Before embarking on my summer internship, I received a few puzzled looks. “Why are you interning at the State Department if you are interested in National Security? Shouldn’t you be going to the Pentagon?” Well, considering that I just left the active duty military, going back to where I just came seemed too safe for a summer internship. I wanted another perspective into our country’s national security apparatus, so I picked the State Department.
Political-Military Affairs, the bureau where I worked during my internship, just happened to be the interagency link between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State (DoS). As stated in their mission statement, “The Mission of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau (PM) is to build enduring security partnerships to advance U.S. national security objectives.” PM specifically provides policy guidance on areas of international security, security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade.
While I did not travel overseas to negotiate grand foreign policy agreements, my scope was within the office of foreign policy advisors (POLAD) in Washington, DC. The POLAD office manages a large group of Foreign Service Officers (FSO) embedded within major military commands, all over the world, to provide foreign policy expertise; true influencers within the interagency continuum. My summer internship corresponded with the timing of provocative topics about the relationship between DoD and DoS, so it was insightful and a unique privilege to discuss these issues with senior staff members like the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Ambassador, Tina Kaidanow, and Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Rose Gottemoeller.
Throughout the summer, I worked on office policy and procedures, redesigned the office website, and coordinated one of the big events of the office, the POLAD Orientation. This is where we prepare FSOs for their new posts by giving a brief introduction to internal processes to the military such as military planning and briefing. Everyone that has been around the military knows our affinity towards PowerPoint. While many of these FSOs have worked alongside the military, this posting requires a true internal perspective and understanding of what the DoD does. POLAD Orientation is not, however, military charm school!
So, in some ways I could relate. While I did not work here in an official military capacity, my perspective going into this internship was similar. I saw DoS in action while in Iraq and thought I had a pretty good grasp on what “the people in civilian clothes” were doing over there. Yet, actually working inside State gave me a true appreciation for the vast, political scope that State must examine when dealing with security issues.
Additionally, when operating in areas of conflict abroad, there are more than just state actors to keep in mind. That is why, in addition to my State Department internship, I took the opportunity to engage in a one-week intensive course on Humanitarian Action in Geneva, Switzerland. We discussed humanitarian principles and the provocative issue of neutrality. I was afforded the ability to re-evaluate my stance on these issues when engaging with major leaders of the global, international governmental organization (IGO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) communities.
Foreign policy is not easy. It is not black and white. Sometimes we overcomplicate things and forget that it is ultimately about relationships with people that come from different places, so of course perspectives on policy will differ. While we can’t and shouldn’t control what others bring to the table abroad, shouldn’t we have a better understanding of our own institutional culture and motivations before we reach across the pond?
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