Adam Watson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the British International relations theorist. For the Scottish biologist and ecologist, see Adam Watson (scientist).

John Hugh "Adam" Watson (August 10, 1914 – August 24, 2007)[1] was a British International relations theorist and researcher. Alongside Hedley Bull, Martin Wight, Herbert Butterfield, and others, he was one of the founding members of the English school of international relations theory.

He was educated at Rugby and King's College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate at Cambridge, where he read History, Watson was taught by Herbert Butterfield (later Sir Herbert, and Regius Professor of History). After a period of travel in central Europe, in the late 1930s, he joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1937. During the Second World War he acted as a liaison with the Free French in Cairo, played an unknown role in the Balkans, based in Bucharest, and was finally posted to Moscow, where he witnessed the victory celebrations of 1945, standing alongside the Soviet Politburo (see 'Problems of Adjustment in the Middle East' (1952), 61) and where he remained for the next four years.

In 1949, he joined the Foreign Office's new 'Information Research Department' (IRD), which the historian Richard Aldrich has described as a 'covert political warfare section', as successor to the 'Political Warfare Executive' (PWE) that had operated during the Second World War. A key figure in this organisation, he was first assistant to its Head, Ralph Murray, with the job of recruiting 'left-of-centre intellectuals' for the production of anti-communist 'grey' propaganda, and was later posted to Washington (Andrew Defty, 'Britain, America and Anti-Communist Propaganda' (Routledge 2004)). In the USA he served as Britain's 'psywar [psychological warfare] liaison officer' (Aldrich) in Washington between 1950 and sometime in the mid-1950s, before becoming Head of the African Department of the Foreign Office during the Suez Crisis of 1956. He served as Her Majesty's Ambassador to Mali (1960–61), Senegal, Mauritania and Togo (1960–62), and finally Cuba (1962–66). He returned to London in 1966 to spend two years as Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office before retiring early. After a period with British Leyland in the late 1960s, he entered academia, first at the Australian National University, at the invitation of Hedley Bull, and then in the United States, where he was Professor of International Studies at the University of Virginia.

In the late 1950s, it is likely that, given his extensive contacts in the United States and together with Kenneth W. Thompson, he was instrumental in facilitating the funding of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics, chaired in its early years by his former supervisor, Butterfield, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Watson became a member of Committee, attending when he was in the UK, and later becoming its third chairman, in succession to Butterfield and to Martin Wight. He was instrumental in the production of 'The Expansion of International Society' (1984), edited with Hedley Bull, a key text of the English school of international relations. He also wrote a number of other significant works, including 'The Nature and Problems of the Third World' (1968), 'Diplomacy' (1982) and 'The Evolution of International Society' (1992), a wide-ranging comparative study of historical international systems.


  • 1952 Problems of Adjustment in the Middle East.
  • 1984 (ed. with H. Bull) The Expansion of International Society.
  • 1992 The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis.
  • The Limits of Independence (Routledge, 1997)
  • 1998 The British Committee for the Theory of International Politics, some historical notes.
  • 2002 International Relations and the Practice of Hegemony.
  • 2002 Recollection of my discussions with Hedley Bull about the place in the history of International Relations of the idea of the Anarchical Society.
  • Diplomacy: The Dialogue Between States 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2004)
  • Hegemony & History (Routledge, 2007)


  • Richard J. Aldrich, The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence (Woodstock & New York: Overlook, 2002)
  • Adam Bernstein, J. H. Watson, 93; British Envoy, Scholar, Washington Post 14 September 2007, at [1]

External links[edit]