Crisis Decision-Making in War and Peace 1914-2003

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Stevenson


This course is compulsory on the MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University). This course is available on the MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


The course is intended for students with or without a detailed knowledge of the international relations of the twentieth century. Students without a detailed knowledge are advised to undertake preliminary background reading.

Course content

The history of international relations from the First World War to the Iraq War. Particular stress is placed upon key turning points and on crisis decision-making. Topics examined in this course include German decision-making in 1914; peacemaking, 1919; the Ruhr occupation crisis; Manchuria, Abyssinia and the crises of collective security; the Munich agreement; the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the outbreak of war in 1939; Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union; the outbreak of the Pacific War; the creation of the state of Israel, 1948-49; the Berlin Blockade; the outbreak and escalation of the Korean War; the Suez Crisis; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the US and Vietnam, 1961-65; the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973; German reunification and the collapse of the Soviet bloc; the origins of the Gulf War, 1990-91; the road to the 2003 Iraq War.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of seminars in the ST.

The course will be taught in 20 weekly seminars of two hours' duration. There is one reading week in the MT and one in the LT and a revision session in the Summer Term. Students will be expected to read widely in documentary and other primary sources, and to participate actively in the seminars, which will address the historiographical debates raised in the secondary literature on the topics covered.

Formative coursework

Students will write four essays. Three of the essays will be up to 3,000 words in length and draw upon primary sources. The fourth will be a shorter timed essay produced in class

Indicative reading

Full bibliographies are provided in the seminars. Students may consult the following introductory accounts: W. R. Keylor, The Twentieth-Century World: an International History; A. Best, J. M. Hanhimäki, J. A. Maiolo, and K. E. Schulze, International History of the Twentieth Century; S.Marks, The Ebbing of European Ascendancy: an International History of the World, 1914-1945; Z. Steiner, The Lights that Failed: European International History, 1919-1933; Z. Steiner, The Triumph of the Dark: European International History, 1919-1939; R.W. Boyce and J. A. Maiolo (eds.), The Origins of World War Two: The Debate Continues; O. A. Westad, Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretation, Theory; D. J. Reynolds, One World Divisible: a Global History since 1945; M. P. Leffler and O. A. Westad, eds, The Cambridge History of the Cold War. 


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

There will be one three-hour written examination in the ST. Questions on the earlier and the later topics are in separate sections of the examination paper. Candidates are expected to answer three questions, with at least one taken from each section of the paper.

Teachers' comment

This course has no designated lectures; it is taught through two-hour seminars.

Students wishing for a survey of the period and topics covered by the course are welcome to attend the undergraduate lecture course HY116 International History since 1890.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2018/19: 66

Average class size 2018/19: 13

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication