Internationally-renowned terrorism expert, Professor Emeritus Paul Wilkinson, who came to St Andrews University in 1989 when he was appointed to its first Chair in international relations, has died at the age of 74.
Recognised as a pioneer of the study of terrorism and political violence, Professor Wilkinson was co-founder of the university’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.
Born in Middlesex, he was educated at John Lyon School, Harrow, and gained a BA in Modern History and Politics at University College, Swansea, followed by an MA.
After six years’ service as a regular RAF officer, he started his academic career in 1966 at the University of Wales, Cardiff, as assistant lecturer in politics, becoming senior lecturer and then Reader in politics at Cardiff before being appointed to the first Chair in International Relations at Aberdeen University in 1979.
A decade later he came to St Andrews and the following year was made the first head of the new Department of International Relations.
In 1994 he co-founded, with its first director Bruce Hoffman, the unique research centre, CSTPV (Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence), which has since become one of the most respected and best known in its field. From 1989-94 he was director of the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism.
At St Andrews, the School of International Relations experienced a huge expansion in staff and student numbers, and Professor Wilkinson played a significant role in this. He was a popular teacher and mentor, and was highly instrumental in the development of the CSTPV.
Co-founder and co-editor of the academic journal Terrorism and Political Violence from 1989-2006, he directed a research project funded by the ESRC on the preparedness of the UK for future terrorist attack.
Throughout his career, he was a strong opponent of terrorism of all kinds. In his publications and contributions to the media he consistently argued that the democratic response to both domestic and international terrorism should always be guided by the rule of law.
He publicly opposed attempts to increase the period permitted to detain terrorism suspects without trial in the UK and condemned the Guantanamo project and other measures by the administration of President George W. Bush which departed from basic rule of law principles.
Speaking in 2006 he said: “I have discovered that, contrary to so much received opinion, it is possible for democracies to respond effectively to contemporary terrorism without undermining basic civil liberties and the rule of law, and that the protection of human rights, far from being an obstacle to effective counter-terrorism is a vital part of an effective long-term democratic response.”
Professor Wilkinson was the sole author of 15 books on the subject of terrorism, including Lessons of Lockerbie (1989), and joint author of a further 10.
He retired from his position as chairman of the Advisory Board for the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in August 2007 and was appointed Emeritus Professor of International Relations.
He was not just a familiar face around St Andrews but in living rooms around the globe as a well-known commentator on the scourge of terrorism. A widely quoted expert in the media in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the USA, he was still providing expert comment to the media following the Norway atrocities last month.
In 2009, Professor Wilkinson was appointed CBE in recognition of distinguished public service.
While nominally retired, he remained indefatigable in recent years speaking to the media and policymakers, organising and attending conferences, engaging with CSTPV, continuing to teach and writing. At the time of his death he was working on a new book due to be published next year.
He was a close friend of St Andrews University’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, with whom he shared academic and research interests.
She said:”Paul was a personal friend. He treated younger scholars in the field with unfailing generosity and courtesy. It is hard to imagine St Andrews without him but he has left a lasting legacy in the School of International Relations and the CSTPV.”
Professor Wilkinson, who resided in Crail, is survived by his wife Sue, whom he married in 1960, children, Rachel, John and Charles and several grandchildren.