Sylvia Mishra

Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow | Nuclear Threat Initiative

You are currently a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow. Tell us about your work with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).  

 CV in Brief:    Years of Experience : 6+    Previous Jobs:  Visiting Fellow at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) | Nuclear Scholar Initiative Fellow at Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) | Jr. Fellow, Strategic Studies-US Initiative at Observer Research Foundation | Jr. Consultant at ICREIER Wadhwani Chair in India-US Policy Studies | Analyst, Defense and Homeland Security at Orkash | Research Fellow at Global India Foundation | Global Analyst at Gold Mercury International    Education:  B.A. (Honors) in Political Science, University of Delhi | M.Sc. in History of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science | M.A. in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies   Languages:  English, Hindu, Bengali   Find Sylvia Online:   Twitter ,  LinkedIn ,  NTI Bio    Exclusive Interview by Clara Martinez in May 2018

CV in Brief: 

Years of Experience: 6+ 

Previous Jobs: Visiting Fellow at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) | Nuclear Scholar Initiative Fellow at Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) | Jr. Fellow, Strategic Studies-US Initiative at Observer Research Foundation | Jr. Consultant at ICREIER Wadhwani Chair in India-US Policy Studies | Analyst, Defense and Homeland Security at Orkash | Research Fellow at Global India Foundation | Global Analyst at Gold Mercury International 

Education: B.A. (Honors) in Political Science, University of Delhi | M.Sc. in History of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science | M.A. in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Languages: English, Hindu, Bengali

Find Sylvia Online: Twitter, LinkedIn, NTI Bio

Exclusive Interview by Clara Martinez in May 2018

In March 2018, I joined the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Nuclear Policy Partners (GNPP) team. At NTI, I work with the Senior Director of GNPP, Samantha Pitts-Kiefer on the Global Enterprise project, which aims to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). My research responsibilities include working on emerging technologies and nuclear dynamics in Southern Asia. I am working on a research study on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) - the impact of UUVs tech on submarine vulnerabilities and its ramifications for strategic stability issues.

Being passionate about amplifying the role of women in nuclear policy issues, I recently wrote an article for NTI’s Atomic Pulse: The Importance of Creating Gender Equitable Space in the Field of Nuclear Policy. The article underscores the need to end gender imbalances and discusses that even though it is widely accepted that gender parity is critical to maintaining international peace and security, acceptance has not always translated into practice. 

Describe a typical day.

A typical day includes conducting research to further NTI’s projects, help with the programmatic aspects of GNPP, and attend meetings. I also keep myself abreast with all the geopolitical events around the world by scanning dozens of newspaper articles, policy briefs and journal papers. Living in Washington D.C. is enjoyable as there are always several policy relevant events and discussions that takes place almost on a daily basis. I try to find time to attend a few talks which proves helpful in understanding different perspectives on pressing nuclear and foreign policy issues of the day.  

You were a Visiting Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and a Nuclear Scholars Initiative Fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). Tell us about your experience with these fellowship programs. What did you do?

During the CTBT 20th Anniversary Ministerial Meeting in Vienna hosted by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in 2016, I met the Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Dr. William Potter. Dr. Potter is a foremost expert on NPT and committed to training the next generation on nonproliferation issues. We discussed the importance of disarmament and nonproliferation (DNP) education among youth. It was a fascinating exchange of views as few universities in India focus on this particular topic. I was encouraged to apply for the Visiting Fellow Program at CNS. During the fellowship, I gained firsthand experience on a gamut of issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, strategic trade controls, and emerging technologies. I worked on projects focusing on emerging technologies and CTBT in South Asia. 

I also had an opportunity to participate in the CSIS Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) Nuclear Scholars Initiative (NSI). PONI brings a handful of young professionals working on nuclear weapons issues from diverse backgrounds in the military, think tanks, government bodies and academia to get trained by top US nuclear experts on the pressing nuclear issues. It was a phenomenal experience and I learned immensely from the best minds in the field and also from my peers. PONI encouraged us to work collaboratively on projects which helped build personal connections with peers in the field while receiving substantive feedback from domain-experts.   

You mentioned working in New Delhi at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Tell us about the initiative you worked on.

Prior to commencing the visiting fellowship at CNS, I was a researcher working on India-U.S. defense and security cooperation with the New Delhi based think tank called Observer Research Foundation (ORF). I spent 3 years at ORF working at the Strategic Studies Initiative for Dr. C. Raja Mohan. He is an incredible mentor, and under his guidance, I worked on India-US foreign relation, defense and security ties and US policies in the Indo-Pacific. Dr. Mohan and I have co-authored a chapter for an upcoming book: Asia’s Quest for Balance edited by Jeff Smith. 

I found studying US-India relations a fascinating exercise. While both countries inherited political burdens of the Cold War, post-1991 US-India came together to overcome those burdens and pursue strategic alignment. In 2018, Indo-US bilateral relations have become multi-faceted and both countries are working together in close coordination to ensure a stable and secure Indo-Pacific.

What sparked your interest in international politics?

I come from an academic family and my father, Dr. Omprakash Mishra, is a professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. When I was growing up, he had a strong influence on me. Our dinner table conversations involved my father explaining to my brother and me about Plato’s philosopher king or Hobbes’ social contract.  I learned the foundations of political science, and philosophy and drew inspiration from him. My passion for learning about state, society and diplomacy at a young age translated into undertaking formal education and training in political science. 

What did you study at university, and how has it helped you in achieving career success?   

My undergraduate training was in Political Science from Hindu College, University of Delhi. I obtained a master’s degree in International Relations History from London School of Economics (LSE). At both educational institutions, Hindu College and LSE, I read and studied extensively about Western and Indian Political Thought, Cold War and theories of International Relations. These prepared me for a career in research analyzing foreign policy issues. Reading Essence of Decision by political scientist Graham T. Allison (which is one of the best books on the Cuban Missile Crisis) piqued my interest in nuclear weapons issues. Additionally, reading Impossible Allies: Nuclear India, United States, and the Global Order - a remarkable account of the historic US-India nuclear deal which gave India legitimacy as a nuclear-armed state - pushed me to think deeply about nuclear weapons policy. Furthermore, my work at CNS and education at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) consolidated my research interests on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and propelled me to work in this domain with the intent to make the world a safer place. 

You champion the role of women in defense, security, and nonproliferation. Tell us about the need you see to champion women is the defense and security sectors.

Women have been and are underrepresented and not adequately included in discussions on national security and nuclear issues. For instance, at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2015, 901 of the 1226 registered diplomats were men (73.5%) and 325 were women (26.5%). This needs to change as national security and WMD impacts everyone. Therefore, it is essential that women are given as much an equal voice as men. Moreover, women bring unique perspectives on peace and arms control. Hence, it is vital to identify mechanisms and gender-equitable spaces where women’s views are heard.    

As a woman in the security sector, what has it been like breaking into the field, and what has helped you succeed?

Breaking into the security sector in the United States hasn’t been an easy path. I have found that having a strong analytical bent of mind, the perseverance to devote hours to research, and an ability to write and present one’s thoughts in a cogent manner are essential. My publications and presentations at various panels and conferences have also helped to propel my career trajectory.

I have been fortunate to have some great mentors like Dr. Raja Mohan, Dr. William Potter, and Ambassador Susan Burk who have prepared me professionally, provided direction and supervision during difficult days and have been generous with their time. Ambassador Burk, who was President Obama’s Special Representative on nuclear nonproliferation, is a role-model. As a result of her expertise and guidance, I have a deeper understanding of nuclear issues.

What career trajectory do you envision for yourself?    

Being passionate about the broader geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific and various arms control issues, over time I would like to influence U.S. policymaking towards Southern Asia. 

What advice might you offer to young women interested in a career with a focus on nonproliferation and security?

Since the nuclear policy field is a niche industry, gaining professional training and specialized degrees are a great way to prepare oneself to enter the field. Identifying mentors who can provide career guidance is also important. Lending a helping hand to rising professionals and sharing knowledge and information regarding career opportunities among peers is essential. This is also a good way to build interpersonal relationships which is equally vital in this field.