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Professor Michael Rainsborough

Professor Michael Rainsborough

  • Academics
  • Supervisors

Professor of Strategic Theory

Research subject areas

  • Conflict
  • History
  • Strategy

Contact details


Michael Rainsborough is Professor of Strategic Theory and served as Head of Department until August 2019. He completed my PhD at King’s under the supervision of Sir Lawrence Freedman in 1991. He gained an MA in War Studies from KCL in 1987, and a BScEcon in International Politics and Strategic Studies from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1985. Before joining the Department of War Studies in 1997 he was a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence serving as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and International Affairs at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Michael was also one of the first academics to serve with the newly created Defence Studies Department, Joint Services Command and Staff College. In 1986 he was a Robert Schuman Scholar with the Directorate-General of Research at the European Parliament, Luxembourg. He has also held posts as Lecturer in the Department of History, National University of Singapore (1992-1995) and Consultant and Principal Lecturer at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University (1997-2001). In 1998 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. In addition to his duties at King’s he is also a Visiting Professor at the Norwegian Defence College where he lectured on the Professional Advanced Intelligence Course. 

He has taught in a wide range of settings at undergraduate and postgraduate levels both at King’s and elsewhere. In 2003 he founded the Masters in Intelligence and International Security. This was the first free standing masters level degree programme that was separate from the traditional MA in War Studies, which up until that point had been the only post-graduate degree offered by the department. The MA in Intelligence and International Security pioneered the way for the expansion of the Department’s wide-ranging suite of MA programmes. The MA is now established as one of the most popular masters programmes in the Department. Michael was the Programme Director of the MA in Intelligence and International Security between 2003 and 2009.

In 2006 he won the College Teaching Excellence Award for teaching in the School of Social Science and Public Policy. 

He is also Academic Director of The Marjan Centre for the Study  Conflict & Conservation hosted by the Department of War Studies.

 Research Interests

  • Strategic Theory: how ideas and values shape the definition and understanding of means and ends in war.
  • The nature of war, and the influence and impact of the thinking of the writings of Carl von Clausewitz.
  • The hidden aspects of warfare, with a special focus on dissidence and resistance both in theory and practice.
  • The history of strategic thought.
  • The impact of war on wildlife, animals and the non-human sphere.


I write under the name of M.L.R. Smith. My most recent book, Asian Security And The Rise Of China: International Relations in an Age of Volatility is published by Edward Elgar Publishing  in April 2013.  

In addition, I have written numerous book chapters and contributed articles to many of the leading journals in the field.

I have also written shorter pieces for periodicals such as Jane’s Intelligence Review, The World Today, The Australian Financial Review and World Defence Systems. 

For a list of publications, please refer to the Research Portal 



  • 6SSW2046 Guerrillas in the Mist: Insurgency and Counter-insurgency in the Modern World


  • 7SSWM028 The Result in War is Never Final: A Short Study of Dissidence and Resistance
  • 7SSWM025 Wars Within Wars: Intelligence Wars, Secret Wars and Dirty Wars
  • 7SSWM072 War & The Non-Human Sphere

Previous courses taught at King’s and in past posts include:

  • Dilemmas in Pacific Security
  • A History of Strategic Thought
  • A History of Revolutionary War
  • Intelligence in Peace and War
  • Approaches to War
  • State, Society and Strategy

PhD Supervision

Professor Rainsborough has a full supervision load and is unable to take on new doctoral research students until further notice.

Students who have graduated under his supervision have included:

  • Peter Neumann (PhD 2001)

  • Jong Jae-Park (PhD 2003)

  • Anastasia Filippidou (PhD 2006)

  • Lowell Schwartz (PhD 2007)

  • Sophie Roberts (PhD 2009)

  • Prem Mahadevan (PhD 2009)

  • Kjetil Hatlebrekke (PhD 2012)

  • Mehdi Kader (PhD 2016)

  • Jorge Delgado (PhD 2016)

  • Richard Milburn (PhD 2017)

  • Isabel Oliphant (PhD 2018)

  • Lauren Dickey (PhD 2019)

Expertise and Public Engagement

His work has sought to demonstrate the breadth and relevance of strategic theory. He was the first academic to demonstrate that strategic theory could be applied to violent sub-state actors in international politics (Fighting for Ireland? 1995). Since the late 1990s, moreover, he was one of the few analysts who tracked the al-Qaeda movement prior to 9/11, particularly in Southeast Asia (Jane’s Intelligence Review, November 2000 and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, July 2001).

Along with co-writer, David Martin Jones, he was the first to describe the al-Qaeda movement in terms of a ‘franchise’ (World Today, October 2001) an expression that subsequently found widespread use in public commentary. Consequently his work has been recognised in providing a major contribution to the ‘Network’ theory of understanding of violent Islamist groups (‘The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism’, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008). Further, Rainsborough and Jones also coined the term the ‘Surveillance State’ (Intelligence and National Security, 2001) and with Peter Neumann developed the notion of ‘Discourse Failure’ (Orbis,2005), which posited a missing dimension in the study of intelligence failures.

His research has more generally challenged orthodox assumptions surrounding such issues as the security and economic stability of the Asia-Pacific (International Affairs, October 2001; International Security, 2007; ASEAN and East Asian International Relations, 2006), and specifically the institution of ASEAN, Australian Foreign Policy (Reinventing Realism, 2000) and contemporary understandings of counter-insurgency thinking (Journal of Strategic Studies, February 2010). His most recent work demonstrated how strategic theory could be applied to the protection of wildlife (International Affairs, January 2011).