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Research Interests 

  • Grand Strategy
  • Small State Diplomacy
  • First World War Propaganda
  • Migration
  • Soft Power and Political Communication
  • Frozen Conflicts in Eastern Europe 
  • Strategic Foresight


Can small states have a Grand Strategy?


Grand strategy is normally associated with the actions of major powers. This thesis asks whether small states can also pursue a grand strategy. It does so on the basis of a case study of the island nation of Malta, which fits the criteria of a small state. The thesis is the first to bring two developing sub-fields of academic scholarship together: the study of grand strategy; and the study of small states. The first half of the thesis is conceptual, before the second half moves on to the case study. The thesis begins by attempting to establish a clear definition of grand strategy. This is a term which has become increasingly popular in academic works and among policy makers, but which still belies easy definition. The thesis establishes a set of criteria by which one can judge the existence (or otherwise) of grand strategy, before setting this against a typology of small state strategies. On this basis, the case study suggests that small states can indeed pursue a grand strategy in favourable circumstances, but that their ability to do so may be severely restricted by other factors, such as domestic upheaval or an adverse international environment.


Primary Supervisor: Professor John Bew

Secondary Supervisor: Professor Michael Rainsborough 


Dr Hillary Briffa recently received her doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London, asking whether small states can have a Grand Strategy. She is a Teaching Fellow at the Royal College of Defence Studies (Belgravia), and the Joint Services Command and Staff College (Swindon), both part of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. She also teaches at Birkbeck University of London, Queen Mary University of London, and King’s College London. Previously, she served as Youth Ambassador for Malta to the OSCE for three years, and worked at the Malta High Commission to the UK throughout Malta’s tenure as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. In 2015 she was appointed an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and in 2016 became a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Emerging Young Leaders award. From August 2020, she will be one of the inaugural Hans J. Morgenthau Fellows, remotely based at The Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC), studying grand strategy in its larger conceptual and historical context.


  • Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship, North Carolina 2010
  • Malta Government Scholarship MASTER it! Scheme 2013, part-financed by the European Union – European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality of Life”
  • Malta Government ENDEAVOUR scheme January 2015-2018
  • U.S. State Department inaugural Emerging Young Leaders Award and Exchange Programme, April 2016
  • Clements Centre for History, Strategy and Statecraft (University of Texas) Graduate Summer Seminar in History and Statecraft - Colorado, July 2016
  • Hans J. Morgenthau Fellow at The Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) - 2020/2021


  • Briffa, Hillary, and Alessandra Baldacchino. 2021. “Diaspora Policies, Consular Services and Social Protection for Maltese Citizens Abroad.” In Migration and Social Protection in Europe and Beyond (Volume 2): Comparing Consular Services and Diaspora Policies, edited by Jean-Michel Lafleur and Daniela Vintila. Cham, Switzerland: IMISCOE Research Series, Springer International Publishing.

  • Briffa, Hillary. 2021. “Neutrality and Shelter Seeking: The Case of Malta.” In Small States and the New Security Environment, edited by Anne-Marie Brady and Baldur Thorhallsson. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

  • Briffa, Hillary. 2021. “Section Introduction: Multilingual Environments.” In Multilingual Environments in the Great War, edited by Julian Walker and Christophe Declerq. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

  • Briffa, Hillary. 2020. “1919: Repression, Riots and Revolution.” Imperial & Global Forum, June 9, 2020.

  • Briffa, Hillary. 2019. “Malta.” In Religion and Contemporary Politics: A Global Encyclopedia, edited by Timothy Demy and Jeffrey Shaw. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
  • Briffa, Hillary. 2017. “Audita Tremendi, Emicho, Melito of Sardis.” In War and Religion: An Encyclopedia of Faith and Conflict, edited by Jeffrey Shaw and Timothy Demy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLI
  • Briffa, Hillary. 2016. “Malta in the First World War.” In Languages and the First World War: Communicating in a Transnational War, edited by Julian Walker and Christophe Declerq, 175–189. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Consultant on Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 2016 report 'A New Comprehensive Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism'

Book Reviews:

  • Micallef Grimaud, J. (2018). Small states and EU governance: Malta in EU decision-making processes. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Review by Hillary Briffa. In Small States & Territories Vol. 2, No. 1, May 2019
  • Harwood, M., Moncada, S. & Pace, R. (Eds.) (2018). Malta’s EU Presidency: A study in a small state Presidency of the Council of the EU. Msida, Malta: Malta University Publications. Review by Hillary Briffa. In Small States & Territories Vol. 2, No. 1, May 2019
  • Paul, T.V. (2018) Restraining Great Powers: soft balancing from empires to the global era. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Review by Hillary Briffa. In International Affairs Vol. 95, No. 6, Nov 2019

Conference presentations

  • Contributor to ongoing Engelsberg Applied History Programme Study Group on ‘World Order’ at KCL since 2018
  • Lectured on ‘Small State and Leadership’ at the Small States Winter School, University of Vilnius – January 2020
  • Presented at ‘Legacies’, The International Society for First World War Studies conference at the University of Leeds – September 2019
  • Presented at International Workshop: ‘Small States and Good Governance’ at the University of Ljubljana – April 2019
  • Presented at ‘1919: The Anticolonial Upsurge at King's College London’ – March 2019
  • Discussant on KCL book launch of ‘Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era’ by T.V. Paul - January 2019
  • Co-Organizer of ‘Languages & the First World War II’ Centenary Conference, London & Brussels – September 2018
  • Presented at Small States & the Political Upheavals Related to Immigration conference at the University of Malta – September 2018
  • Presented at Small States & the New Security Environment (SSANSE) International Conference, University of Iceland – June 2018
  • Poster Presentation Award at ‘Understanding Complex Conflicts’ conference, King’s College London – June 2018
  • Presented at ‘The Fictional First World War: Imagination and Memory since 1914’ at University of Aberdeen – April 2017
  • Lead Organizer & Conference Chair for KCL School of Security Studies PhD Research Conference – May 2017 & May 2018
  • ISA Annual Convention March 2016, Atlanta - Co-organized Working Group on Strategic Foresight in International Relations with Co-Convenor Tully (Exeter) & Honorary Convenor Jervis (Columbia), Presented paper entitled ‘Can Small States have a Grand Strategy?’ on panel Small States and Peace, and Chaired panel on Diplomacy & Social Relations
  • Affiliate of the Forum on Geopolitics at Cambridge University - supporting ‘Westphalia for the Middle East’ research project 2015-2016
  • Presented ‘Hope Unbounded, Trust Absolute? An Analysis of Newspaper Reportage revealing the rise of Nationalist and anti-British Sentiment in Colonial Malta during the First World War’ at the Turkish Historical Society First World War Symposium, Izmir – November 2015
  • Presented 'Propaganda in Malta in the First World War: Demon Kaiser or Colonizer?' at ‘Aftermath: Legacies of the Great War’ at King’s College London – May 2015
  • Presented 'Malta in the First World War: A Tripartite Linguistic Legacy of Reportage' at ‘Globalising and Localising the Great War’ at Oxford University – March, 2015
  • Co-Author of ' What are we for? An international comparison of the institutional structures, governmental projects, and methods of strategic foresight employed by Ministries of Foreign Affairs' presented by Catarina Tully at ISA Annual Convention, 2015, New Orleans themed ‘Bridging the Gap: The Art and Practice of Strategic Foresight in International Relations’. The paper was a comparative study of the reform processes in the ministries of foreign affairs of Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands, analyzing how they are responding to longer term trends in domestic and international affairs.
  • Presented at the British Library and University of Antwerp WWI Centenary Conference ‘Languages at War’ – June, 2014
  • Presented 'Do non-democratic parties have a role to play in the European Party system?' at 'Union': King's College London School of Arts & Humanities Postgraduate Student Conference – May, 2014

Teaching experience

  • Teaching Fellow at the Royal College of Defence Studies since September 2017
  • Teaching Fellow on MA International Affairs Modules in the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London – July 2020
  • Annual guest Lecturer on King’s College London MA National Security since March 2019
  • Annual guest Lecturer at the University of Iceland Small States Summer School since June 2019
  • Tutor on KCL ‘Realising Opportunities’ Programme for students from under-represented groups – 2016-2019
  • Teaching Associate on second year undergraduate modules ‘War in World Politics’ and ‘Foreign Policy Analysis’ in the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of London – January-June 2020
  • Teaching Associate on MA module ‘Global Politics, Governance and Security’ and undergraduate module ‘Introduction to Global Politics’ in the Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London – September 2019-2020
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant for second year undergraduate module ‘Grand Strategy and the Foundations of the Anglo-American Strategic Tradition’ – September 2015-2020
  • Programme Administrator and Teaching Assistant for the annual Maymester on Grand Strategy and the Anglo-American Strategic Tradition - King's College London in Partnership with the Clements Centre for History, Strategy and Statecraft (University of Texas) – June 2015-2019
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Joint Services Command and Staff College (Swindon) – September 2017-2019
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant for first year undergraduate module ‘Introduction to International Relations’ at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) – January-June 2018
  • Programme Administrator, Chair and Teaching Assistant for the Young Leader’s For Tomorrow’s Europe summer school on Minority Integration and the New International Security Agenda – Slovakia and Hungary, 2015
  • Programme Administrator, Chair and Teaching assistant for the Youth Ambassadors Summer Institute (recipient of the European Youth Award and US State Department Alumni Innovation Fund Award) summer school 'Peacebuilding in Eastern Europe' – Moldova and Ukraine, 2014
  • Co-creator and teacher of Sixth Form after-school programme on Conflict Resolution at City and Islington College, London 2013-2014