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The Royal United Services Institute has been at the heart of military and security thinking for over 180 years. The Duke of Wellington established the Institute in 1831 and some of the most influential thinkers in the  nineteenth and twentieth centuries worked and spoke at RUSI.

RUSI has been at the centre of policy-making and thinking about defence and security throughout the zenith and transformation of the British Empire, two world wars, the Cold War and now the ‘new disorder’ of the contemporary world.  RUSI’s own history parallels and reflects the story of Britain in the world throughout two tumultuous centuries. It remains an intrinsic part of the research and debate that surrounds military and security thinking in this country and today it is more active than ever.

Between Peace and War: British Defence and the Royal United Services Institute, 1831-2010

In its long history, RUSI has borne witness to tumultuous international and technological change. This book offers a lively and insightful survey of this extraordinary period of British and international history, through the lens of an institution that both reflected and shaped the unfolding British approach to a changing, and often dangerous, world.

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The Duke of Wellington's support was instrumental in the successful conclusion of this endeavour, and in 1831 the Naval and Military Museum was formed.  This was renamed to the United Services Institution in 1839, and in 1860 Royal patronage was granted to the Institution as a mark of its growing importance.  The founders perceived that the future of the Institute lay with attracting the youngest and brightest officers, and set the subscription for them as low as 10s per annum.

The RUSI's influence began to be more greatly felt as a result of the developments in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  British complacency in security and defence policy was gravely shaken by the strategic developments of the period: wars in Europe, the USA and India; the Russian expansion into Central Asia; and developments in naval technology.  New questions demanded new answers, and RUSI would serve as the prime platform for debates in the field of defence.  The Institute, through its promotion of informed debate, undoubtedly exercised a significant degree of influence in British defence policy in the period.

Throughout the nineteenth century, it stimulated and maintained a most vigorous military membership who saw in it a forum - the only forum - where military policy could be discussed and questioned among fellow professionals regardless of rank or title. It provided an important thread of military history and as its role developed, an understanding of defence and security policy for Britain in the international arena. RUSI was the model for similar institutes across the world and created an international network of scholars and members who all saw the concept of a united services institute as an important part of their professional milieu.

The Royal United Services Institute Museum, with Whitehall (Illustration, 1896). Banqueting House, acquired by the Institute in 1894, is shown here in this nineteenth century drawing.

A minimal in-house staff ensured that until the mid-Twentieth century, the impetus within the Institute came from active members, who were usually junior officers.  In the 1960s, such a group of rising officers, in a letter to the Times, publicly argued for an independent think-tank for academic study of national defence.  This initiative, which caught the attention of Lord Mountbatten and elicited his support, marked the beginning of a slow but sure expansion of the Institute's activities. 

The early 1990s saw a marked expansion of its professional activities.  The building benefited from much-needed repairs and refurbishment, and RUSI developed an extensive programme of events to complement its research activities.  An evolving structure saw the studies section split into first two departments in the mid-1990s (Military Sciences and International Security Studies), and then in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, a third department was introduced to focus on issues of Homeland Security and Resilience. Most recently, the Institute has signalled its intent to expand and continue its mission by announcing the creation of a new overseas branch in Doha, Qatar.

Throughout its almost 180 years of existence, the Institute has remained faithful to its heritage and founding principles, continuing in its mission to generate rational and free-thinking debate on issues of security and defence. It is now concerned with all aspects of defence and security, from homeland security to the concerns of regional and international security in the broadest sense.

Timeline

1831: Naval and Military Library Museum founded.

1839: Title changed to United Services Institution.

1857: The Journal begins publication.

1860: Royal charter granted.

1878: A gold medal prize for essays submitted in alternate years on naval and military subjects introduced.

1895: RUSI moves to current premises on Whitehall.

1900: The gold medal is superseded by the Chesney and Trench Gascoigne essay prizes.

1962: The Government reclaims Banqueting House.

1963: Lord Cameron, Admiral Sir Louis le Bailly and Brigadier Kenneth Hunt, then students at Imperial Defence College, write a letter to The Times arguing for a wider role for RUSI.

2004: Institute changes name to Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Present structure introduced.

2007: RUSI(Qatar) formally announced.

2008: RUSI US launched.

Further Reading

A History of the Royal United Services Institute
Shelford Bidwell

The RUSI, Imperial Defence and the Expansion of Empire 1829-90
D P O'Connor