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John Drennan

Posted on September 21, 2014

International Institute for Strategic Studies, Washington, D.C.

In the summer of 2011, I used my Wellman Hill Grant to intern with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and live in Washington, DC. The Institute itself is a large, London-based think tank with satellites in Washington, DC, Singapore, and Manama, Bahrain; IISS considers itself “the primary source of accurate, objective information on international strategic issues for politicians and diplomats, foreign affairs analysts, international business, economists, the military, defense commentators, journalists, academics and the informed public.”

My duties included research and conflict analysis. I studied topics related mainly to the Middle East from both an international policy and domestic policy perspective. I had four big research projects for the Institute’s staff in addition to a handful of small, short-term projects. My first assignment was to investigate Egypt’s role in the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East.

Next, I received my first ongoing project from the Executive Director: I needed to track legislation, mainly in the House, related to sanctions on Iran and Syria as well as any Authorization and Appropriations bills that were making their way through the committee process. In some cases, I would attend the hearings and transcribe what was discussed. I think the most interesting hearing that I saw was the markup of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen’s Authorization bill. The Committee members hold extremely partisan views about institutions like the United Nations and the Organization of American States, so the ensuing debates over funding were extremely heated.

My next project was also ongoing. For an upcoming article, the Executive Director needed to develop a comprehensive understanding of both the Obama Administration and Congress’s stance on War Powers and Libya. So, I needed to study prominent Senators’ and Representatives’ as well as the Administration’s press releases and statements about the role that the US military should take in Libya. I also looked at relevant legislation and the Kucinich court case against American military involvement.

The last research topic came at the end of the summer, and while I was not able to finish it, it was definitely one of the most interesting assignments. Under the umbrella of cyber security in Africa, I studied Chinese involvement in East Africa. As such, I tried examining stock prices of publicly listed companies, attempted to ascertain the degree of engagement between East African countries and Chinese companies, and researched the effects of the new broadband lines off the eastern coast.

In addition to my research for the staff, I had a second appointment as a conflict analyst for the Institute’s Armed Conflicts Database. I was responsible for monitoring the conflicts in Chad, CAR, Darfur, and South Sudan (which was particularly interesting to track because of its July 9th independence from Sudan). I published weekly timelines in the database that outlined political trends, military developments, and human security-related topics. Each month, I created a more in-depth analysis of Darfur and South Sudan that traced broader trends in the region.

Only the Wellman Hill Grant made this invaluable experience possible. Besides gaining better direction for my future career, it was extremely satisfying to know that I was contributing, even in a small way, to peoples’ understanding of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. I am extremely grateful for the generosity of Ms. Hill in making this summer so successful for me.

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