Dr Rob Johnson

Senior Research Fellow, Changing Character of War

Detailed Biography

Dr Johnson’s specialisms are in War; Strategy and Strategic Thinking; Military Operations; and Armed Conflict in the Middle East

I work on the History of War in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with particular interest in the First World War and the Inter-War Years. This research informs studies of recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East. Thematically, I focus on strategy, conventional operations, tactical developments, revolutionary warfare, intelligence and counter-insurgency.



Robert Johnson works in the following fields:

•Military and International Diplomatic History; International Relations; Politics


I am the Director of the Oxford Changing Character of War Programme which is an interdisciplinary study of war and armed conflict. In 2016-20, the research priorities of the programme are the changing relationship between war and the state, war in a connected world, the laws and the moral dimensions of war. There is a particular interest in armed conflict in urban environments, civilians in war, and violent non-state actors. The CCW programme hosts a number of Visiting Research Fellows.  The CCW programme has been particularly successful in developing the dialogue between scholars, the armed services, governments and multinational organisations, and engaging in joint research projects, conferences and seminars.



•The Great War and the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2016)

•The Afghan Way of War (London and New York: Hurst-OUP, 2011)

•The Iran-Iraq War (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010)

•Pulverfass Im Hindukusch: Dschihad, Erdol und die Grossmachte in Zentralasien (Theiss, 2008)

•Oil, Islam and Conflict in Central Asia since 1945 (London: Reaktion, 2007)

•Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia 1757-1947 (London: Greenhill, 2006)

•A Region in Turmoil: South Asian Conflicts Since1947 (London: Reaktion, 2005).

•British Imperialism (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)

•True to Their Salt: Indigenous and Auxiliary Forces in Foreign Service (London and New York: Hurst-OUP, 2017)


Edited Volumes

•At the End of Military Intervention: Historical, Theoretical and Applied Solutions to Stabilization and Drawdown, Rob Johnson and Timothy Clack, (eds), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) including chapters ‘Introduction’ and ‘India and Pakistan, 1947-48’.

•The British Indian Army: Virtue and Necessity, Rob Johnson, (ed), (Cambridge: CSP, 2014) including 3 chapters: ‘Introduction’, ‘Making a Virtue Out of Necessity, 1746-1947’ and ‘The Indian Army on Expeditionary Operations, 1856-1914: China, Persia, and East Africa’.

•The Gallipoli Campaign: The Turkish Perspective, Rob Johnson and Metin Gurcan, (eds), (Routledge, 2016) including ‘Introduction’ and ‘A Contested Historiography’


Official Publications (Consultancy)

•NATO Study: Urban Warfighting: Strategy and Operations, 2015

•NATO Study: Urban Warfighting: The Human Dimension, 2016

•NATO COE-DAT Study: Future Terrorism and Insurgency 2015

•The Future Operating Environment

•Global Strategic Trends

•Army Doctrine Publication Operations

•Army Doctrine Publication Counter-Insurgency


Chapters and Journal Articles


Insurgency and Internal Security

•‘Command of the Army, Charles Gwynn and Imperial Policing: The British Doctrinal Approach to Internal Security in Palestine 1919-29’, article for Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Special Edition, 2014

•‘War Amongst the People’ and ‘The Consequences of a failed State’ in Afghanistan Revealed (London: Afghan Appeal Fund, and Frontline, 2013)

•‘General Roberts, the Occupation of Kabul and the Problems of Transition, 1879-1880’, in War in History 20:3 (July 2013)

•‘Managing Helmand: From Bost to Bastion’, in International Area Studies Review 15, 3 (2012): 279-300.

•‘Mizh der beitabora khalqi-i’: A Comparative Study of Afghan-Pashtun Perspectives on Negotiating with the British and the Soviets, 1839-1989’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Special Edition, 39, 4 (November 2011): 551-70.

•‘The Army in India and Responses to Low-Intensity Conflict, 1936-46’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 89, 358 (2011), 159-81

•‘The Indian Army and Internal Security, 1919-1946’ in Kaushik Roy (ed.), The Indian Army in the Two World Wars (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011)

•‘Small Wars and Internal Security: The Army in India, 1936-46’, in Alan Jefferies and Patrick Rose, (eds), The Indian Army, 1939-1947: Experience and Development (London: Ashgate, 2012)

•‘Wars of National Liberation’ in Sibylle Scheipers (ed), Heroism and the Changing Character of War: Toward Post-Heroic Warfare?  (Palgrave, 2014)

•Lessons in Imperial Rule: Instructions for Infantrymen on the Indian Frontier (London: Greenhill, 2008)

•‘The 1897 Revolt and Tirah Valley Operations from the Pashtun Perspective’ (Williamsburg, VA., November 2009)

•‘Introduction’ to C.E. Callwell, The Tirah Campaign (London: 1911; repubd. Williamsburg, VA, 2009)

•‘‘‘True to Their Salt’’: Mechanisms for recruiting and managing military labour in the Army of the East India Company during the Carnatic Wars in India’, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, 2011 due to be published in Labour and the Military (Leiden, due June 2013)

•‘Conception et conduite de la contra-insurrection en Afghanistan’, in Strategies Arabo-Mussalmanes et Irrgularite : Cultures et Discourses de Guerre, Strategique 103 (2013) Proceedings of the Centre de Recherche des Ecoles de Saint-Cyr Coetquidan, Ecoles Militaires, Paris : 193-218


Justifications of Violence, War and Intervention

•‘Upstream Engagement and Downstream Entanglement: the Assumptions, Opportunities and Threats of Partnering Indigenous Forces’, Small Wars and Insurgencies (Special Edition).

•‘Transformation of War: The Collision of States and Sub-State Polities’, in Transformations of War, John Torpey and David Jacobson, (eds), (Temple, 2016).

• ‘War and Civilization: The Paradox of the Nature of War and Civilization’s Need for War’, chapter in an edited volume, Alex Linklater, (ed), War and Civilization, (Engelsberg, 2016).

•‘Killing in Close Combat: Contexts and Concepts on Cohesion and Killing from the First Word War to the Present’, chapter in edited volume, Anthony King, (ed), Combat and Cohesion, (OUP, 2014).

•‘The Romanticism of the Revolutionary: Warriors of National Liberation’, in R. Hanks, (ed), Roots of Violence (Stockholm: Ax:Johnson, 2013)

•‘Jihad and the ‘‘War on Terror’’: Intelligence, Ethics, and Justice in Pakistan and Afghanistan’, in Mark Phythian and Anika Bergman, Intelligence Ethics and the War on Terror (Routledge, 2011)

•‘Mutazafin and Taghutti [The Oppressed and Tyrants]: Iran and its International Relations’ in the Iran-Iraq War’, in Nigel Ashton, Ranj Alaaldin and Bryan Gibson, (eds.), The Iran-Iraq War: New International Perspectives (London and New York: Routledge, 2012)

•‘Justifying the Iraq War and Managing the Media’, in David Welch and Jo Fox, (eds.), Justifying War (Routledge, 2012)


Sponsorship of Insurgency

•‘Pakistan’s ISI and Covert Operations in Afghanistan’, in K.C Gustafson and P. Davies, (eds), Intelligence Elsewhere (Georgetown University Press, 2013)

•‘ ‘‘Uncertain Loyalties’’: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and its Relationship with Western Intelligence Agencies’, in P.Major & C.R.Moran, (eds.), Spooked: Britain, Empire and Intelligence since 1945 (CSP: Cambridge, 2009)

•‘In the Service of Empire: Imperialism and the British Spy Thriller’, with C.R. Moran, in Studies in Intelligence, 54, 2, (June, 2010)


Strategies of Security

•‘The East India Company, the Indian Army and the China Wars, 1839-1860’ in Peter Lorge and Kaushik Roy (eds), India and China (London and New York: Routledge, 2012)

•‘The Penjdeh Incident, 1885’ Archives 24, 100, (1999): 28-48.

•‘ ‘‘Russians at the Gates of India’’’: Planning the Strategic Defence of India, 1884-1899’ Journal of Military History (USA: Virginia Military Institute), 67, (July 2003): 697-743.

•‘Introduction’ to Major General Charles Metcalfe MacGregor, The Second Afghan War: The Official History (London: Frontline, due 2013)

•‘The Great Game and Power Projection, 1856-1914’, in Jeff Macris and Saul Kelly, (eds), Imperial Crossroads: The Great Powers and the Gulf (Routledge, 2012)

•‘Sir Peter Stark Lumsden’, entry for the Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2009)

•‘A Plain Tale of Pundits, Players and Professionals: The Historiography of the Great Game’ in Chris Moran and Christopher Murphy (eds), Intelligence Studies in Britain and the United States: Historiography since 1945 (Edinburgh University Press, 2013)

•History at the End of the World: History, Climate Change and the Possibility of Closure, Mark Levene, Rob Johnson, Penny Roberts (eds), (Penrith: HEB, 2010) including chapter ‘Climate Change, Resources and Future War: The Case of Central Asia’.


Other History of War

•Utmutato a Gyozelemhez (London: Athenaeum, 2011)

•Hur Man Vinner pa Slagfaltet (Stockholm: Fischer, 2011)

•How to Win on the Battlefield (London: Thames and Hudson, 2010) edited with Michael Whitby and John France

•‘Boys at War: The Ubiquity of Child Soldiers’, lectures at All Souls and Magdalen published for the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust.