Research assistant | Arms control and non-proliferation
Tell us about your current role.
I am the research assistant for the arms control and non-proliferation component in a Washington DC think tank. My role comprises of two parts. Firstly, I am the project coordinator, which entails working with the financial office, coordinating reports and publications with our editors and publishers. Secondly, I am a research assistant, reporting to two particular scholars. I help to co-author blog posts, attend research seminars and contribute research to their reports.
What interests you about the nuclear and non-proliferation realm?
I've been interested in the nuclear realm and arms control for the past few years, reflecting a broader lifelong interest in peace and conflict.
I went to my first peace rally against the Iraq War when I was 10, and started a group called "Next Generation for Peace" when I was about 7! In high school I became interested in how we can use international institutions to foster a climate of peace and reduce violence worldwide. Nuclear disarmament and arms control combines my long time interest in peace and my academic interest in diplomacy and international relations.
My interest in arms control and nuclear issues originated during an internship at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). I helped to organise a conference and rally around the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference at the United Nations. Working with long time scholars and anti-nuclear activists at AFSC opened my eyes to the threat nuclear weapons pose to international security, a threat that today is too often overlooked. This encouraged me to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and in the meantime towards sound nuclear policies.
A particular source of contention at present is the Iranian nuclear deal. Do you believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will be dissolved?
It is not a unilateral deal, so I remain skeptical that the US government could easily withdraw. European allies are invested in and committed to the deal. Despite inflammatory rhetoric from Donald Trump during the campaign, the US would have a lot of difficulty pulling out of the deal today.
What policies will be most effective to limit proliferation in North Korea?
The smartest option I've seen proposed is the coupling of sanctions, specifically to close loopholes in existing sanctions which facilitate trade between North Korea and China, with a commitment to dialogue. A dual track approach is really the only way to address this pressing threat.
Where do you see your career going next, will you continue to focus on nuclear issues?
I'm really interested in working toward disarmament, as this is the issue I am most passionate about. There are many avenues through which to work in this area, be it think tanks, government, advocacy, journalism or academia. I want to try out a few different fields to see what suits me best. As I love writing, I am thinking about going into defence journalism next to get an opportunity to write and continue to develop my security expertise.
You're currently based at a think tank. What has been the biggest challenge in your role?
It can be hard to see the immediate or full impact of your work. Instead, the focus is on generating knowledge to inform and improve policies. This has been a transition for me.
You've expressed a real passion for advocacy. Tell us more about that.
Aside from my internship with the American Friends Service Committee, a quaker organisation working for peace, I've held volunteering roles at Global Zero (a nuclear disarmament advocacy group), in college and at New Hampshire Peace Action, in middle school.
Sometimes in the nuclear policy field, activists are criticised for pushing a simplistic message and not fully understanding the nuances of nuclear policy. However, activists play an important role in putting pressure on nuclear weapon states to disarm. Nuclear weapon states aren’t going to abandon their nuclear arsenals without considerable political and public pressure, which campaigners work to build. To create change on an issue when a decision maker has more power than you do, you need activism and resistance.
Do you have a role model?
My parents. They are very moral, hard-working people and I’m grateful for the strong values they instilled in me from very a young age and the encouragement they’ve always given me. Furthermore, I was educated at a Montessori school, where values of justice and kindness were central to our education. I am still in touch with my pre-school teacher today!
You graduated recently. Tell us about your educational background.
I studied International Relations, with a concentration on security during my Bachelor's degree at Tufts University in Massachusetts. I chose this course because I wanted to better understand the arguments of defence and security specialists who I often disagreed with and who I didn’t interact with much in my previous work with peace organisations.
You studied abroad, at the Sorbonne Paris-I. What did you gain from this experience?
The language skills, but also the chance to see international politics from another perspective. I took a great course on the history of war in 20th century Europe. It was fascinating to see the curriculum focusses and how this differs from the American system.
What specific skills help you to do your role?
Communication. On a day to day basis, I interact with scholars, my supervisors, publications coordinators and financial officers, so its really important to be an effective and clear communicator. In terms of research, I've become very critical regarding which sources to use, and always question meanings and origins. And its important to ask lots of questions!
And finally, what books are you reading at the moment? Are there any book you'd recommend to those interested in nuclear issues or foreign policy?
I'm reading a book called White Trash, which focusses on the history of class in America, which although not related to foreign policy, is fascinating. I recently read Almighty by Dan Zak, which is an account that traces the development of nuclear weapons in the United States, and the ensuing disarmament campaigns. And I’m working on Confronting the Bomb, which is a history of the disarmament movement a mentor recommended to me.