Faculty Interview Series: An Interview with Dr. Natalie Goldring, SSP Adjunct Professor

By: Brian Wickizer, Reporter

Dr. Natalie Goldring is an Adjunct Professor in the Security Studies Program and a Research Fellow with the Center for Security Studies. She has written extensively on conventional and nuclear weapons, the international arms trade, non-proliferation, and small arms and light weapons. She is also the UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute, a British non-profit organization.

Before coming to Georgetown, Dr. Goldring was Executive Director of the Program on Global Security and Disarmament at the University of Maryland. Previously, she worked with non-governmental organizations for more than 15 years, including serving as Deputy Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and as the founding director of BASIC’s Project on Light Weapons.

She earned her PhD in Political Science from MIT, with a specialization in defense and arms control. She also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Wellesley College.

Dr. Goldring will be teaching a section of SEST-710, the Research Seminar, for the Fall 2016 semester.

In this episode of the Faculty Interview Series with the GSSRDr. Goldring shares stories about her past professional experiences and insights into her current role at SSP.

Can you tell us about your career and how you became interested in international security?

I originally got involved in international security issues because of the Vietnam War. In 1972, I worked on the Congressional campaign of Bob Carr, an anti-war candidate in Michigan, my home state. Although 1972 was a Democratic bloodbath, Bob lost by less than 2,500 votes out of more than 190,000 ballots cast, running against a 16-year incumbent. I remember visiting him in East Lansing shortly after the election and saying, “Ok, so when are you starting to run again for ’74?” He turned to me and said, “You haven’t started yet?”

Bob was elected to the House in 1974, and I interned for him in the summer of ’75. I had just finished my sophomore year at Wellesley and I wound up in one of those situations interns sometimes encounter. It was the first time that Congress had the opportunity to veto an arms sale; it was the sale of a mobile anti-aircraft missile system to Jordan. Bob had a defense staffer, but he had his hands full with Bob’s work for the Armed Services Committee, so as a 19-year-old summer intern, I handled the Congressman’s work on the arms sale. This got me extremely interested in the whole question of Congressional-Executive relations. Ironically, the law that allowed Congress to consider vetoing the sale was declared unconstitutional not long after that, but the experience gave me a level of exposure to what Congress could do, which fascinated me. Congress didn’t stop the sale, but they negotiated limitations so that it couldn’t be used offensively; the system was fixed so that it could not be mobile or used to attack Israel. I wound up doing my undergraduate thesis on Congressional-Executive relations and eventually wrote my dissertation on US arms sales policy in the Persian Gulf. So, I can trace a lot of my interests back to that internship. That was a time when Congress was really flexing its muscles in foreign policy, reacting to what they saw as Presidential overreach.

After interning in Congress, you worked for several non-profits. Could you describe your experiences with these organizations?

I knew when I was an undergrad that I wanted to do a PhD and that I wanted to study foreign policy and international security. Because I was at Wellesley, I got to know a lot of the students and faculty members at MIT, and I noticed that the students who were finishing the program tended to have a quantitative background or a background in physics, and I had neither. So, I spent two years at the Kennedy School doing an MPP and working on my quantitative background before going for my PhD.

I’ve been working with non-profits since I was in grad school. I worked for the Union of Concerned Scientists when I was writing my dissertation and then came to Washington and worked for non-profits that were primarily focused on public education, the military budget, and international security. The last full-time job I had in the NGO community was for the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). I worked on everything from European security to nuclear issues to arms trade issues. Toward the middle of my time at BASIC, I began focusing on the international arms trade and on small arms. That was great because before that, the arms trade was something I had done outside my job as an interest, but not something I could get somebody to actually pay me for.

I helped found BASIC’s Project on Light Weapons, which brought together an international coalition of groups and individuals to cover small arms and light weapons issues. I still remember a meeting in 1994 where colleagues had gathered people from around the world concerned about small arms and light weapons. Most of that community was sitting in one room; there were about 30 of us. People were working in affected areas, but they didn’t have a coalition to be a part of; they were really isolated. Groups like Oxfam, Amnesty International, BASIC’s Project on Light Weapons, and the International Action Network on Small Arms have brought together people working around the world on this issue, and have diminished that isolation considerably.

My heart is really in the NGOs. That activist core is still part of me. Now I have one foot in academia with my work at Georgetown and the other in the NGO realm. I work with a British NGO called the Acronym Institute. I do their conventional weapons work with the UN. This allows me to have a foot in each camp.

What does your day-to-day work look like representing the Acronym Institute to the UN?

I’ve been doing a lot of work on the Arms Trade Treaty, which was, remarkably, successfully negotiated at the UN. There is a lot of work now to deal with countries, like the US, who haven’t ratified it. In the current political environment, I would say that the prospects for ratification in the US are non-existent. But, it’s still possible to work on the conditions that would be necessary for ratification if the composition of the US Senate were to change. That means continuing to work on education, and explaining to people why we’re concerned about small arms and the treaty. We also spend a lot of time explaining that this treaty would have no effect on Second Amendment issues because it deals with international transfers of weapons, not domestic sales. It’s in the United States’s interest not to have weapons transferred willy-nilly to conflict zones and places where they might come back to either harm our forces or to be used against us in the United States. One of the systems I worry about is portable shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems. Anybody who has driven around Washington should understand our vulnerability to that sort of weapon.

I also work on related instruments at the United Nations. One of these is the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which was put into place about 15 years ago. The UN tends to like long names that don’t make nice acronyms, unlike Washington. There is also a key transparency measure called the UN Register of Conventional Arms, through which nations are supposed to report on the weapons that they transfer. But the Register has a lot to do with tanks and fighter aircraft and little to do with small arms, light weapons, and missile systems. We are working to adapt the Register to be more relevant to the weapons that are generally being used to kill people. A large group of analysts and advocates is working on the Arms Trade Treaty, with much smaller groups of people working on the Register and the Programme of Action. A few of us are quite interested in synergies among those instruments. Most of my work at the UN involves trying to find ways that we can improve each of the instruments while looking for ways that they can reinforce each other.

Could you tell us about the courses you’ve taught at Georgetown?

At SSP, I’ve taught the arms trade class several times and have also taught the nuclear weapons course. But the seminar has been my specialty. I think I’ve taught the seminar 18 times! I love the seminar. It’s different every semester. Now, in international security, any course you teach ought to change from term to term because the environment is changing, the policy issues are changing. But my seminar isn’t focused on what I want to teach; it’s about what the students want to write on. I get to read about different issues every semester. I’ll often have papers dealing with some aspect of terrorism and papers dealing with US use of force. Every couple of semesters I get a student who wants to do nuclear nonproliferation and somewhat less frequently I have a student who’s really interested in the arms trade. It’s not an issue that as many people pay attention to.

How do you run your 710 section?

My seminar tends to be fairly rigorous analytically. I want my students to come out with a paper that they can present to a prospective employer. Even though I understand that the employer may read the abstract and the table of contents or maybe the policy recommendations, writing an analytical paper helps prepare our students for what’s next. Most of them are going to be analysts. And while they may not be writing a lot of 30- or 40-page papers, they are going to be reading them quite often and analyzing and digesting them and producing memos about them for decisionmakers. In order to be able to assess other people’s work critically, you need to know what goes into producing that sort of product. One of the best ways to learn how to do that is to do that type of work yourself.

One of the things I love about the seminar is getting to know my students. I work with students one on one, talking about their interests and the role the paper can serve for them. Most students fall into one of two categories. Some of them have a set of issues that are their driving concern and they want to find a way to write about those in the seminar. Alternatively, the students have been doing something for quite a while, they have a specialization, and they really want to develop a new area of expertise. For some students, that is also associated with wanting to have a different job when they leave the program than they had when they came to SSP. I think these approaches are all valid. I tell my students that I am delighted to work with them on something they’ve already worked on, but I also like to see them develop new areas of expertise.

For me, the most important part is that students ask good questions of themselves and of their colleagues. I run an extremely collegial seminar. I spent a lot of time in Cambridge, so I understand that some people think that they can make themselves look better by making somebody else look worse. I don’t tolerate that in my seminar. I want students to come out of my seminar with a better idea of how to be critical of other people’s work in a way that is constructive.

To help students who are thinking about what topic they might want to write about for 710, what security issue do you think needs more attention?

Armed violence. It is a security issue at every level, from the local level to the state level to the national, regional, and international levels. We are losing a person per minute to armed violence, something in the order of half a million people per year. That affects the lives of the individuals involved, their families, and their communities. But armed violence also affects our ability to respond to other difficult issues like climate change. I think those two sets of issues will be increasingly inter-related in the future and that there will be more fighting over natural resources. Look at the wars we’ve fought and the policies we’ve pursued over the last 70 years in pursuit of reliable access to oil at inexpensive prices. Now, think about access to water around the world, and the extent to which that’s likely to produce conflict. Neither set of issues has received enough attention from the security community.

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