Careers in Diplomacy and Security by Haitong Du (A’22)

by tuftsigl
Jun 23

Many IGL graduates aspire to start a career in diplomacy and security. On June 10th, the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership held a webinar on “Careers in Diplomacy and Security” featuring two alumni sharing their perspectives on working in these fields.

Matan Chorev (A’06, F’07) is the Chief of Staff of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served as Speechwriter, Special Assistant, and Acting Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff. Matan has also served as a Crisis, Governance, and Stabilization Foreign Service Officer at the United States Agency for International Development with assignments in Morocco and Yemen, and as a Rosenthal Fellow at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning. He is a David Rockefeller Fellow at The Trilateral Commission and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently took a leave to be the lead writer for the foreign policy plank of the Democratic Party for the 2020 election.

Jesse Sloman (A’09) is a cyber policy advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Department of Defense. He previously worked as an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), where he developed and evaluated future operational warfighting concepts. Prior to joining CSBA, Jesse worked at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as an intelligence officer in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2013 and as a civil affairs officer in the Marine Corps Reserve from 2013 to 2016.

Navigating Complications: Choosing Career Paths

In Matan’s opinion, the most important question which students should ask themselves is “what is the right to my opinion?” Do you have to be an area expert to offer an opinion on a global or regional event?  Are there other avenues to engage in diplomacy and national security?

He outlined four broad pathways, noting that each person has to find the right path for themselves.

  1. Subject matter expert – this may be the academic path, where you study and immerse yourself in a particular country, region or topic.  These experts can be brought in to help dymystify a region of the world, e.g. the current need for Russian experts; and these individuals understand the why and context of things 
  2. Career path – this is the practitioner who has developed years of field experience on the ground, could be military or diplomatic or humanitarian work, etc, but they know how things works
  3. Political path – the person who is well connected to various interest groups and coalitions and works to develop policies that translate into action
  4. Manager path – professionals who are able to run complicated processes, who make things work and make it effective; these tend to be generalists

Matan said a successful team should include all these talents. He recalled the negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal: there were the nerdiest nuclear scientists, seasoned veteran diplomats, and politicos who survived the toxic political climate. Everyone was critical to the mission of the team. He concluded his point there are countless ways to become a valuable member of a team.
Jesse pursued a different path into national security.  The first member of the IGL’s ALLIES program as a first year student, and later co-president, he had a longstanding interest in civil-military relations. Following graduation, he went to the Marines’ Officer Training School, after which he spent four years in the Marines as an intelligence officer, gaining foundational knowledge on how the military works.  He said the military has proved to be an excellent option to gain credibility at a younger age. It also offers rapport building as one moves into other careers.
As an active duty officer, Jesse was deployed in Okinawa, Japan. His experiences in the military helped him gain a research position at the Council on Foreign Relations.  He went on to do graduate school part time while he worked in different think tanks, and just recently he was named and Presidential Management Fellow and placed in the cyber security office of the Department of Defense.
He noted that government employees often lack the flexibility to share their opinions the way research associates at think tanks may have, and it is important to understand what works for you and what the trade-offs are when thinking about which path you might follow. He said his time at the think tanks did allow him to thrive by combining general policy knowledge with niche, technical expertise, such as undersea warfare.

Skills, Grad School, and Emerging Fields

Both Matan and Jesse noted the importance of developing your language and writing skills. Mastering a foreign language requires significant time investment, and Matan encouraged undergraduate students to take advantage of the opportunities they have now. With the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia, Chinese and Russian are two languages in high demand among think tanks and government organizations. In the policy community, being able to grab the attention of readers while conveying a sharp and coherent argument is crucial in a one to two page policy memo is a valued skill.

The speakers also mentioned the importance of field experience, including study abroad and internships. “In your 20s, you need to take things slow and frame your thinking by doing things,” said Matan, “whereas in your 30s you’ll get tied down to things and lose that opportunity.

Matan also advised against going to grad schools just to go to grad school. The greatest mistake a graduate can make is to waste seven years on a PhD without knowing why. “Don’t go [to grad school] unless you have a clear idea of what concrete and marketable skill sets you want to acquire.”

When asked what emerging fields could be the most marketable in the next decade, Jesse noted cyber security, climate, and other sophisticated technologies. Upper-level meetings in DC often have to sacrifice complexity to accommodate the lack of technological expertise among policymakers. “We need you out there,” said Jesse, “you need to be there to bridge the gulf between high-level discussions and technical realities.”

International Status, Partisan Background, and Ethics

While many U.S. government jobs in the fields of security and diplomacy are closed off to foreign citizens, Matan suggested that a young professional look toward research and think tanks. He cited his current employer, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as an example. A foreign perspective often offers a distinctive voice at Carnegie, and it is often viewed as a strength. “Ultimately, your citizenship will not deny you opportunities if you have something really valuable to contribute.”

Matan also advised against having a long and established partisan background if you want to enter professional government service. Careerists in federal jobs work for whomever is President, regardless of party affiliation.  It might be difficult to make the case that you can be non-partisan if your background is primarily working for one party. But, working on a campaign or a get out the vote effort can add to your understanding of how politics works at the grassroots level.

When asked about the ethical dilemmas he might have faced during his career, Jesse said, “You have to ask yourself: ‘am I ready to believe in the institution and execute the mission?’.” He noted that even if he might have disagreed with specific missions, he has always trusted the moral compass of the government institution as a whole, which prompted him to carry out orders as he had been instructed.

Matan added to Jesse’s point by saying that it should be everyone’s professional responsibility to argue against things that are wrong, if they feel something is seriously going against moral standards. His former employer, Amb. Williams J. Burns, was opposed to the Iraq War, but he chose to work within the system to help reduce its damage and to rebuild the war-torn country afterwards. However, Matan noted that more often than not, the fields of diplomacy and security have many “grey” areas. “If you’re uncomfortable with grey areas and can’t execute policy in good conscience, security is not for you and you need to leave.”

They also both noted that who you work for rather than what you work on is a very important consideration.  A mentor and good role model, someone who navigates these difficult decisions and is willing to teach and help you learn, can be critical to how you develop in these fields.

Watch the recording here