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Public inquiries into conflict and security: Scandals, archives, and the politics of epistemology

Thomas, O., Tudor, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-7361-9408 & Pennell, C. (2024). Public inquiries into conflict and security: Scandals, archives, and the politics of epistemology. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, doi: 10.1177/13691481231221473


Public inquiries into matters of conflict and security are vitally important yet undertheorised. This article explores the potential of inquiries for the democratic scrutiny of foreign policy, military doctrine, and grand strategy. In recent decades, there have been numerous inquiries into contentious foreign and security policy incidents in Britain, a trend reflected elsewhere in global politics. Inquiries can unveil facts, identify lessons, and rebuild trust. But critics claim that inquiries overlook systemic flaws. Our analysis transcends the usual arguments for or against public inquiries by explaining how inquiries produce knowledge and how this could be improved. We argue that inquiries necessarily involve the following three distinct processes: scandalisation, archivisation, and epistemology. We suggest how future inquiries could overcome extant limitations through a broader scope, diversification of evidence, and methodological pluralism. Such inquiries can play an improved role in promoting reflection and dialogue about a just international order and Britain’s role within it.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2024. Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 4.0). This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Publisher Keywords: archives, British foreign policy, Iraq War, postcolonialism, public inquiry, scandals
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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