Concordia Winter 2023 Obituaries

Christopher Coker (1966-1972)

Unorthodox and inspiring war studies expert and director of LSE’s foreign policy think tank. His 2021 magnum opus Why War? rejected the fashionable theory that humankind’s propensity for war is in decline.

C hristopher Coker, who has died aged 70, was a political scientist and political philosopher who wrote widely on all aspects of war and warfare; a former professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), he served as co-director of LSE Ideas, its foreign policy think tank, and was a familiar figure in UK and Nato strategic planning circles, including think tanks connected with the Conservative Party. Though he was academically rigorous, Coker brought a gentle subversiveness to all he did, questioning orthodoxies and developing the confidence to be truly original. In 2021 he synthesised a lifetime’s study in Why War? in which he broadly agreed with Thucydides’ definition of war as “the human thing”. Warfare, he argued, was central to the evolutionary struggle that had allowed mankind to survive. Challenging theories of Stephen Pinker and others that humankind’s propensity for war is declining, he maintained that, while the technology of warfare will continue to change, with advances in AI and robotics sidelining human agency, the human capacity for war would remain unimpaired until human beings themselves came to the end of the evolutionary road.

who now appear to be encouraging the most dangerous trends of all, dragging their feet as Nato heads towards a nuclear-free world”, he wrote, “protesting helplessly as France and West Germany pool their resources; and trumpeting their belief in a special relationship with the United States which appears to be ending, not in a dramatic divorce, but in a quiet and unspectacular parting of the ways”. The following year, in another IEDSS paper, “Who only England know: Conservatives and foreign policy”, he accused Mrs Thatcher of both trivialising and over personalising foreign relations, and failing to grasp that “Britain is no longer a significant player on the international stage”. Preoccupied by issues of sovereignty, she had fallen back on myths to confirm her prejudices against the European Community and magnified out of all proportion Britain’s so-called “special relationship” with the USA. An only child, Christopher Coker was born on March 28 1953 at Wellington, Somerset. His father was a banker and Christopher spent much of his early life in Africa where, according to a contributor on his memorial page, he was once briefly kidnapped as a child by the family’s gardener, who indulged him with ice cream. The authorities soon intervened, the gardener having given his personal address for the ransom delivery. Coker went on to read history at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a rare starred First for Part I, and was the outstanding history student of his year. He went on to take a DPhil at Oxford and began teaching at the LSE in 1982, publishing his first of more than 20 books, US Military Power in the 1980s, the following year. In his 2019 book The Rise of the Civilizational State , Coker argued that the non-Western world, led by Beijing and Moscow, is pushing back against the Western “liberal world order”, not with ideology but with hybrid “civilisational” doctrines which combine nationalism at home with the defence of their civilisation abroad, thereby reconciling their promotion of great-power status with their ideological aversion to liberal universalism. States based on civilisational identities, he

“Few books have both impressed and depressed me in equal measures as much as this one has done”, wrote a critic in the Literary Review . Coker was a long-standing critic of defence policies of both Labour and Conservative governments. In 1986 he criticised Labour prime ministers Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan for effectively misleading their own party with excessive secrecy over nuclear policy, noting that although they had overseen the development of warheads for Polaris and had done the groundwork which would underpin the £10 billion decision to buy Trident, they held only one Commons debate on nuclear weapons, compared with four held by Mrs Thatcher within a few years of her arrival at No 10. But the Conservatives did not escape censure either and he accused successive Conservative administrations of lacking a sense of purpose and pursuing a policy of penny-pinching without vision. In 1988, in a report published by the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (IEDSS), he noted that defence should have been “an eminently suitable case for treatment” by Mrs Thatcher. Instead the government had become trapped in events that they could neither arrest nor reverse: “It is the Tories



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