Ilmari Käihkö

Associate Professor, Senior Lecturer

War Studies


Department of War Studies and Military History

Strategy Division

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Associate professor of War Studies. In 2006-2008 I studied and in 2010-2012, 2015 and 2016 worked at the Swedish Defence University, before returning for tenure in May 2018. I am also a veteran of the Finnish Defence Forces, and have worked with several development cooperation and peacebuilding NGOs in East and West Africa.
My academic interests concern contemporary war, examined through the seemingly fringe, but in reality rather representative cases, such as Liberia and Ukraine. It is arguably such cases which force us to reconsider many of our deeply held notions about war, and hence push us towards new conceptualizations.

My studies often focus on what I call the cultural sociology of war, underpinned by ethnographic study of contemporary conflict. This contributes to my curiosity towards methodological issues, which I focused on during may stay at the Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, in 2014. To date I have conducted around 3,5 years of different kind of fieldwork, predominantly on the African continent.

My current project, the start of which was supported by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders' Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) at the Department of Sociology, Uppsala University and the Department of Anthropology, Yale University, investigates the volunteer battalions in Ukraine, and through them issues of strategy - creation, control and use of force - as well as the relationship between nation, state and war. Another collaborative project with Jan Willem Honig from the Department of War Studies, King's College London, focuses on the Swedish-Finnish strategy in Afghanistan. A third project continues to probe methodological issues, not least those connected to what I call chatnography and broader conflict ethnography. Finally, I have continued my PhD research that focuses on war in Liberia, and especially the cohesion and dynamics of the various armed groups that fought there.

I have lectured about various topics connected to war, peace and culture in several public and private events as well as universities in Nordic countries, as well as University of Zurich and Yale University. At the Swedish Defence University my teaching focuses on military theory, strategy and ethnographic methods. I regularly contribute to public debates regarding related matters in especially Swedish and Finnish media, but even abroad. In 2022, I was chosen by the Finnish public broadcasting company YLE to become a summer speaker. My speech focused on war studies and the war in Ukraine

Selected peer-reviewed publications:
Ambiguity and Methodological Transparency in the Study of Civil War: An Answer to Thémner’s ‘Lingering Command Structures’ in Liberia
• Civil Wars

‘Once a combatant, always a combatant’? Revisiting assumptions about Liberian former combatant networks
• Journal of Modern African Studies 60 (1), pp. 23-43

The Evolution of Hybrid War: Implications for Strategy and the Military Profession
• Parameters, 51:3, 2021, pp. 115-127.

A Conventional War: Escalation in the War in Donbas, Ukraine
• Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 34:1, 2021, pp. 24–49.

Toward Strategic Cohesion: A Reply to King’s Criticism of the Call for a Broader View of Cohesion
• Armed Forces & Society 47:3, 2021, pp- 596-603.

Conflict ethnography goes online: Chatnography of the Ukrainian volunteer battalions
• In Roger Mac Ginty, Roddy Brett and Birte Vogel (eds). (2020). The Companion to Peace and Conflict Fieldwork. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 207-221.

Conflict chatnography: Instant messaging apps, social media and conflict ethnography in Ukraine
• Ethnography, 21:1, 2020, pp- 71–91.

On Brokers, Commodification of Information and Liberian Former Combatants
• Civil Wars 21:2, 2019, pp. 179-199.

On Liberian Secret Societies and Conflict Resolution
• Nordic Journal of African Studies 28:1, 2019

Full-Spectrum Social Science for a Broader View on Cohesion
• Armed Forces & Society 46, 3: 2019, pp. 517-522 (together with Peter Haldén)

Constructing War in West Africa (and Beyond)
• Comparative Strategy 37:5, 2019, pp. 485-501.

War as Nothing but a Duel: War as a social institution and the construction of the Western military profession
• Journal of Military Studies, 2018

The MODEL Social Structure of an Armed Group: From Liberian refugees to heroes of Côte d’Ivoire and liberators of the homeland
• Small Wars & Insurgencies 29:4, 2018, pp. 776-800.

A Nation-in-the-Making, in Arms: Control of Force, Strategy and the Ukrainian Volunteer Battalions
• Defence Studies, 18:2, 2018, pp. 147-166.

Introduction to the Armed Forces & Society Special Issue on Broadening the Perspective on Military Cohesion
• Armed Forces & Society, 44:4, 2018, pp. 563–570.

Broadening the Perspective on Military Cohesion
• Armed Forces & Society, 44:4, 2018, pp. 571–586.

Liberia Incorporated: Military Contracting, Cohesion and Inclusion in Charles Taylor’s Liberia
• Conflict, Security & Development 17:1, 2017, pp. 53-72.

All Krigföring är Hybrid i sin Natur [All Warfare Is By Nature Hybrid]
• Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift 118:4, 2016, pp. 623-641.

Bush Generals and Small Boy Battalions: Military Cohesion in Liberia and Beyond
• (2016). PhD Dissertation: Uppsala University.

Mystical and Modern Transformations in the Liberian Civil War
• In Haldén, Peter and Peter Jackson (eds.). (2016). Transforming Warriors: The Ritual Organization of Military Force. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 126-143.

‘No Die, No Rest?’ Coercive Discipline in Liberian Military Organizations.
• Africa Spectrum, 50, 2, 2015, pp. 3-29.

‘Taylor must go’ – the strategy of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy
• Small Wars & Insurgencies, 26, 2, 2015, pp. 248-270.

The Likely Lads: The Joint Swedish-Finnish Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e Sharif
• In Chiari, Bernard (ed.). (2014). From Venus to Mars? Provincial Reconstruction Teams and the European Military Experience in Afghanistan, 2001-2014. Freiburg i.Br., Berlin, Wien: Rombach, pp. 209-220. (published together with Jan Willem Honig)

The:Crisis in CAR: Navigating Myths and Interests
• Africa Spectrum, 49, 1, 2014, pp. 69-77. (published together with Mats Utas)

Challenges of Command: The Rise of the ‘Strategic Colonel’
• In Haas, Harald (ed.). (2012). Authentic Leadership in Extreme Situations. New York, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt a/M: Peter Lang., pp. 89-108 . (published together with Jan Willem Honig)

Big Man Bargaining in African Conflicts
• In Utas, Mats (ed.). (2012). African Conflicts and Informal Regimes of Power. Zed Books: London, pp. 181-204.

Into the Informal - The Informal Realities of Power-sharing in Sub-Saharan Africa
• Africa Programme Report – Strategy Section, Swedish National Defence College, 2011, No. 4

The Use of Battlefield Contractors in Post-Occupation Iraq
• Kungl Krigsvetenskapsakademien Handlingar och Tidskrift, nr 5 2008, pp.8-35. (published together with Marcus Mohlin)
Ilmari Käihkö Swedish Defense University Universitetslektor