From Nuclear Arms Control to Counter-Terrorism Operations: Interning in the T Family

September 15, 2016
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Rose Gottemoeller kicks off the 2016 James Timbie Forum event. [State Department Photo]

On any given day, the State Department’ staff use countless acronyms and abbreviations in quick reference to our offices. My office – the Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, usually called “T” –- is no different. I oversee three Bureaus: Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; International Security and Nonproliferation; and Political-Military Affairs or as we like to call ourselves, the “T Family.” 

It might seem a little strange that Bureaus with hard (and at times scary) security portfolios refer to themselves as a family, but that’s exactly how we see each other -- partners in the fight against threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons, arms trafficking, and more. Our work is difficult, frustrating, challenging, exciting, and critically important. To continue to make progress in this fight, we need to enlist ambitious, creative, and dedicated people. That’s why we are so committed to giving our interns the best possible experience. It is our hope that after graduation, they’ll come right back to join the family! 

Of course, the opportunities here to address international security challenges aren’t just limited to the T Family. If you are interested in an exciting and meaningful career at the State Department, I encourage you to read the following first-hand accounts from a few young professionals who spent their summers with us.

Jamie Withorne

Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC)

Jamie Withorne, Columbia University undergraduate and Summer 2016 Intern in the Office of Verification, Planning and Outreach. [State Department Photo]

“What is it like being an intern at the Department of State?” It's a seemingly laidback question, but with no real simple answer. I often blow it off by stating that “it’s classified,” but in reality, it is just too overwhelming to pack into a small talk conversation.

This summer, I had the great pleasure of interning in the “T Family” Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC). The “T Family” covers all things related to arms control and international security. AVC, in particular, “negotiates and implements arms control treaties and agreements, and verifies that parties to those treaties comply with their obligations.” Not the sexiest sounding topic in the world. When asked by people who tend not to speak "bureaucrat," I say that AVC essentially works on “preventing World War III”.

Through my internship, it became clear that preventing global nuclear conflict is significantly less glamorous, and exponentially more complex, than shows like Madam Secretary make it out to be. However, what is most exciting is that we are still helping prevent such conflicts, despite our entry-level positions. Yes, I did a few coffee runs, and I did my best to outsmart ancient printers and copiers, but I also did some pretty cool things, too.   

I spent hours searching the internet trying to find every article relevant to a particular arms control agreement or negotiation in order to help create a better public affairs product. I got to discuss the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the head U.S. negotiator over cafeteria Korean food. I spent hours creating text versions of maps in order to make the information accessible to visually-impaired users of our website. I staffed a lot of interesting meetings, and even did my best to keep cool when Secretary Kerry arrived at one of them and stood a mere 10 feet from me.  

While I was not crafting policy or reading top secret documents -– yet –- I enjoyed every second of my internship. It was clear that the work I was doing was important to AVC’s mission, as my supervisors helped me see that even the smallest tasks can help pave the way for good diplomacy. 

This realization made me think of a key theme Madam Secretary got right. The speechwriter on the show remarked that, “achievement is often anonymous. Some of the greatest things have been done by people you have never heard of... quietly dedicating their lives to improving your own.”

My experience at the State Department provided me with more insight into international relations than any class ever could – sparking a desire in me to dedicate my life to diplomacy and join the ranks of the often-anonymous policymakers that shape U.S. foreign policy. I loved every second of my internship, and couldn't think of a better way to have spent my summer. 

Alexandra Shishkova

Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN)

Alexandra Shishkova, University of Texas undergraduate and 2016 Summer Intern in the Office of the Biological Policy Staff. [State Department Photo]

This summer, I interned in the Office of the Biological Policy Staff (BPS) within the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN).

BPS manages issues related to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and I had the opportunity to take part in their preparation for the Eighth Review Conference of the BWC to be held in Geneva in November of this year. The BWC is a multilateral disarmament treaty banning the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.  The Convention, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2015, has set a very strong international norm against the pursuit of offensive biological and toxin weapons, making clear that such an abhorrent endeavor will not be tolerated by the international community.

From day one, I was treated like a regular member of the State Department team! I represented my office and the State Department at interagency meetings and conferences, I attended training sessions, and I was trusted to provide technical analysis and strategic policy ideas to assist the U.S. delegation in their plans and prospects for the upcoming BWC Review Conference. I was responsible for unraveling the statements countries had submitted to the UN and organizing them into matrices and charts to look for patterns that could help the U.S. delegation form negotiating strategies. I also researched the countries that have not yet joined the BWC and interviewed country experts in the regional bureaus on how best to target our outreach to them.

Interning for an office that oversees a treaty was a great learning experience. It was interesting to see how high-level negotiations come down to precise language and phrasing. Sometimes years of preparation go into developing agreed language!

The State Department is a mind-blowingly inspiring place to work. My building had seven floors of offices with some of America’s most exceptional thinkers, writers and communicators—for any policy interest I could think of. I could easily search the directory and find a genius diplomat who works on that issue. Many took time out of their extremely busy schedules to have a coffee chat with me. I genuinely hope to encourage readers to pursue an internship at the State Department, as this has been an incredible summer full of diplomatic adventures!

Trey Curran

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM)

Trey Curran, University of Texas undergraduate student and 2016 Summer Intern in the Office of the Regional Security and Arms Transfers. [State Department Photo]

This summer, I had the privilege to work in the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers (RSAT), supporting the United States’ mission to enhance our security and that of our allies worldwide. The transfer of U.S.-origin defense articles deepens bilateral and multilateral security relationships with our partners, enhancing regional stability and security. This occurs through the direct support of allies’ self-defense and ability to partner in the fight against global terrorist threats. 

I drafted recommendations and justifications of arms transfers that support the security of our allies. This included an interdepartmental presentation where I advocated that a retired Coast Guard cutter be transferred to the Nigerian Navy to support its infrastructure protection, maritime domain awareness, and anti-piracy goals.   

I directly supported counter-Boko Haram security assistance and operations planning. I represented RSAT at weekly meetings on the subject, enabling the U.S. government to avoid redundancy, maximize the effective use of limited resources, and leverage our capacities to support democratic governments in the Lake Chad Basin region. Through effective interagency collaboration, we have strengthened bilateral relationships with allies and increased our efficacy in fighting terror in the region. 

I helped draft Congressional reports and responses detailing foreign policy and national security implications of arms transfers, including the overarching annual Congressional Report on Arms Transfers and Regional Military Balance in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, known as the MEAT Report. That assignment helped me explore the broad spectrum of U.S. security cooperation across the near East. I also drafted talking points, action memos, and information memos for various officers and Assistant Secretaries as well as the National Security Council, better preparing them for meetings with Congress, industry leaders, and foreign interlocutors

During my internship in RSAT, I learned an incredible amount about the security challenges facing our allies abroad, but also the breadth of security cooperation and assistance mechanisms that the United States provides to our allies. I truly feel I contributed in a meaningful way to the mission of the U.S. Department of State: to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.

Stories similar to these are often heard around the halls of Foggy Bottom. Former State Department interns, who are have now joined the Department as permanent employees, often report that it was their summer experience that propelled them toward career in foreign affairs. If you are a young person interested in working on global issues, I encourage you to get in the game -- whether here at the Department or elsewhere! Applications for the State Department’s 2017 summer internship program are now being accepted and you have until October 21, 2016 to apply.

About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller is the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. Department of State.

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