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2016 Summer Fellows

Matthew King | Summer 2016 and the Grand Strategy Connection

My Summer 2016 internship took me to New York City, where I worked for Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest (TAI). Through the internship, I contributed daily to Mead’s Via Meadia blog, writing analytical blog posts about current events around the world. At first, I took tasks from Walter’s staff writers and completed assignments for them. Over the course of the summer, however, I grew more confident in pitching my own stories and I was able to focus more on my foreign policy regional specialization: sub-Saharan Africa. My posts covered everything from the role of Christianity in an anti-government protest movement in Zimbabwe to attacks by the Niger Delta Avengers in Nigeria to the implications of mobile phone technology for socially conservative legislation in Uganda. By the end of the summer, I had written a feature-length article on an underreported terror attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I was interviewed on the TAI podcast. In addition to writing for the blog, I also worked as a research assistant for Mead as he finished the first draft of his next book, The Arc of a Covenant, a magisterial history of the U.S.-Israel relationship. At the end of the summer, I was hired to continue writing for TAI as a contributing writer for African issues.

Fortunately, my internship at TAI was flexible enough to allow me to take two weeks off to travel in the middle of the summer. I presented a paper at an academic conference in Israel and also got to spend a few days touring Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and Galilee. From Israel, I flew to Rwanda for a conference on post-genocide peace-building, where I was able to meet about 100 young leaders from the East African region (see photo). Meeting with Burundian refugees, among them teenagers who aspire to earn a scholarship to study in the West, made the current human rights situation in Burundi all the more tangible. I had faces to associate with the quarter-million Burundian refugees I had written about for TAI.

Close access to a leading thinker in the American foreign policy world and the chance to travel to two countries allowed me to think more deeply about American grand strategy. I would like to share a couple of lessons from my summer with you:

  1. Religion is underrated as a unit of analysis. In Israel and Rwanda, I encountered societies with higher levels of religiosity than the United States, places where religion really seemed to matter much more as a source of identity and principles than it does in the U.S. Seeing pilgrims from South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil in Israel etched an image of Christianity as a global faith still growing in appeal outside the West. This dovetailed nicely with my work at TAI; Mead is a priest’s son and he strives to incorporate religion in his analysis of the world. Later in the summer, as we were live-blogging the coup attempt in Turkey, Mead reminded all of us of why Erdogan’s Islamist appeal was so effective in the Anatolian heartland—again underscoring the importance of religion in world politics. Studying world politics from the vantage point of a secular classroom in the less-religious West can leave you with plenty of blind spots about the passions and identities that shape events in the world. One trend to watch now that my blind spot has been remedied: religious polarization in Africa, which has the potential to exacerbate conflicts along the Sahel between Christian and Muslim communities.
  2. The future is anything but boring. There was a time, around the mid-1990s when I was born, when some in the chattering classes—having imbibed a heady brew of poorly understood Fukuyama, no doubt—thought that American foreign policy would be quite uneventful in the coming years. Because America’s peer competitor had collapsed spectacularly under the weight of its own internal contradictions, and democracies and markets were expanding their reach and rootedness with every passing day, American grand strategy would become boring. Foreign policymaking would become much like domestic policy—“the slow and steady boring of hard boards,” to borrow from Weber. Not so. Whether it is a revanchist Russia threatening Eastern Europe and reasserting itself in the Middle East, an ascendant-but-slowing China turning to nationalism at home and expansionism in the South China Sea, a rising India seeking stronger ties with the U.S. and Japan, or the looming threat of terrorism reinventing itself as the dream of the caliphate fades, the challenge of making grand strategy is far from boring today. I can only imagine the changes, reversals, and advances I will witness over a career spent shaping American grand strategy.

I would like to close this memo by thanking you for funding the summer fellowship program. Your generosity made it possible for me to accompany Mead on a multi-day visit to Washington, D.C. where he spoke at the Hudson Institute and at an annual TAI dinner. You also helped to offset the high cost of rent in New York and some of my travel-related expenses. Thank you for your support of the program and I appreciate what you did to make the summer a success.

Roma Sonik | Public Policy Internship, Summer 2016

This summer, I was able to take part in an internship at Global Risk Advisors while doing research for the Department of Defense’s internal think tank in DC. Thanks to the AGS grant, I was able to garner skills and reflect on insights to bring my public policy education to life.

Economics and politics inform one another. 

Through my internship at Global Risk Advisors (GRA), I conducted analysis on a variety of global issues as they affected the economy. As I covered policies like Abenomics or Brexit, I quickly learned that the world of policy and economics were cyclic and tumultuous. While economic cost-benefit analyses were used to better understand future projections and predictions in the policy world, economic fluctuations were, in turn, frequently rooted in political decisions. As my economics professors had always insisted, I saw firsthand how policy was a kindling between ideology and economy. Studying the intersection between the two arenas has encouraged me to place more value on the partnership between public and private endeavors and the revolving door of the two sectors.

The beauty of bureaucracy encouraged negotiation and diversity in opinion. 

I had the opportunity to work for the Department of Defense’s internal scientific think tank, the Center for Technology and National Security Policy (CTNSP). During my time at the CTNSP, I was assigned to a project that aimed to advise the UN’s Peacekeeping Operations on better technologies and best practices to mitigate water use during operations. Between attending delegation meetings, doing research, and presenting my findings, I slowly began to engage with the infamous monster of bureaucracy involved with public policy.

To solve the UNPKO problem, the CTNSP brought together a range of professionals to tackle the topic, resulting in an interesting amalgamation of priorities and ideas. As Army generals expressed their priorities in safety and efficient movement when purchasing a device, economists demanded to emphasize the Return on Investment. Engineers explained the comparative benefits technologies available to use, and bureaucrats emphasized the details that must be built into an approval process. I began to wonder how a final docket would be able to incorporate all the competing claims and priorities.

Yet, using the power of negotiation and the strength of organization, the twenty people in the room produced a single set of recommendations to the UN. The one set, a net yield of the diversity of thought, will be a representative of the United States. Nuanced disagreements, I found, created the strongest multifaceted policies.

Policy has wide impacts on day-to-day changes. 

Being situated in DC itself has taught me to better understand the importance of change-making through policy. DC, for example, recently passed a law that taxes plastic bags. Although I have always considered myself to be an environmentalist, I had never quite reduced, reused, and recycled as much as I did when there was a .25 cent tax on each bag.

Likewise, practices that I worked to amend while working at the CTNSP had wide-ranging effects. The policies that described how UN Peacekeeping Operations were to be conducted had been in place for decades, making it impossible to alter best-practices or technology use – even if it were to save the organization millions of dollars. Antiquated rules had unintentionally generated different sets of problematic incentives.

As a member of an agency working on a UNPKO project years after the legislation was established, it was difficult—sometimes impossible—to generate solutions within the preview of policies. Engaging with the UN legislative process itself turned a textbook 2-D model of conflict into a multidimensional, 3-D model with moving parts. It seems to me that legislation and policy must strike a critical balance of being data-driven and forward thinking while remaining politically viable. The difficulty of the “specific” vs. “realistic” balance was certainly influential to my understanding of legislation—one that I had never truly recognized before.

Aron Rimanyi | Summer Internship Experience Using AGS Summer Fellowship

Note: the experiences and ideas presented below are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of any employer or government.

I spent the summer of 2016 in Budapest, Hungary, working as an analyst intern for the Hungarian National Trading House. My internship began on May 16 and concluded on August 19. During this time I rented an apartment in the city: my AGS Summer Fellowship grant was used for the purpose of covering this accommodation, without which I could not have executed the summer project.

The Hungarian National Trading House is a government agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The aim of my work was to promote Hungarian exports and the presence of Hungarian companies abroad. More specifically, I consulted Hungarian companies in business plan development, negotiated the terms of participation in various international conferences and expos, drafted memos for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and wrote and translated speeches for the CEO of the Trading House. I was seen as a valuable asset to the Trading House as I could leverage my knowledge of international trade agreements, business environment and mentality, and political conditions for investment. Much of this knowledge I gained from previous experience in the AGS program, so my work this summer was a natural follow-on to my engagement with AGS. As a double major in Political Science and Economics, I appreciated the opportunity to combine and apply my two fields of interest.

My experience in Budapest was particularly relevant from the perspective of American Grand Strategy. Hungary, as a member of both EU and NATO, is expected to abide by certain norms of conduct in terms of both foreign and domestic policy. However, the Hungarian government has recently come under criticism for policies seen by some as curtailing the democratic process and pursuing controversial foreign diplomacy. As an Eastern European state of the outer edge of NATO, Hungary would be seen by many US strategists as a country likely to suffer from Russian aggression. Such was not my impression. A proponent of the South Stream pipeline project and an active buyer of Russian natural gas, Hungary also recently contracted the Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom to help expand a nuclear plant that already provides half of the country’s electric power. The Foreign Ministry is spearheading the policy initiative of “Opening East” to promote Asian (largely Chinese) investments in agriculture and industry. Foreign policy directives coming from EU and NATO, such as the sanctions on Russia after the Crimea crisis, are sometimes viewed unfavorably. There are no ethnic Russian minorities in Hungary, and both the Hungarian and Russian governments would stand to gain more from economic ties than from military expansion: both sides understand this. Therefore, to a country historically reliant on Russian exports and sympathetic to rhetoric of protecting ethnic minorities, certain foreign policy objectives taken for granted by NATO may not seem intuitively desirable. Moreover, many Americans may view NATO as solely a force for good and a mutually beneficial alliance among consenting states. In a region with a long imperial history (from Ottomans to Habsburgs and Soviets), people and leaders are often prone to think of alliances more as participation in a foreign sphere of influence rather than a mutual security obligation among equals. American strategists should understand the historical causes that underlie NATO skepticism in the very countries the alliance is supposed to protect.

Furthermore, American policymakers have a tendency to consider Eastern Europe as a monolith, toward which a single military, diplomatic and trade policy should be conducted. From my internship experience, I don’t believe Eastern Europeans view themselves in this light. Hungary, specifically, suffers from a recent sense of historical declinism: the country was historically much larger and more powerful than it is now, and is surrounded by ethnic Hungarian minorities in territories that were awarded to neighboring countries after WWI. Even such old historical memories are slow to die, and after half a century of national sentiments being frozen under Communism, they are re-emerging. One of the primary goals of the Trading House is to create a “Carpathian Basin Economic Region” similar to the boundaries of the former Kingdom of Hungary. The project relies heavily on ethnic minorities in Slovakia, Transylvania, and Voivodina. Hence the questions of ethnicity and nationality are not confined to pretexts for Russian aggression – they are valid and relevant concerns across Eastern Europe, even among NATO members. American foreign policy realizes the complexities of demographic and ethnic politics in areas such as the Middle East. It is irresponsible not to do so in Eastern Europe, an area with an equal degree of ethnic diversity and inter-government rivalry.

My time at the Trading House allowed me to gain a better understanding of such specific conditions. The countries of East-Central Europe are currently not in vogue for American Grand Strategy: who cares about Budapest? However, a foreign policy academy whose interest and gaze are dictated by sporadic shifts of attention from one area to another is myopic at best. The areas that are today considered backwaters of strategy may be the hotspots of tomorrow. After all, young strategists should be assessing the prospects of the future, not preparing for the conflicts of the past. The more we revisit places we previously considered “done deals,” the more we realize that our fundamental assumptions on foreign policy are wrong. Nowhere is this more true than in Hungary, a country which supposedly helped bring about the “end of history” in the 90s but is helping to reignite history once more.

Atrocity Prevention | Summer 2016

By: Savannah Wooten

Earlier this year, I received an American Grand Strategy Fellowship grant to pursue a summer internship at the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies (MIGS) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Thanks to the financial support provided by the fellowship, I was able to live in Canada for the beginning of my summer and work directly under Dr. Frank Chalk, the Director of the Institute and a well-known academic in the field of genocide and atrocity prevention.

During my time at MIGS, I worked one on one with Dr. Chalk on a project relating to the establishment of “transitional authorities” in conflict-prone states. Dr. Chalk focuses specifically on the emergence of genocide and mass atrocities, such as war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, in conflict zones and took a particular interest in how the international community can respond to these crimes once they’ve begun.

Because a majority of the field has migrated to study and publish on prevention mechanisms—ways to address conflicts upstream before true violence or mass crimes have occurred—a noticeable gap exists in answering the questions: “So prevention failed… what is the next best option? How do we stabilize the situation and protect civilians in the process?”

As the research assistant on this project, I was responsible for collecting and summarizing literature on the largest violent conflicts and humanitarian crises of our time – Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan, Cambodia, Burma, and beyond.

On a day to day basis, I read and synthesized information on humanitarian interventions, military responses to genocide and mass atrocities, UN peacekeeping efforts, and democracy and stabilization forces. I discussed these findings with Dr. Chalk each day and we brainstormed for an upcoming article on a new era of transitional authorities, entities established to monitor conflict and enact order as a country progresses into stability and peace, in conflict-ridden countries. I took notes, reached out to various professionals in the field and participated in the initial drafting of the article. Dr. Chalk and I will publish the article as co-authors.

In addition to my formal duties as a research assistant, I was also involved in planning and hosting an Atrocity Prevention Professionals Training conference for individuals in the military, government, private sector, etc. interested in prevention genocide and mass atrocities. The training was hosted in Montreal and I was involved in coordinating logistics, introducing speakers, and facilitating small-group discussions on various prevention strategies.

Ultimately, the Fellowship truly enabled me to pursue a rewarding internship experience – my work at MIGS was important and I gained new research skills and connections within the sphere of atrocity prevention.