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Reflections on the Writing of my Dissertation 

16 February 2024

4 mins

By Christian Scott, Winner of the Runners Up 2022 Dissertation Prize in the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, Loughborough University London  

Espionage has always been a subject matter that has interested me, stemming back to my love of James Bond films as a child. However, I think that it is a topic that is often mischaracterised, considered in a negative context as a manner for one nation to steal secrets from another. Whilst this is sometimes the case, I believe there are also many examples of espionage being used in a far more positive sense to try to gain information to prevent, de-escalate or end conflicts and improve diplomatic relations. It is also true that spies do not often receive the credit they deserve for their role in shaping key events due to the secrecy in which they operate. My dissertation focused on the importance of one such spy: Oleg Gordievsky in ending the Cold War which so easily could have concluded with the use of nuclear weapons without his contributions.  

Gordievsky is an inspirational man who risked his life on a daily basis for over 10 years in working for Britain covertly because he believed in the values of a democratic society which we now enjoy the benefits of. He is still under 24/7 surveillance living in the UK as he is still a potential target of Russian retribution, particularly following the attempted assassination of another former military intelligence officer who worked for Britain named Sergei Skripal. 

I had wanted to write about Gordievsky ever since reading ‘The Spy and the Traitor’ by Ben Macintyre, which describes Gordievsky’s life and incidentally is a must-read. I had wanted to interview Macintyre as he is one of the few people to have actually met Gordievsky and talked to him in detail in the researching of his book but unfortunately, he was unavailable for an interview. As such I needed another method of research. I determined to research Gordievsky’s impact through an examination of Margaret Thatcher’s speeches towards the USSR in the period before and after she began receiving intelligence briefings regarding the USSR from Gordievsky. This may seem an unusual way to measure the influence of a spy on UK public policy, but due to the secrecy of his work, very little has actually been published about Gordievsky from official UK government sources. Despite the general availability of much of Thatcher’s speeches online, most are within the confines of PMQ’s or interviews where many others are speaking, this meant that all 292 sources within the chosen time period of 1979-1985 had to be manually edited to prevent the skewing of collected data.  

Thatcher had been called the Iron Lady, due to her tough stance on communism and constant criticisms of the USSR’s leadership in the years up to 1983. Just two years later however, Thatcher had declared Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ‘A man one could do business with’ and had secretly urged the US to cease its aggressive rhetoric towards the USSR leading to significantly improved diplomatic relations. The discourse analysis utilised demonstrated that Gordievsky was pivotal in causing that shift in Thatcher’s thinking and vastly improving the West’s relationship with the USSR. Incidentally, I was very fortunate that in writing this dissertation I had the supportive presence of my supervisor Dr Tim Oliver who aided me in defining my objectives and providing me with the support I needed to produce the study. 

However, the aim of this study other than to illustrate Gordievsky’s importance to world history, was to highlight how espionage can be used in conflict resolution. This is particularly pertinent at present, as this should be considered by Western nations in Russia’s current conflict with Ukraine. At a time when global politics is increasingly being seen in the zero-sum manner of the Cold War era, with rising tensions between NATO, Russia and China, it seems a good time to reflect upon how we interact with other people and nations, as well as how our efforts; overt or secretive, should be focussed on trying to improve understanding and collaboration, rather than aiming to gain superiority over others. 

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