Death of Professor Paul Wilkinson

Friday 12 August 2011

Professor Paul Wilkinson

Professor Emeritus Paul Wilkinson, a world authority in International Relations and a pioneer of the study of terrorism and political violence, has died. He was 74.

Professor Wilkinson came to the University of St Andrews in 1989 to take up the first chair in International Relations. He was co-founder of the University’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

Paul Wilkinson was born on 9 May 1937 in Harrow, Middlesex.  Educated at John Lyon School in Harrow, he gained a BA in Modern History and Politics at University College, Swansea, followed by an MA.

After six years’ service as a regular Royal Air Force officer, Paul started his academic career in 1966 at the University of Wales, Cardiff, as Assistant Lecturer in Politics. He became Senior Lecturer and then Reader in Politics at Cardiff before being appointed to the first Chair in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen in 1979. His first book on terrorism, Political Terrorism, was published in 1974.

In 1989 Paul was appointed to the first Chair in International Relations at the University of St Andrews and in 1990 was made the first Head of the new Department of International Relations. In 1994 he co-founded, with its first director Bruce Hoffman, the unique research centre, CSTPV (Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence).

The Centre has since become one of the most respected and well known in its field.  From 1989 to 1994 he was director of the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism.

During Professor Wilkinson’s time at St Andrews, the School of International Relations experienced a huge expansion in staff and student numbers, and Paul played a significant role in this. He was a popular teacher and mentor, and was highly instrumental in the development of the CSTPV.

Professor Wilkinson was co-founder and co-editor of the academic journal Terrorism and Political Violence from 1989 – 2006, and directed a research project funded by the ESRC, on the preparedness of the UK for future terrorist attack. He also served as Adviser to Lord Lloyd of Berwick’s Inquiry into Legislation Against Terrorism, and authored vol. two, the Research Report for the Inquiry (1996). During the 1997-8 academic year Professor Wilkinson was a Visiting Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Throughout his career, Professor Wilkinson was a strong opponent of terrorism of all kinds. In his publications and contributions to the media he consistently argued that the democratic response to both domestic and international terrorism should always be guided by the Rule of Law.

He publicly opposed attempts to increase the period permitted to detain terrorism suspects without trial in the UK and condemned the Guantanamo project and other measures by the administration of President George W. Bush which departed from basic Rule of Law Principles.

Speaking in 2006 he said, “I have discovered that, contrary to so much received opinion, it is possible for democracies to respond effectively to contemporary terrorism without undermining basic civil liberties and the rule of law, and that the protection of human rights, far from being an obstacle to effective counter-terrorism is a vital part of an effective long-term democratic response.”

Professor Wilkinson was the sole author of fifteen books on the subject of terrorism, including Lessons of Lockerbie (1989), and joint author of a further ten, including 2007’s Homeland Security in the UK: Future Preparedness for Terrorist Attacks since 9/11.

He retired from his position as Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in August 2007 and was appointed Emeritus Professor of International Relations.  Paul was not just a familiar face around St Andrews but in living rooms around the globe as a well-known commentator on the scourge of terrorism.  A widely quoted expert in the media in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S, he was still providing expert comment to the media following the Norway atrocities last month.

In 2009, Professor Wilkinson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year Honours list in recognition of distinguished public service.

While nominally retired, Paul remained indefatigable in recent years speaking to the media and policy makers, organising and attending conferences, engaging with CSTPV, continuing to teach and writing. At the time of his death he was working on a new book due to be published next year.

He was a close friend of St Andrews Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson, with whom he shared academic and research interests.

“Paul was a personal friend. He treated younger scholars in the field with unfailing generosity and courtesy. He and Sue visited me in Massachusetts and Paul gave guest lectures in some of my courses at Harvard,” she said.

“It is hard to imagine St Andrews without him but he has left a lasting legacy in the School of International Relations and the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.”

Speaking to the University of St Andrews magazine shortly before his retiral, Professor Wilkinson spoke of the motivating factors behind his research interests, which he cited as ‘international terrorism and the problems of democratic and international response: liberal democracy’.

He said, “I was trained in both modern history and politics and became interested initially in the mid-1960s in why terrorism had been effective in some conflicts and not others.  Then, with the burgeoning of modern international terrorism in the 1970s, I became interested in the politics of democratic and international response.

“Obviously terrorism is a major threat to human rights, peace and security and it is therefore very important to try to understand the phenomenon and to seek more effective ways of preventing and mitigating this modern scourge.

“Terrorism is a particularly grim research subject but it is also very challenging, complex and ever-changing.  One of the most stimulating aspects of my early research was that I was one of a small band of pioneers in this almost totally neglected field.

“I have also enjoyed the multi-disciplinary challenges of terrorism studies, the foreign travel that has been essential to carry out my work and best of all, meeting and engaging in dialogues with a growing network of academic specialists, policy-makers, legislators, lawyers and other professionals involved in the tasks of studying, and attempting to prevent and combat terrorism around the globe.”

Paul lived in the nearby village of Crail. Courted by other universities and research centres throughout his career, he chose to remain in Fife, citing his fondness for “St Andrews and its people, the charm and friendliness of the citizens of St Andrews and the superb quality of students and staff; also my wife, Sue and family, who have been so supportive in my work, and my love for the ‘Golden Kingdom of Fife’”, as reasons for staying in the area for so long.

In his spare time, Paul enjoyed walking, modern painting and poetry.  He is survived by his wife Sue, whom he married in 1960, their three children, Rachel, John and Charles and many grandchildren.

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