Susan Willett: Defence expert who argued that an ethical arms policy is essential for international security

Sue Willett was an expert in the economics of defence and international defence policy. She became one of the foremost authorities on the vicious cycle of debt, underdevelopment and conflict in the developing world and called for radical action by the international community to break the cycle. Her conviction that the developed world can only bring about security if it pursues an ethical arms policy has been vindicated time and time again.

Susan Mary Willett was born in 1952 in Henley-on-Thames, though her early life was spent in colonial style in an army family in Kenya and Singapore before she joined Newton Abbot Grammar School in Devon. By her late teens she was embracing the radical ideas of the 1960s, clashing with her authoritarian father, who refused to support her through art college.

It was a conflict that launched her on an independent path and by the age of 22 she had married and had a son. She joined her husband, Fred Hasson, as an undergraduate at the School of Peace Studies at Bradford, juggling childcare, studying and playing an active part in the European Nuclear Disarmament movement. In 1980, as part of her degree, she travelled to post-revolutionary Nicaragua to work on the literacy campaign with the NGO Third World First. There, memorably, she was threatened at gunpoint in her hotel room by Maoist guerrillas.

By the time she graduated, she had discovered her talents as a researcher and writer and was excited by the chance to engage critically with Britain’s role in the developing world. She took an MPhil at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex, which launched her on an academic career as an expert on the economics of defence. Willett was a feminist and a rigorous thinker who never took ortho

doxies at face value but looked for the vested interests behind every institutional policy and pronouncement. She spent two years researching at Birkbeck College, where she learnt a healthy disrespect for reductionist econometric modelling. She then took a research position at the Centre for Defence Studies at Kings College London, building her reputation over seven years as a specialist in international defence policy and development, especially in sub-Sarahan Africa.

In 1993 she was invited to help draw up the defence budget for the first ANC government-in-waiting, and was a guest at the Guild Hall dinner for|Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the UK. She also acted as a UN election monitor in South Africa, Mozambique and Croatia. Later she spent time at the Copenhagen to the Peace Research Institute before joining the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva.

An articulate speaker, Willett was often asked to contribute as a defence expert to television discussions. She would calmly demolish unsubstantiated assertions from the defence establishment – often to the consternation of some of her senior colleagues. She was the first to suggest that Britain’s defence budget would be better served by buying Sukoi jets from Russia at a quarter of the cost, than by proceeding with the hugely expensive Eurofighter jet. Its role, she astutely asserted, was defunct before it was built. Her study of Europe’s role in the proliferation of weapons in South East Asia made her an important expert during the row over British arms sales to Indonesia.

Sue Willett was never a one dimensional academic but lived life to the full, whether in the company of friends, discussing the latest novels, or windsurfing in the English Channel or off the coast of Spain. Her good looks and

radiant smile lit up every room she entered. She was an impeccable hostess and took pride in serving wonderful meals on the most tasteful tableware. Her passionate views would often keep her dinner companions up debating late into the night.

She was a prolific writer of research papers and contributed to several books on defence. Confident of her knowledge and expertise, she was comfortable moving in the very male world of military affairs – perhaps, as she often said, because she’d grown up in such a world as a child. But her familiarity with this world did not stop her being its fiercest critic. She was driven by a passionate belief that corporate vested interests were corrupting the West’s foreign and defence policies, making the world a more dangerous place.

Recently, with Western defence circles increasingly caught up with the so called “war on terror”, Willett’s incisive analysis was less in vogue and she complained that it was harder to get her research funded by mainstream sources. She continued writing for disarmament publications, contributing regularly to the journal International Peacekeeping. In 2010 she was the guest editor of its special issue on “Women, Peace and Conflict: A Decade after Resolution 1325”.

Sue Willett remained a radical to the end, perhaps unconsciously taking her cue from her Suffragette grandmother. Her talent for interior and garden design were informed by a keen artistic eye and an enquiring mind that fashioned lovely homes and beautiful gardens. She has left her mark wherever she lived – on the wild, windswept hills of the Pennines, in the West Country, in the gardens around her home in Brighton and her house in Gaucin. In the last few years she inspired many friends with her enthusiasm for yoga, training as a yoga teacher herself.

In her last year her fearsome energies were deployed in her fight to survive inoperable pancreatic cancer. She read widely on alternative treatments and, with the support of her family, established a dietary and spiritual regime of extraordinary self-discipline. That she construed her dreadful prognosis as her final adventure in life was a perfect example of the kind of indomitable fighter she would want to be remembered as. She will also be remembered as a great cook, a funny raconteur and someone not to lock horns with – unless one was well prepared for a trenchant debate.

Susan Mary Willett, defence expert: born Henley-on-Thames 3 December 1952; married 1974 Fred Hasson (one son); died Brighton 13 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?