolar or multipolar). Such shifts in perception imply a possible disjunction between the material capabilities of major states and their social status as ‘poles of power’ or otherwise.


After completing a Bachelor of International Relations with first class Honours from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, I spent the next three years working, first in Melbourne (at the Medical Association for Prevention of War and the La Trobe University Centre for Dialogue) and then in London (at Chatham House). During my time at the Centre for Dialogue at La Trobe I also worked as an editorial assistant on the journal Global Change, Peace and Security (published by Routledge).

While working on my thesis and teaching (International Relations, international security and diplomatic history) since October 2008, I have continued to work part-time in London. I worked in the Energy, Environment and Development Programme at Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) from 2008-2010 and since then with the Oxford Research Group where I direct the Sustainable Security Programme. This programme focuses on analysing long-term drivers of global insecurity and the potential for their mitigation through preventative national policies and multilateral initiatives.

I also act as the editorial assistant for the academic journal Civil Wars (published by Routledge).


  • BIR (Hons) (La Trobe)

Research interests

  • Global security
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Great power relations
  • Multilateralism and international organisations
  • International Relations theory (particularly the English school)

Conference papers

“The ‘Essential Skeleton’ of World Politics: Great Power Management in a Time of Transition” presented at the 53rd Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, San Diego, 2 April 2012.

(with Andrew Futter) “Conventional Weapons and Nuclear Stability” presented at workshop on ‘The Changing Character of War, the State and the Utility of Force in the 21st Century’ at the 53rd Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, San Diego, 1 April 2012.

(with Andrew Futter) “Non-nuclear Challenges for Nuclear Rivalries” presented at symposium on ‘Nuclear Rivalries and Prospects for Cooperation and Trust-Building’, Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, 15 June 2011.

“The Strategic Dimensions of Water: From National Security to Sustainable Security” presented at the workshop ‘Water Security: Progress in Theory & Practice’, University of East Anglia & ICID-UK, Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

(with Paul Rogers) “A Twentieth Century Response to a Twenty-First Century Problem: The War on Terror and Global Insecurity” presented at the conference ‘Global Insecurities: Insurgency, Development and World Order: Ten Years On’, University of Leeds, 5 September 2011.

“Water Insecurity in an Environmentally Constrained and Economically Divided World: Implications for UK Foreign Policy” presented at the workshop ‘Water and UK Foreign Policy’, University of East Anglia & ICID-UK, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, 11 February 2011.

“The Quest for a Preventive Security Policy: UK Defence Strategy post-SDSR” presented at the University of Birmingham, School of Government and Society Annual Graduate Colloquium, 24 February 2011.

“The Obama Administration and the Role and Status of Nuclear Weapons in World Politics” presented at the 5th Annual Conference of the BISA US Foreign Policy Working Group, University of Leeds, 15 September 2010.

“A Military Action on Iran: Impact and Effects” presented at the seminar of the Westminster Committee on Iran, ‘Iran: Which Way Forward?’ House of Commons, UK Parliament, 19 July 2010.

“Rescuing Polarity Analysis from Neorealism: Rethinking the role of the Great Powers in International Society” presented at the Fourth Oceanic Conference on International Studies, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 2 July 2010.

“From Prague to New York: Contemporary US Nuclear Weapons Policy in a Rapidly Changing World” presented at the University of Birmingham, School of Social Science Graduate Colloquium, 19 February 2010.

“Rescuing Polarity Analysis from Neorealism: Rethinking the role of the Great Powers in International Society” presented at the postgraduate departmental colloquium, University of Birmingham, 25 November 2009.

“American Hegemony and the Re-emergence of the Nuclear Disarmament Agenda” presented at the conference ‘What Threatens? Building Bridges in Security and Conflict Studies’, University of Birmingham, 22 September 2009.


“Asia-Pacific: The New Nuclear Fault Line?”, Security Challenges, 3: 1, 2007, pp. 9-15

“Weighing up the Balance: What Role for the Balance of Power in the Twenty-First Century?”, Cooperation and Conflict, 45: 2, 2010, pp. 245-252.

(with Bernice Lee, Michael Grubb and Felix Preston), “Climate Change” in Robin Niblett (Ed.), America and a Changed World: A Question of Leadership, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 238-57.

(with Paul Rogers) “The ‘Other’ Global Security Challenges: Socioeconomic and Environmental Realities after the War on Terror”, RUSI Journal, 156: 4, 2011, pp. 26-33.

I have published book reviews in Millennium: Journal of International Studies (Vol. 38, No. 2, 2009), Political Studies Review (Vol. 8, No. 1, 2010), Medicine, Conflict and Survival (Vol. 26, No. 4, 2010), International Affairs (Vol. 87, No. 3, 2011 and Vol. 88, No. 3, 2012). I have also published a number of reports, briefings and written evidence to government inquiries available at (