Funded PhD opportunities

Assessing the Character of Contemporary US/UK Counter Terrorism Engagement in West Africa

  • Application end date: Applications currently closed
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (UK students only)
  • Department: School of Languages and Area Studies
  • PhD Supervisor: Professor Tony Chafer, Dr Ed Stoddard, and Dr Elisa Lopez Lucia

ESRC South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership (SCDTP) funded. Project code: HPSS3711018

Applications are currently closed for this project, though may re-open in the autumn. If you wish to submit an expression of interest, please contact

Project in brief

The recent wave of Islamist extremist violence across West Africa has challenged West African states and precipitated a reconfiguration of foreign intervention in the region. While most scholarship in this area has focused on French intervention, the role of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers (the US and UK) has, despite key security concerns in the region, been largely overlooked. This fully-funded ESRC PhD Studentship will fill this gap by assessing a) the drivers of their respective military strategies; b) the forms of coalitions and local actions they support; and, c) the effect of this engagement on counter terrorism, conflict resolution and political governance.

Project in detail

Recent waves of Islamist insurgency (Al Qaeda in the Sahel and ISIS-aligned Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region) have profoundly impacted the security landscape in West Africa. In response, Western powers have been re-configuring their efforts to combat terrorism in the region, with most scholarship focusing on the robust interventionist role taken by France (the main external protagonist in the region). By contrast, and despite major security and development interests in the region, the on-going US/UK role (in training, exercises, logistics, surveillance & intelligence and military action) has been largely overlooked. To rectify this gap, this project assesses the character of recent USA/UK military/security engagements in West Africa examining the drivers of counter terrorism actions, the shaping of (and reactions to) changing regional security coalitions and the effects on counter terrorism, conflict resolution and political governance trajectories. The project is expected to be a qualitative study relying on elite interviews and discourse analysis.

Some regional travel may be required, but most research to be conducted in London/ Washington.

Specific research questions:

  • How have the USA and UK responded to increasing Islamist extremist insurgency in West Africa?
  • How are these engagements shaped by changing regional counter-terrorism coalitions?
  • How do these engagements affect counter terrorism, conflict resolution and regional governance trajectories?

Candidate specification

  • Essential: Excellent International Relations/Security Studies knowledge. Specialist regional (West Africa) and/or country-level (Mali/Nigeria) area studies knowledge. 
  • Desirable: Reading skills in French and experience of UK/USA foreign and security policies. 

For all funding, students must have qualifications of the standard of a good honours degree at first or upper second-class level, from a UK academic higher education institution. Degree qualifications gained from outside the UK, or a combination of qualifications and/or experience that is equivalent to a relevant UK degree, may be accepted.

How to Apply

Before you apply, please make sure you meet the candidate specification.

Candidates do not need to submit a project proposal, however are required to submit a 500 word personal statement to include:

  • Details of how your skills and interests match the project
  • Background and previous experience
  • Research interests

If you need to discuss this project and your application further then please contact a member of the supervision team as listed below, in advance of the deadline dates:

Professor Tony Chafer -

Dr Ed Stoddard -

There are two stages to the application process:

(1) The first application form you need to complete is for your chosen programme of study at the University of Portsmouth.

Apply to the University of Portsmouth through our standard online application form and follow the instructions given under the 'Research Degrees' heading on the following webpages before you submit your SCDTP application:

When applying to the University of Portsmouth, you will need to enter project code - HPSS3711018

The closing date for University of Portsmouth applications is 21 July 2017, 12.00 noon.

(2) The second application form which requires completion is the South Coast DTP Funding Application Form.  There are two versions of this form which can be downloaded. In accordance with the SCDTP guidance, please ensure you use the correct form (in this case the 'South Coast DTP Project Specific Application Form').

The 'South Coast DTP Project Specific Application Form', and more information on the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership can be found at:

You will then need to submit your funding application to the SCDTP by 28 July 2017

Funding notes

As well as covering all tuition fees, the studentship also includes an annual maintenance grant, of £14,553 (2017/18).

Please note, students applying without a Master's qualification containing a substantial Social Sciences methods component may be required to complete such a Master's beforehand. The Master's will be fully funded by the SCDTP.