Sir Laurence Martin obituary | history books

In his BBC Reith lectures in 1981, historian and security strategist Laurence Martin spoke of the “wretchedly dangerous” need to avoid nuclear war, concerns that have recently returned to confront the Western world. He was well aware of the enormous difficulties of trying to ensure the outcome of “the endless search for security”, which became the subject of the final chapter of the book from the lecture series, The Two Edged Sword: Armed Force. in the Modern World (1982).

While advocating vigorous and open debate, he acknowledged the difficulty of establishing a relationship of trust with a nuclear power such as the former Soviet Union, and was “relatively pessimistic” about the prospects for a more great degree of unity and autonomy of Western Europe in matters of defence. Questions. Our peace was temporary in nature, and to maintain the balance of power, security had to be present when needed: each generation had to do its own security. Thus, he strongly opposed unilateral disarmament and advocated vigorous defensive efforts, combined with maintaining conventional weapons capability and sea power.

In a letter to the Telegraph in 2014, before the Russian invasion of Crimea, he reiterated the need to maintain the balance of power in the west. His books included Peace Without Victory: Woodrow Wilson and the British Liberals (1958), Arms and Strategy: An International Survey of Modern Defense (1973), Strategic Thought in the Nuclear Age (1979) and The Changing Face of Nuclear Warfare (1987) .

Considered by some to be right-wing or an “extreme moderate”, Laurie himself viewed his politics as a midfielder. He was an accomplished committee man, able to sway public opinion with his quick wit, diplomacy and personal charm, earning the respect and admiration of those with whom he worked. Curious about everyone he met, he had an innate sense of fairness.

These qualities have been invaluable assets for his involvement in many national and international institutions. They included the Center for Stategic and International Studies in Washington, where Henry Kissinger was another leader, from 1969, of which he was co-president from 1998 and senior adviser for six years from 2000. In London, he was involved with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, serving on its board from 1973 to 1983, and the Institute for the Study of Conflict. The culmination of his work as a security strategist came as director of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1991-96).

This position coincided with the end of the Cold War, when the institute’s experts, researchers and staff played a key role in facilitating dialogue between members of governments and policy makers around the challenges of the outbreak of the Soviet Union, the war in Yugoslavia and its dissolution, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the increased role of the United Nations in international politics. At the same time, since Chatham House’s core government funding had ceased (it is now an independent body), Laurie has helped modernize its fundraising and encouraged improved communications with decision-makers by developing its Internet use.

After spending a few years in the United States, Laurie never completely lost a slight Mid-Atlantic accent. But he was very proud to be born and raised in Cornwall: his mother, Florence (née Woodward), worked in the local brewery in St Austell, and his father, Leonard Martin, was a teacher. From St Austell’s High School, Laurie went to Christ’s College, Cambridge for a History degree (1948). He then did two years of national service with the RAF as a pilot officer, then an aviation officer, based in Cornwall.

The first time he crossed the Atlantic was to do a doctorate on Woodrow Wilson at Yale. He was then assistant professor at MIT (1955-1961), associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and associate researcher at the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research.

Returning to Britain, he became Woodrow Wilson Professor of International Politics at the University of Wales in 1964, and four years later head of the war studies department at King’s College London. He expanded it, introduced an ethicist and historian of diplomacy, and took a keen interest in the development of the college’s Liddell Hart Center for Military Archives, where I met him.

His next move, to become Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University in 1978, reflected recognition of his negotiating and administrative skills. His 12 years at Newcastle were spent at a time of reform in the higher education system and expansion of the university. He was a popular figure, and his decision to allow Channel 4 to film a documentary series, Redbrick, in 1985 proved successful, bringing the work and life of the university to a wide audience.

In 1994 he was knighted and in retirement enjoyed his garden in Suffolk, fishing in Northumberland and steam train travel.

He married Betty Parnall in 1951 and they had a daughter, Jane, and a son, Bill. His wife and daughter predeceased him; he is survived by his son and two grandsons, Tom and Jack.

Laurence Woodward Martin, historian and security strategist, born July 30, 1928; died on April 24, 2022

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