Dr Nicholas Kitchen
Academic and research departmentsDepartment of Politics, Centre for the Study of Global Power Competition (CGPC).
I joined Surrey in 2018 from the London School of Economics, where I had been Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in the United States Centre, Executive Director of the LSE Diplomacy Commission, and Head of Analysis at LSE IDEAS.
I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS, and Treasurer and Acting Convenor of the US Foreign Policy Working Group of the British International Studies Association.
University roles and responsibilities
- Director of Undergraduate Programmes
- Impact Lead
Postgraduate research supervision
I welcome supervision enquiries from potential PhD students in the following areas:
- US Foreign Policy
- International Relations Theory
- Neoclassical Realism
- Strategy and Security
- International Intervention
- Great Powers and International Order
Postgraduate research supervision
Panos Vasileiadis: Great Power Decline: A Bumpy Road to Retrenchment (2020-)
Ellis Mallett: Reversing Course: Explaining Obama's Rapprochements (2019-2023)
I teach undergraduate modules in Contemporary International History, International Security, and American Foreign Policy; and postgraduate modules in International Intervention, and Post Conflict Processes.
Kitchen, Nicholas and Mallett, Ellis (2023). 'Neoclassical realism, policy paradigms and strategic change: understanding the US rapprochement to Cuba', International Relations.
Why do particular foreign policy strategies persist even when they fail to achieve their objectives? And how do such policies eventually come to change? Incorporating policy paradigms as a unifying unit-level intervening variable within a Type II neoclassical realist framework, we account for extended periods of foreign policy continuity despite ongoing policy failure, and theorise the structural conditions necessary to override intervening paradigmatic imperatives. The article illustrates the argument through an analysis of the ‘Obama thaw’, after 50 years of hostile policy towards Havana. Drawing on interviews with key officials, we show that emerging structural pressures in the Western hemisphere brought about the administration’s decision to normalise relations with Cuba.
This forum presents a snapshot of the current state of neoclassical realist theorizing. Its contributors are self-identified neoclassical realists who delineate their version of neoclassical realism (NCR), its scope, object of analysis, and theoretical contribution. From the standpoint of NCR, they contribute to and reflect on the “end of IR theory” debate. NCR has come under criticism for its supposed lack of theoretical structure and alleged disregard for paradigmatic boundaries. This raises questions as to the nature of this (theoretical) beast. Is NCR a midrange, progressive research program? Can it formulate a grand theory informed by metatheoretical assumptions? Is it a reformulation of neorealism or classical realism or an eclectic mix of different paradigms? The forum contributors argue that NCR, in different variants, holds considerable promise to investigate foreign policy, grand strategy and international politics. They interrogate the interaction of international and domestic politics and consider normative implications as well as the sources and cases of NCR beyond the West. In so doing, they speak to theorizing and the utility of the theoretical enterprise in IR more generally.
From Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump: the personalities, rhetoric, and policies of Presidents charged with defining US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era could hardly appear more different. Yet recent treatments of American grand strategy have sought to highlight a lack of debate about grand strategy, and to emphasize groupthink and “habit” within the US foreign policy establishment. This article argues that US grand strategy has changed, and suggests that those who prioritize continuities rely on an overly restrictive definition of grand strategy. Employing policy paradigms as an analytical framework, this paper finds significant variation in US grand strategy across the four post-Cold War presidencies. Where the variation between Clinton and George W. Bush’s presidencies can be explained by differing strategic ideas among American foreign policymaking elites, a trend towards less active hegemonic management running through the Obama and Trump presidencies is more structural in nature, reflecting both international constraints and generational change.
Over the past twenty years, debates surrounding American power have oscillated between celebrations of empire and laments of decline. What explains such wild fluctuations? This article argues that the power shifts debate rests on an underpinning concept of power based around relative capabilities that is theoretically not fit for purpose. We propose instead an approach to power shifts that locates power primarily in structural power. In doing so we show that developments in the character of the international system render structural advantage more significant to questions of international leadership than the balance of national capabilities. These developments also mitigate against systemic changes that might bring relative strength and structural position into greater alignment.
What does it mean for the United States to be powerful? The prospect of a decline in American power, especially relative to a rising China, has attracted considerable scholarly and political attention. Despite a wealth of data, disagreements persist regarding both the likely trajectory of the US‐China balance and the most effective strategy for preserving America's advantage into the future. This article locates the source of these enduring disputes in fundamental conceptual differences over the meaning of power itself. We map the distinct tracks of argument within the decline debate, showing that competing positions are often rooted in differences of focus rather than disputes over fact. Most fundamental is a divide between analyses dedicated to national capabilities, and others that emphasise mechanisms of relational power. This divide underpins how strategists think about the goal of preserving or extending American power. We therefore construct a typology of competing understandings of what it means for America to be powerful, to show that a strategy suited to bolstering American power according to one definition of that goal may not support, and may even undermine, American power understood in other ways.
Policy makers around the world are increasingly concerned with the challenge of cultivating and capitalizing on soft power. Yet government efforts to increase others’ feelings of attraction toward their countries face conceptual and practical challenges. This article examines Australia's attempt to operationalize soft power in Asia through its international education strategy. Drawing on interviews with key officials, we show how the design of Australia's international education policy was consciously informed by multiple dimensions of soft power. Yet the nature of soft power means that whether the policy will achieve its soft power objectives is up to Asia, not Australia.
The Obama administration's first year in office has been characterised by the rhetorical rollback of the Bush administration's excesses and an emphasis on inclusiveness and restraint. This article considers the grand strategic response to the end of the Cold War of Obama's Democratic predecessor as President to highlight that the strategic challenges faced by the new President are more fundamental than simply reversing the policies of George W. Bush. So far, Obama has used rhetoric and engagement to buy time; it remains to be seen whether his policy of détente will be better understood in terms of the decline of American power.
Scholars in international relations have long known that ideas matter in matters of international politics, yet theories of the discipline have failed to capture their impact either in the making of foreign policy or the nature of the international system. Recent reengagement with the insights of classical realists has pointed to the possibility of a neoclassical realist approach that can take into account the impact of ideas. This article will suggest that the study of grand strategy can enlighten the intervening ideational variables between the distribution of power in the international system and the foreign policy behaviour of states, and thus constitute the key element in a neoclassical realist research agenda.