Mission Creep: the unplanned twists and turns of my project.

Mission creep: ‘the tendency for a task, especially a military operation, to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objective’ (Collins Dictionary, 2017).

Mission Creep first surfaced in my project as the theoretical concept I would use to examine the evolution of the Libyan intervention from the initial limited aim of protecting civilians to the more grandiose aim of removing Gaddafi and enacting regime change. I applied the concept of mission creep to my analysis of language present in the media and the speeches of Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy to uncover how they managed to re-frame the mission as one to remove Colonel Gaddafi.

Protests in Libya again the foreign intervention into what was considered Libyan internal affairs.

To my surprise, I soon began to realise that the concept of mission creep was becoming so much more than just a small area of my analysis. As the first few weeks passed I began to see the real life applications of this concept. I started the project with the belief that I would first analyse the concepts of white and western supremacy, before moving on to researching the 2011 Libya intervention, in which I would examine the role of oil interests in Libya, and the role of the media and western leaders in enacting mission creep. This would then be neatly tied up into a poster and report within ten weeks.

How wrong I was.

Slowly, almost without my notice, my own mission began to creep. My good intentions meant that my mission had started out well defined in my mind, set out in manageable chunks week by week. I envisioned a smooth 10-week programme, in which I would have no problems focusing on the research questions at hand. However, my mission slowly expanded every day. Daily I would come across another concept that I found interesting, or another instance of western supremacy in Libya, and I would set out down that rabbit hole of research. I was finding it very difficult to establish the parameters of my research project. This resulted in frustration when I realised that I couldn’t possibly cover every single aspect of the study due to practical reasons, such as time limits.

Fortunately, being the practical soul that I am, I sought advice from my ever-patient supervisor, Dr Hazel Cameron. She reminded me that there was only so much I could achieve within the ten weeks allocated to this project, and to refocus on what really mattered- the crux of the project which was the foundational concept of western supremacy. Although it might seem somewhat simplistic, reminding myself every now and then to ‘think back to the question’ as it were, helped immensely in keeping my ambitions in check. She helped me to see how to break my project down in manageable chunks, and once I had compiled a document with a more in-depth week-to-week outline, and the points of study for my project, everything suddenly came back into focus.

In retrospect, it is somewhat good to see evidence of ‘mission creep’ in our projects. It is a reminder that we have chosen incredibly interesting topics to study, topics which we are passionate about and can see a future for. Finding yourself researching an avenue you had never expected is simply evidence of your interest in your chosen topic, and your dedication to the project.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to pursue this project, especially since I found so many different aspects of the study that I would never have been aware of before this. My main takeaway from this is that mission creep- unless intervening in another state- is not always a bad thing!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lord Laidlaw, and the Laidlaw Undergraduate Programme for Research and Leadership 2017 for the opportunity to undertake this research. It has been immensely valuable for me to explore the world of research projects, and I cannot thank everyone involved enough for this.


1. ‘Hands off Libya’, Al Jazeera.



Leave a Reply