AGS Summer Fellowship

The AGS Summer Fellows Program provides summer stipends to undergraduate students pursuing traditional and non-traditional internship and research opportunities. The program is designed to encourage undergraduate students who have demonstrated leadership and academic achievement to pursue a creative summer work plan related to the mission of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy.  Fellows are funded with a stipend to support internships and distinctive research experiences.


Click here to access the 2018 Summer Fellowships application. All application materials are due Thursday, February 15 2018 at 11:59 p.m.


Interning at the U.S. Department of State | Summer 2017

By: Dejana Saric

Dejana Saric (Duke University Class of 2018) in the front atrium of the State Department.

Interning at the State Department this summer has allowed me to put many of the analytical and practical skills I have acquired over the past three years at Duke to use. While at the State Department I interned with the Office of South Central Europe, within the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, which covers the countries of the Western Balkans. I was extremely fortunate to work in an office that dealt with issues I was interested in and with coworkers who trusted me to take on substantial work.

Overarching Policy Exposure at State

As a public policy major with a slant towards international relations and foreign policy making, many of my classes have touched on and debated the importance of NATO as a security institution, the legacy of the Cold War and present-day U.S-Russia relations, the interagency process of the United States government, and the tools (so-called “sticks” and “carrots”) with which international policy is negotiated. Throughout my internship experience, I was able to learn about these issues in greater depth from our diplomats and observe the way in which the State Department engages with other entities in the government—from the NSC, DOD, and IC community—to craft our policies and respond effectively to the policies of foreign governments. This past summer was an especially opportune time to be working on the countries of the Western Balkans, given that elections took place throughout the region, a months-long political deadlock broke in Macedonia, and Montenegro acceded to NATO despite the threat of Russian retaliation (and received an official visit from Vice President Pence). Through observing the work of my colleagues, I was able to learn about the way that U.S. diplomats throughout the region engage with foreign governments to support U.S. policy objectives, such as promoting Euro-Atlantic integration, combating Russian malign influence, strengthening counter-terrorism efforts, and pushing reforms to strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption.

Major Tasks Undertaken During the Internship

My first task at the State Department was to assist the Montenegro desk officer to coordinate the ceremony for Montenegro’s NATO accession. The policy of Euro-Atlantic integration for the countries of the Western Balkans is one of the sticking points which has soured the relationship between the United States and Russia, and my involvement in this historic effort offered me the opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of our relationship with NATO. In preparation for Vice President Pence’s trip to Estonia, Georgia, and Montenegro, I helped coordinate close to 100 trip papers and drafted the papers for the Montenegro desk. At the request of the office director I also supported the office’s efforts to combat corruption and organized crime in the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. As part of this project I analyzed quantitative and qualitative data from 14 embassy posts in order to evaluate effective policy options which the United States can use to promote anti-corruption efforts in these countries, as well as to determine which of our previous efforts have been least effective.

Throughout my internship I was able to flex my writing abilities as I drafted speeches for Deputy Assistant Secretary Hoyt Yee, produced daily memos to embassy posts to keep them apprised of events at the State Department, drafted action memos and talking points, and produced meeting readouts to send to embassy posts. I also produced a report on Albania’s short and medium term NATO capability targets for the Deputy Assistant Secretary. In my last week with the office I was able to help the Office of the Vice President craft the speech the Vice President gave in Montenegro during the Adriatic Charter Summit.

Insights from the Council on Foreign Relations | Summer 2017

By: Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate (Duke Class of 2018) at The Council on Foreign Relations.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank, membership organization, and publisher of Foreign Affairs Magazine. Active in the American Grand Strategy program and passionate about pursuing a career in conflict resolution and foreign policy, I entered my sophomore year hoping to spend the upcoming summer at the Council – a hub for senior national security experts.

In April, I helped organize the annual AGS career panel, where I was able to connect with a Duke alumnus and former research associate at CFR. Empowered by the tools of the AGS network – namely mentorship from our successful alums – I was soon able to speak to former CFR employees who consulted me on the goals I should set for myself during the internship.

I worked as the International Economics intern in the David Rockefeller Studies Department. My direct supervisor was the research associate to the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics. As part of the fellowship (named after the former chairman of the Federal Reserve), the fellow worked on an upcoming book for which I spent a large portion of my time conducting research. Both my incredible supervisor and fellow offered me great liberty with my assignments, and I am so thrilled to have had the opportunities they provided.

My responsibilities ranged from interviewing venture capitalists and entrepreneurs for one project to delving into German legislation to study factors contributing to the success of Berlin as a startup hub. I set the goal of attending every single CFR roundtable meeting, where CEOs, former government officials, former university presidents, high-profile journalists, editors of major news networks and publications, and more will gather off-the-record to discuss solutions and their active strategies towards combatting some of the world’s most contentious issues.

As part of the internship program, the interns participated in a National Security Council simulation in which I was designated the role of Secretary of Defense. Throughout the summer, the Intern Professional Development Program hosted events where the interns were able to receive direct coaching from the head of communications, life advice from the head of the studies department, training on writing well from the library services team, and more.

Living in Manhattan for a summer as an AGS fellow gave me access to the words and wisdom of some of the most incredible people. I attended a festival where Joe and Jill Biden, Governor Jeb Bush, Mark Cuban, Malcolm Gladwell, Van Jones, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Whitney Wolfe, among others, were in attendance. The research associates and staff at CFR were consistent sources of insight into careers in foreign policy, and this summer I was able to develop a fuller conception of my future goals.

In addition to being selected as an intern, I was fortunate enough to receive the Franklin Williams scholarship at the CFR—a scholarship named after the late former Ambassador. As part of this scholarship, I was able to travel to the Washington D.C. office where I met a former State Department recruiter and had one-on-one meetings with a former ambassador, among other senior fellows in the office.

Without a doubt, my greatest takeaway from this summer experience has been an expanded set of frameworks and skills to problem-solve and interrogate adaptive challenges, including the role of the tech industry in combating foreign cybersecurity attacks, both bottom-up and institutional approaches to the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, North Korean de-escalation, religious extremism, rivalries in the Middle East, politicized climate change, global refugee crises (in the Eastern and Western hemispheres), and many more.

Interning at CFR this summer challenged me to think critically about several of the world’s greatest challenges, both those discussed openly in the public sphere, and those under-the-radar threats to our world order. I was able to produce research that I never imagined myself capable of, get published, regularly witness discussions between incredibly successful leaders in foreign and domestic policy, exercise my own thinking cap with colleagues, and walk into the building every day humbled by the amazing people thinking, researching, writing and collaborating inside.

CFR events consistently reminded me of the incredible programming the AGS program offers to the Duke community. Experiences meeting policy experts through AGS allowed me to confidently approach my time at the CFR. Without a doubt, I was able to excel this summer thanks to the knowledge base cultivated through two years in the AGS program. Thanks to the AGS summer fellowship, I was able to spend more time exploring, learning, reading, and enriching my critical-thinking skills as an international relations-minded Blue Devil.



An Impactful Experience with Carnegie-Tsinghua | Summer 2017

By: William Weiran Tong

William Tong (Duke Class of 2019), in Beijing, China with William Burns, the President of the Carnegie Endowment, Paul Haenle, the Director of Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, and fellow 2017 Summer Young Ambassadors.

With the generous sponsorship of the Duke AGS Summer Fellowship, I was able to intern at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing this summer as a Young Ambassador and a Government Relations intern. Needless to say, the opportunity to work at one of the world’s preeminent think tanks has been an extraordinary experience. My primary role at Carnegie-Tsinghua was to assist Thena Lee, the Government Relations and Partnership Coordinator, in her daily work. To put it simply, my job was to ensure that Carnegie-Tsinghua continue to enjoy the support of Tsinghua University, Carnegie’s partner institution, and the Chinese government.

By the end of the summer, I had produced over 80 documents, including policy memos, budgets, and guest biographies for weekly newsletters. One of the best things about working at Carnegie-Tsinghua was being able to see where my work ended up; for instance, some of the memos that I had prepared ended up in front of heavy-hitters such as the Chairwoman of Tsinghua University Chen Xu, former National Security Council Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford Jr, and the Vice Minister of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Fu Ying. Despite being in awe of those who would read my memos, I remained focused and produced each and every document with the utmost care and attention. It is remarkable how much heedfulness is necessary to produce a worthy memo; every word choice, every sentence structure, and every punctuation needs to be carefully curated. Moreover, I must admit, translating policy memos between Chinese and English is a lot harder than I thought. Nevertheless, under the guidance of my supervisor, my work improved as I progressed further into the internship.

As an intern, it was an extraordinary time to be at Carnegie-Tsinghua this summer as my internship coincided with several major events. First, George Perkovich, Carnegie’s Vice President for Studies, who was in Beijing to spearhead Carnegie’s new tech-diplomacy initiative with Tsinghua visited. Then, we had the privilege of hosting William Burns, the President of the Carnegie Endowment and former United States Deputy Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton. Ambassador Burns is, as I would describe, one of those people whose intelligence is only matched by his experience, and we are talking about the second career diplomat in US history to ever become Deputy Secretary of State. During Burns’ visit, I was able to attend a panel that he participated in at Schwarzman College. This was the first of many occasions on which I visited the College during my summer in Beijing, and it only reinforced my desire to one day study there.

In late June, Tsinghua hosted the annual World Peace Forum, which was attended by countless dignitaries, former top diplomats, and current ambassadors. This was definitely one of the most significant highlights of the internship, as I got to rub shoulders with the likes of former Australian Prime Minister and renowned China-watcher Kevin Rudd, the man who coined the phrase “Thucydides Trap,” Graham Allison, and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The two-day conference was enlightening and mesmerizing in every way; I got to see Chinese experts censure his Korean counterpart for the deployment of THAAD in South Korea and American experts repeatedly emphasizing the words “uncertainty” and “vacancies” when referring to the State Department under Trump. In short, I had not witnessed a more organized and more informative conference than the World Peace Forum

As we progressed into July, everyone at Carnegie-Tsinghua was all-hands-on-deck for the 7th U.S.-China Civil Strategic Dialogue, which was hosted by our headquarters in DC and involved a number of heavy-hitters, from Robert Zoellick, former President of the World Bank, to Susan Thorton, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Though I did not participate in the actual meetings, it was obvious from our rigorous preparation that the dialogue was nothing but successful and fruitful. One particular topic for which I had drafted a policy memo was the geo-economic impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, certainly one of the hottest topics in international affairs since their announcement. In August, I spent the last week of my internship in Nanjing to serve as a translator in the annual Yao Foundation Summer Basketball camp. It was an unimaginable experience and it was really heartwarming to see Marshall Cho and Drale Campbell, the Nike coaches, work with the kids in a genuine and passionate way. To finish everything off, we got to take a photo with Yao Ming, the 7’6” legend himself.

As I said earlier, this summer was nothing short of amazing, but the best aspect about my internship, by far, was the people that I got to work with. Sure, I met many heavy-hitters and famous people over the summer, but the staff and fellow interns at Carnegie-Tsinghua were the real stars. Working against rapidly-approaching deadlines with zero room for error, we worked as a team and we helped each other when help was needed, whether it is translating a Swedish website, contacting a particular Chinese scholar, or reorganizing our library, as cliché as it sounds, we did it together. I extend my sincere gratitude to them for making this summer as memorable and rewarding as it has been, and for my fellow interns, I want to leave you with something that Paul Haenle, the Director of Carnegie-Tsinghua, said during our first meeting and something that I have come to hold as a vision of my own: “One day, I want to have two foreign ministers or high-level diplomats, representing their respective countries, sit across from each other at a table, and before they get started on official business, they would recount the days of their Carnegie internship.”

I would like to close this memo by thanking the Duke AGS program for funding my internship. Your generosity made it possible for me to offset the high cost of living in Beijing. Thank you for your support over the summer.



Lessons from an Internship with the SFRC | Summer 2017

By Max Labaton

Max Labaton (Duke University Class of 2020) with Senator Cardin in the senator’s personal office.

This summer, I interned on the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). I worked for the committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. The Committee is the Senate’s chief voice for influencing the nation’s foreign policy.

My experiences as a member of the AGS Council helped me understand the nuances of key foreign policy and national security issues. My time at the Committee coincided with several notable foreign policy developments. President Trump visited the Middle East, where he outlined his vision for collaborating with the Saudis and isolating Iran. The President decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and to roll back President Obama’s diplomatic opening with Cuba. Additionally, tensions broke out between Sunni Arab states and Qatar, creating a destabilizing rift and complicating U.S. strategy in the Middle East. The committee’s focus included Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the proposed budget cuts to the State Department and USAID, and the global migrant crisis.

I had the opportunity to monitor SFRC’s hearing on budget cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy, featuring Secretary Tillerson, as well as the Senate Budget Committee’s hearing on the FY18 budget featuring OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. I also watched the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, where former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified. Senator Cardin met with the interns weekly, where he would discuss pressing legislative issues such the Russia sanctions bill and the $500 million arms deal to the Saudis, as well as domestic agenda items, such as the health care repeal effort.

Each intern was assigned to two portfolios within the minority office, and I worked on the human rights and Africa portfolios. The human rights portfolio focused on implementing anti-corruption efforts, ensuring adequate funding for good governance and democracy programs, and addressing accountability mechanisms for perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities. A major focus of the human rights portfolio was the global migrant crisis, caused by the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the famines in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan. I conducted research for drafting potential legislation to punish ISIL for war crimes committed in Iraq, drawing on reports from the United Nations, State Department, and NGOs. I also drafted memos for Senator Cardin on various topics including global anti-corruption efforts and counter-trafficking policy, as well as talking points for a meeting he had with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

The Africa portfolio focused largely on the three famines engulfing the continent, and on strategies for aid groups and NGOs to provide necessary supplies. I conducted research for potential legislation, such as a resolution that Senator Cardin considered that would call for free and fair elections in Kenya. I was assigned to write weekly memos to the portfolio’s senior staffer that examined current events in several key countries. Additionally, I attended meetings with officials from the State Department and USAID, as well as representatives from various NGOs and aid groups. Aside from the focus on the famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan, and the election in Kenya, the meetings explored ongoing corruption and conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, crackdowns on civil society and free speech in Ethiopia, and violent extremism in Somalia, Nigeria, and the Sahel.

There are three lessons I took from my experience. First, it is essential for Congress to play a vibrant role in the foreign policymaking process. During my internship, SFRC held a hearing focused on the authorization of military force and the need for a new authorization to fight ISIL. While the President has wide latitude on national security issues, Congress is an important partner in deciding when to declare and whether to fund a war, as written in the Constitution and codified in the War Powers Act. Legislation such as the Russia sanctions bill illustrates how Congress can leverage its power to strengthen a president’s backbone as he deals with adversaries.

Second, continued U.S. leadership in providing humanitarian and development aid is essential to maintaining strategic, political, and economic interests around the world. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, one of the most successful foreign aid initiatives in American history. From the Marshall Plan to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), U.S. leadership has played a critical role in fostering economic development, mitigating political instability, and tackling fatal endemics.

Third, despite the lack of press coverage of ongoing developments in sub-Saharan Africa, the region should be a higher national security priority for the United States. With a population of over one billion people and an average age of 18 years old, the region is home to the world’s fastest growing population. Terrorist threats from Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb require both hard and soft power solutions. China’s One Belt One Road initiative and its increasing footprint on the continent pose additional challenges to U.S. interests. U.S. policies and initiatives, such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the End Wildlife Trafficking Act, Feed the Future, and the Ebola response have shown that U.S. leadership in Africa can yield mutually positive dividends and provide templates for further engagement in the region.

I would like to thank AGS for awarding me this fellowship and enabling me to pursue a rewarding and memorable experience working on SFRC.




Interning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies | Summer 2017

By Aateeb A. Khan

Aateeb A. Khan (Duke University Class of 2018) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a multidisciplinary, non-partisan think tank located in Washington, DC.  Thanks to the supplemental funding I received through the AGS summer fellows program, I was recently able to participate in an internship experience at CSIS’ Energy and National Security (ENS) Program. Sitting at the intersection of private-sector developments in energy markets/innovation and public sector concerns about energy/national security, the ENS team bridges an increasingly crucial gap in national security policymaking.  While at CSIS, I was able to engage in a variety of impactful and personally enriching projects that benefitted both the program and my own educational development. I was also able to vastly expand my professional network in this unique space through exposure to figures in both the energy industry and the national security apparatus. This included the chance to discuss the decline of Chinese coal with BP’s chief economist, the fortune to debate the role of rising populism on energy MNCs with Norway’s minister of climate, and the opportunity to interview Trump administration officials on their plans for nuclear energy. Sitting only a few desks down from Dr. Henry Kissinger didn’t hurt, either.


Given the high volume of work that the ENS program attempts to process and output each summer, there was ample opportunity for me to keep myself busy. In particular, I spent much of the summer analyzing trends in Chinese energy markets. These included developments in Chinese coal, oil, natural gas, and electricity consumption as well as downstream concerns like developing refining capacity, grid resilience, and renewable energy curtailment. One project in particular that I would like to highlight was a deep dive into the development of the Chinese PV (Solar) industry. Long gone are the days when China was simply a cheap manufacturer of PV technology developed in the U.S. and Germany. Chinese manufacturers now dominate world market share while also pushing the cutting edge on new, more efficient PV technologies. As I learned, this has direct impacts on energy developments in the US. Most notably, an ongoing trade dispute in the US over the imposition of protectionist tariffs on cheap solar imports threatens to have long-term impacts on the health of the US solar market.

It was certainly a unique summer to be interning in DC, and the imposition of a potential solar tariff is only one example of attempts by the current administration to totally overhaul the trajectory of US energy production/consumption. For that reason, I also spent a large portion of the summer working on projects related to the recently-coined notion of ‘energy dominance.’ This included the chance to compile and present on all the proposed changes to EPA and DOI rules that threaten to change the energy landscape as well as contribute to a report on climate risk analysis disclosures for investors.

Personal/Professional Development 

I remain convinced that I had the blessing to work with one of the most challenging and compassionate teams in DC this summer. It is truly a rare gem to have a team so dedicated to the development of their interns. Not only were the ENS staff more than willing to delegate critical tasks and projects to me, they would often go out of their way to help with my educational and professional development. This included the frequent opportunity to engage in 1-1 meetings with senior fellows to discuss ongoing projects and explain energy concepts that I didn’t fully understand. One ritual in particular stood out among the rest. One non-resident fellow would come in Friday and sit down with the ENS interns and spend a few hours grilling us, case-interview style, on the implications of the week’s energy news and on the results of our own projects.

In addition to the direct benefits of working with the ENS team, I benefitted directly from connecting with CSIS’ large intern pool. Many of those I interned, went to happy-hour, and played pick-up soccer with will continue to be both valued friends and professional connections that I will continue to benefit from for a long time to come.


Summer 2016 and the Grand Strategy Connection

By: Matthew King

Matthew King (Duke University Class of 2018) in Kigali, Rwanda at the Kigali Genocide Memorial conversing with young human rights activists from the East African region.

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.

Public Policy Internship | Summer 2016

By: Roma Sonik

Roma Sonik at a student conference (BFTF), talking about her experience at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy (CTNSP).

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.

Summer Internship Experience Using AGS Summer Fellowship | Summer 2016

By: Aron Rimanyi

Aron Rimanyi (Duke University Class of 2018) presenting at an investment summit of the Visegrád Group.

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.