As a teenager Rosemary became interested in War Studies. Her father had fought in the Second World War, barely escaping with his life in the retreat from Dunkirk at the beginning of the war and then participating in the Normandy invasion towards the end. She sensed what a formative experience the war had been for him and she wanted to understand better the role that war seems to play in giving meaning to the lives of those directly embroiled in it.
As an undergraduate at university in London at the beginning of the 1970s, she was struck by how many of her male colleagues were fascinated by the Vietnam War. They debated whether they would have tried to dodge the draft, if they had been born American, or would have wanted to see what it was like to have to risk their lives and take the lives of others in a war zone. After completing a degree in History, she opted to go on to study for an MA in War Studies.
Following that, Rosemary travelled around North and Central America, before trying her hand at various jobs back in London. It was only after she spent a year working for a Lebanese company, as a researcher investigating the history of the Arab Gulf states, that she became interested in the Middle East. To pursue her continuing interest in War Studies, aged 29 she decided to undertake a PhD and won a fellowship to do so at George Washington University in Washington DC. The topic she chose was Britain’s adaptation to decline, as played out in the smaller Arab Gulf states in the 1970s and ‘80s.
A post-doctoral fellowship took her to Israel and Palestine during the first Palestinian Intifada or uprising – and she was ‘hooked’. Returning to work in London in 1989 she gained a position at the defence ‘think tank’ RUSI as head of their Middle East Programme. She was on a research trip to Jordan in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and thus began 18 years of work in the ‘think tank’ world researching the role of the UK, US and the EU in successive conflicts in the region. She became Head of the Middle East Programme at Chatham House in 1995, followed by three years as Director of Research there from 2005-08.
Undertaking many projects in partnership with colleagues from think tanks in the US, Europe, Iran, the UAE, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Egypt, she also participated in or facilitated a number of cross-conflict dialogue exercises, including between Israelis and Palestinians; Jordanians and Palestinians; Iranians and Americans; Libyans, Europeans and Americans. She made frequent trips to different parts of the Middle East every year from 1989 to 2008, when she left Chatham House to become Director of a scholarship programme for Israelis and Palestinians at London University. That meant ten years during which she concentrated on better understanding the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Her latest book, “Surviving the Story”, focuses on the role of group or national narratives in driving conflict – with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a case study.
She reflects that, whereas in her 20s and 30s, she was most fascinated by big ideas and strategic developments, over time she has come increasingly to the view that the explanations for war lie in human psychology.