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February 14, 2022

A look at how countries go nuclear—and why some do not
Embarking upon a leadership journey
Can the world change course on climate?
Women's rights and rising threats to press freedom worldwide
Networking on a global scale
What’s the next chapter in Afghanistan?

A look at how countries go nuclear—and why some do not

MIT News | First published here.

In 1993, South Africa announced to a largely surprised world that it had built nuclear weapons in the 1980s, before dismantling its arsenal. For the first time, a country outside of the elite world powers had obtained nuclear capabilities while keeping matters a secret from almost everyone else.

To this day, South Africa remains the only country to have pulled off that exact trick. Other countries have gone nuclear in other ways. A half-dozen countries with more economic and political clout than South Africa have built weapons on their own timetables. Three other countries—Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—have developed nuclear weapons while being supported by larger allies. And many wealthy countries, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, have chosen not to pursue weapons programs.

Recognizing these different paths to proliferation is an essential part of arms control: Grasping how one country is pursuing nuclear weapons can help other countries constrain that pursuit.

“There’s meaningful variation in how states have thought about pursuing nuclear weapons,” says Vipin Narang, an MIT political scientist and expert on nuclear strategy. “It changes how we think about stopping them. It changes how we think about managing them. It’s an important question.”

Narang believes that too often, we imagine that all countries pursue nuclear weapons the way the U.S. and Soviet Union did during and after World War II— a swift race culminating in the rapid buildup of arsenals, leaving little room for intervention. But that paradigm applies to almost no other country. 

“We think of proliferators as a stylized Manhattan Project,” says Narang, the Frank Stanton professor of Nucear Security and Political Science at MIT. “But the US and the Soviet Union are really the only ones who had Manhattan projects, and the rest of the nuclear weapons powers look different.”

Narang has detailed these differences in a new book, “Seeking the Bomb,” published by Princeton University Press. In it, he develops a comprehensive typology of nuclear programs around the world; examines why countries take different routes to nuclear development; and outlines the policy implications.

“There is a growing likelihood that the United States will have to confront proliferation attempts from not just foes but friends and frenemies as well,” Narang writes in the book.

Sprinters and hedgers

In recent decades, scholarship has usually focused on why countries acquire nuclear weapons—with the leading answers being security, prestige, and domestic political dynamics. But Narang’s book centers the question of how, not why, countries seek to become nuclear-equipped.

“No one had asked how states pursue nuclear weapons, and examined the different ways they have to deal with nonproliferation [agreements], their own resource constraints, domestic politics, and states trying to stop them,” Narang says.

At least 29 countries have made efforts to become nuclear; 19 have specifically tried to develop nuclear bombs, and 10 have succeeded. Narang’s book puts all of them into four categories: countries he labels “sprinters,” “hedgers,” those benefitting from “sheltered pursuit,” and “hiders.”

The “sprinters,” the simplest category to understand, consist of the U.S., Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, China, and India—big countries that could develop nuclear weapons independently, and did.

Then there are “hedgers,” the countries that have potential to develop nuclear weapons but hold off doing so, because of geopolitical considerations or a lack of domestic political support. Germany, Japan, and South Korea are U.S. allies who are not eager to make themselves targets for nuclear-armed states, and instead work with the US on defense matters. Should U.S. support waver, those countries might be more likely to pursue their own programs. 

“Seeking the Bomb” actually details three subcategories of hedging. Japan and Germany are “insurance hedgers,” wary of American abandonment. “Hard hedgers,” such as Sweden or Switzerland, are not as close to the US but still decided not to pursue weapons acquisition. And “technical hedgers,” including Argentina and Brazil, have technological pieces in place for nuclear program but have not weaponized those capabilities.

“Hedging is very prominent across countries, including Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran,” Narang says. “It’s a really meaningful category that is written out of the proliferation literature because we all focus on states that get the bomb, and not the ones that don’t know if they want it yet. They put the pieces in place to exercise the option quickly if they decide to.”

Embarking upon a leadership journey

MISTI | First published here.

Current developments in the Middle East continue to challenge people in the region and open windows to make a sustainable impact. Challenges like water access, health care, IT, vocational training, and others can be addressed collaboratively with entrepreneurial and novel problem-solving capabilities. To do so, future leaders need to understand the challenges through a regional lens while learning how to collaborate across borders to develop potential solutions.

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) combined 30 students, three Middle Eastern organizations, five industry leaders, and entrepreneurs to create "The Leader's Journey: In Times of Transition and Crisis." The program brought MIT students and young-to-mid-career Israelis and Palestinians together to address significant challenges in the Middle East.

David Dolev, managing director of MISTI's programs in the Middle East, reached out to three organizations that he had partnered with in the past to explore new ways of connecting MIT with the region. Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET), Our Generation Speaks (OGS), and Tech2Peace brought together their alumni alongside leaders in the industry to help explore how multidisciplinary, transboundary cooperation can make an impact in the region. MISTI alumna Kathleen Schwind managed the project.

Speakers were eager to engage with the next generation of leaders. At the same time, participants had a chance to have deep conversations about these challenges, and their potential solutions, while employing the techniques and skills they had learned.

MIT alumni, each a leader in their field, talked about a topic related to leadership and entrepreneurship, and answered questions from the participants. The program drew from MISTI's global network of industry leaders and organizations with attention to scientific, technological, and entrepreneurial efforts in the Middle East and the three organizations' extensive work in the region.

Robin Chase, American entrepreneur and the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, spoke about building on excess capacity to create novel global solutions and strategies. Next, Rhiannon Menn, the founder of Lasagna Love, joined for her talk "From local to national in six months: How to mobilize the masses?"

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, shared his insights on how to leverage openness to move toward transformative change. Camille Richman, a MISTI alumna and co-founder of Hamama, spoke about "Impact-driven research to make sure you have the right product." Christine Ortiz, Station1 founder and the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, rounded out the series with "How to make a transformative impact from within your organization."

Breakout discussion groups followed, in which MIT, Israeli, and Palestinian participants met to complete a project that drew from the program sessions, their experiences in the program, and their individual backgrounds, to develop five "pillars" for making an impact in the region. These pillars were inspired by the sessions and the speaker topics, and aimed to build a platform upon which projects can be built in the future.

Specific ideas generated by the groups included: implementing a model in which excess solar energy is re-distributed to underserved regions, developing virtual workplaces to expand access to education and professional development opportunities, and addressing food waste through a research-execution-community-impact-maintenance model.

Graduates of the "Leader's Journey" program said they felt better-equipped to create positive change in the region by collaborating with a diverse set of individuals over new methods and ways of thinking.

“I learned how much knowledge we have as a group—even if we sit for one hour to talk about a topic we are passionate about, we can create amazing things together," one student said.

Participants noted that one of the program's most significant assets was the creation of a unique space to hold deep conversations with peers from a variety of backgrounds and interests. This space also allowed participants to contextualize and put into action the skills and feedback from the speakers. Participants also said they were inspired by learning from new people and felt more confident about turning their ideas into ventures, businesses, and positive community impact.

"During the past months, we were lucky to be part of this program and get this special opportunity to meet great entrepreneurs who did great work toward the global community, not only their local community," shared one group of students. "We fed our minds with great knowledge to develop ourselves and our communities. A special thanks to the Leader's Journey team for all of that."

"Overall, the program served as an opportunity for participants to learn from each other and consider their personal and professional goals in a multidisciplinary and international capacity, work in international and multidisciplinary teams, and sharpen their global leadership skills," said Dolev. "They were exposed to novel ideas from industry leaders, learned to frame those ideas in reality through conversations with fellow MIT students and Israeli and Palestinian peers, and learned how to turn those ideas into solutions in a changing and dynamic climate."

The quality and relevance of the ideas produced inspired MISTI and the three organizations to make this an annual course which will be offered to MIT students this spring as a three-credit discovery course, SP.258 (MISTI: Middle East Cross-border Development and Leadership), which is open to all undergraduate and graduate students. Many attendees were so positive about their experience in the program they asked to be involved in the planning for next year.

“We are committed to working with our students to develop deeper understanding into how culture and regional factors impact our capacity to develop global solutions; connecting them to one another and building networks of future leaders; and enabling them to learn from current industry leaders and entrepreneurs. These three pillars will be their launching pad to collaborate with their peers around the world and together be the global change-makers the world deeply needs,” said Dolev.

Can the world change course on climate?

SHASS | First published here. 

In this ongoing series, MIT faculty, students, and alumni in the humanistic fields share perspectives that are significant for solving climate change and mitigating its myriad social and ecological impacts. Nazli Choucri is a professor of political science with expertise on climate, sustainability, international relations, and cyberpolitics. She is the architect and director of the Global System for Sustainable Development, an evolving knowledge networking system centered on sustainability problems and solution strategies. The author and/or editor of 12 books, she is also the founding editor of the MIT Press book series Global Environmental Accord: Strategies for Sustainability and Institutional Innovation. MIT SHASS Communications spoke with Professor Choucri this fall, soon after the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).  

Q: The impacts of climate changeincluding storms, floods, wildfires, and droughtshave the potential to destabilize nations, yet they are not constrained by borders. What international developments most concern you in terms of addressing climate change and its myriad ecological and social impacts?

Climate change is a global issue. By definition, and a long history of practice, countries focus on their own priorities and challenges. Over time, we have seen the gradual development of norms reflecting shared interests, and the institutional arrangements to support and pursue the global good. What concerns me most is that general responses to the climate crisis are being framed in broad terms; the overall pace of change remains perilously slow; and uncertainty remains about operational action and implementation of stated intent. We have just seen the completion of the 26th meeting of states devoted to climate change, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). In some ways this is positive. Yet, past commitments remain unfulfilled, creating added stress in an already stressful political situation.

Industrial countries are uneven in their recognition of, and responses to, climate change. This may signal uncertainty about whether climate matters are sufficiently compelling to call for immediate action. Alternatively, the push for changing course may seem too costly at a time when other imperatives — such as employment, economic growth, or protecting borders—inevitably dominate discourse and decisions. Whatever the cause, the result has been an unwillingness to take strong action. Unfortunately, climate change remains within the domain of “low politics,” although there are signs the issue is making a slow but steady shift to “high politics”—those issues deemed vital to the existence of the state. This means that short-term priorities, such as those noted above, continue to shape national politics and international positions and, by extension, to obscure the existential threat revealed by scientific evidence.

As for developing countries, these are overwhelmed by internal challenges, and managing the difficulties of daily life always takes priority over other challenges, however compelling. Long-term thinking is a luxury, but daily bread is a necessity. Non-state actors—including registered nongovernmental organizations, climate organizations, sustainability support groups, activists of various sorts, and in some cases much of civil society—have been left with a large share of the responsibility for educating and convincing diverse constituencies of the consequences of inaction on climate change. But many of these institutions carry their own burdens and struggle to manage current pressures. The international community, through its formal and informal institutions, continues to articulate the perils of climate change and to search for a powerful consensus that can prove effective both in form and in function. The general contours are agreed upon—more or less. But leadership of, for, and by the global collective is elusive and difficult to shape. Most concerning of all is the clear reluctance to address head-on the challenge of planning for changes that we know will occur. The reality that we are all being affected—in different ways and to different degrees—has yet to be sufficiently appreciated by everyone, everywhere. Yet, in many parts of the world, major shifts in climate will create pressures on human settlements, spur forced migrations, or generate social dislocations. Some small island states, for example, may not survive a sea-level surge. Everywhere there is a need to cut emissions, and this means adaptation and/or major changes in economic activity and in lifestyle.

The discourse and debate at COP26 reflect all of such persistent features in the international system. So far, the largest achievements center on the common consensus that more must be done to prevent the rise in temperature from creating a global catastrophe. This is not enough, however. Differences remain, and countries have yet to specify what cuts in emissions they are willing to make.

Echoes of who is responsible for what remains strong. The thorny matter of the unfulfilled pledge of $100 billion once promised by rich countries to help countries to reduce their emissions remained unresolved.

At the same time, however, some  important agreements were reached. The United States and China announced they would make greater efforts to cut methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. More than 100 countries agreed to end deforestation. India joined the countries committed to attain zero emissions by 2070. And on matters of finance, countries agreed to a two-year plan to determine how to meet the needs of the most vulnerable countries.

Q: In what ways do you think the tools and insights from political science can advance efforts to address climate change and its impacts?

I prefer to take a multidisciplinary view of the issues at hand, rather than focus on the tools of political science alone. Disciplinary perspectives can create siloed views and positions that undermine any overall drive toward consensus. The scientific evidence is pointing to, even anticipating, pervasive changes that transcend known and established parameters of social order all across the globe.

That said, political science provides important insight, even guidance, for addressing the impacts of climate change in some notable ways. One is understanding the extent to which our formal institutions enable discussion, debate, and decisions about the directions we can take collectively to adapt, adjust, or even depart from the established practices of managing social order.

If we consider politics as the allocation of values in terms of who gets what, when, and how, then it becomes clear that the current allocation requires a change in course. Coordination and cooperation across the jurisdictions of sovereign states is foundational for any response to climate change impacts.

We have already recognized, and to some extent, developed targets for reducing carbon emissions—a central impact from traditional forms of energy use—and are making notable efforts to shift toward alternatives. This move is an easy one compared to all the work that needs to be done to address climate change. But, in taking this step we have learned quite a bit that might help in creating a necessary consensus for cross-jurisdiction coordination and response.

Respecting individuals and protecting life is increasingly recognized as a global value—at least in principle. As we work to change course, new norms will be developed, and political science provides important perspectives on how to establish such norms. We will be faced with demands for institutional design, and these will need to embody our guiding values. For example, having learned to recognize the burdens of inequity, we can establish the value of equity as foundational for our social order both now and as we recognize and address the impacts of climate change.

Q: You teach a class on Sustainability Development: Theory and Practice. Broadly speaking, what are goals of this class? What lessons do you hope students will carry with them into the future?

The goal of 17.181, my class on sustainability, is to frame as clearly as possible the concept of sustainable development (sustainability) with attention to conceptual, empirical, institutional, and policy issues.

The course centers on human activities. Individuals are embedded in complex interactive systems: the social system, the natural environment, and the constructed cyber domain—each with distinct temporal, special, and dynamic features. Sustainability issues intersect with, but cannot be folded into, the impacts of climate change. Sustainability places human beings in social systems at the core of what must be done to respect the imperatives of a highly complex natural environment.

We consider sustainability an evolving knowledge domain with attendant policy implications. It is driven by events on the ground, not by revolution in academic or theoretical concerns per se. Overall, sustainable development refers to the process of meeting the needs of current and future generations, without undermining the resilience of the life-supporting properties, the integrity of social systems, or the supports of the human-constructed cyberspace.

More specifically, we differentiate among four fundamental dimensions and their necessary conditions: (a) ecological systems—exhibiting balance and resilience; (b) economic production and consumption—with equity and efficiency; (c) governance and politics—with participation and responsiveness; and (d) institutional performance—demonstrating adaptation and incorporating feedback.

The core proposition is this: If all conditions hold, then the system is (or can be) sustainable. Then, we must examine the critical drivers—people, resources, technology, and their interactions followed by a review and assessment of evolving policy responses. Then we ask: What are new opportunities?

I would like students to carry forward these ideas and issues: What has been deemed “normal” in modern Western societies and in developing societies seeking to emulate the Western model is damaging humans in many ways—all well known. Yet only recently have alternatives begun to be considered to the traditional economic growth model based on industrialization and high levels of energy use. To make changes, we must first understand the underlying incentives, realities, and choices that shape a whole set of dysfunctional behaviors and outcomes. We then need to delve deep into the driving sources and consequences, and to consider the many ways in which our known “normal” can be adjusted—in theory and in practice.

Q: In confronting an issue as formidable as global climate change, what gives you hope?  

I see a few hopeful signs; among them: The scientific evidence is clear and compelling. We are no longer discussing whether there is climate change; or if we will face major challenges of unprecedented proportions; or even how to bring about an international consensus on the salience of such threats.
Climate change has been recognized as a global phenomenon. Imperatives for cooperation are necessary. No one can go it alone. Major efforts have and are being made in world politics to forge action agendas with specific targets.

The issue appears to be on the verge of becoming one of “high politics” in the United States.

Younger generations are more sensitive to the reality that we are altering the life-supporting properties of our planet. They are generally more educated, skilled, and open to addressing such challenges than their elders.

However disappointing the results of COP26 might seem, the global community is moving in the right direction.

None of the above points, individually or jointly, translates into an effective response to the known impacts of climate change—let alone the unknown. But, this is what gives me hope.

3 Questions: Women’s rights and rising threats to press freedom worldwide

Center for International Studies | First published here

To Ada Petriczko, being born a woman can be a matter of life or death. Hailing from Poland, she reports on sexual violence and gender injustices around the globe. As a human rights journalist, her mission is to amplify the voices of women who have been systematically silenced by their communities and governments. Their stories have to be heard, she argues, in order to reshape our societies. This includes reporting on her home country, where democratic stability and women’s rights are increasingly under threat.  

Petriczko joined the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS) last fall as its Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow. The fellowship is awarded annually by The International Women’s Media Foundation and provides its recipient with research opportunities at MIT and further training at The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

Recently, she sat down to discuss her guiding principles as a journalist, the challenges facing her craft, and the rewarding experiences of this fellowship. She also weighs in on the rise of autocracy in Central and Eastern Europe. On Feb 3, she explored this topic and its impact on free media at a CIS Starr Forum event with experts from Poland, Hungary, and Russia.

Q: One of your fields of interest is ethics in journalism. What does it mean to be an ethical journalist to you? And what are some of the challenges that ethical journalism faces today?

A: I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe in fairness. Ethical journalism is about being fair to the facts and being fair to the people you’re writing about. Aidan White, an esteemed journalist who founded the Ethical Journalism Network, told me in an interview that there are about 400 different journalism codes of conduct in the world, but if you examine them closely, they all boil down to the same five core principles: accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity, and accountability. I try to play by these rules.

I report on sexual violence and other human rights violations within vulnerable communities and have been in situations in which people don’t want to share their experiences. I always respect their requests and back out, even if I’ve traveled far for the story. This can be a deal breaker in our current news landscape, which is extremely fast-paced and demanding. Ethical journalism takes more time and more thought. But I’ve found ways to talk about taboos without violating them. And that is oftentimes even more powerful.

We are facing a transitional moment in the information ecosystem. The rise of social media, and the obsolete financial models for media outlets, have negatively impacted ethical journalism. Time and money are needed to support in-depth reportage, which is becoming increasingly limited. 

The global rise of autocracy, of course, is also challenging democratic institutions, including the freedom of press and speech. And the Covid-19 pandemic has provided crumbling democracies the perfect excuse to do just that.

In Poland, for example, we're facing a humanitarian crisis on the Belarussian border where thousands of migrants are seeking refuge from horrific situations. Soon after the Covid-19 outbreak, the Polish government banned reporters from entering the border region to cover the crisis. This is without precedent in the post-war history of Europe. 

NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and multinational organizations around the globe are starting to address these issues as real threats. Maria Ressa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for journalism, and whom I’ve recently interviewed for The Boston Globe, is championing an international fund for journalists. So this brings me an element of hope.

Q: You’ve partnered with journalists from other countries for certain projects, including Witch Hunt. Tell us more about this style of work — referred to as cross-border journalism—and why it is important.

A: In the cross-border method, journalists work as partners on one story but remain within their respective countries, cultures, and ethnicities. This kind of reportage allows a journalist to bring a unique perspective and expertise to the story without having to travel hundreds or thousands of miles. The Panama Papers is probably the most famous example of this kind of reporting; a global team worked together to expose the corruption of the offshore finance industry. 

Cross-border journalism provides a cheaper, more culturally sensitive and ecologically conscious alternative to classic foreign reporting. That said, the traditional model has many benefits. There are stories in which the perspective of an outsider is simply priceless. I’ve spent the better part of my career on assignments in India and South America, and as much as I love working on location, I’ve realized over the years that this type of reporting is becoming unsustainable. The climate crisis and the other threats I discussed earlier, will make the traditional style of foreign reporting more and more difficult and rare. 

On top of that, the cross-border model provides an opportunity to hear from journalists who are not part of the mainstream, usually Anglo Saxon media. We all read The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe, which are amazing outlets with long traditions and high journalistic standards. But there’s also an inherent bias at work there. Even though English is the lingua franca of today, a journalist who is not a native speaker has a very slim chance of getting hired as staff in one of these major outlets.

Q: What have you been working on during your fellowship?

A: I’m using the fellowship to dig deeper into the topics that I’ve been reporting on over the past three years. For example, I’m taking a class on the history of India, which has helped me better understand the impact that colonialism and partition has had on women’s rights and violence in that region. This will provide invaluable context to my most important project—a nonfiction book on the 45 million women who are missing from the Indian population due to wide-spread sex selection. As part of my research in Boston, I interviewed Amartya Sen (forthcoming in The Boston Globe), a Nobel Prize laureate in economics, who was the first person to calculate that over 100 million women are missing from the world population. In my book, I’m trying to understand the implications of this phenomenon. How do communities cope with such a huge absence of women? Why does this scarcity give rise to even more violence against women? How does this impact the future of families in these communities?

At MIT, I’ve also been exploring freedom of speech in my part of the world—the Central European region—where we’ve seen a rise of autocracy.  

At The Boston Globe, I was a member of the editorial board, which was a remarkable experience. And, in addition to interviewing two Nobel Prize laureates, I wrote opinion pieces and editorials on abortion rights in Texas and the humanitarian crisis in Poland. Now I’m preparing for my residency at The New York Times

The biggest value for me is the opportunity to train under the mentorship of the finest editors and the academics in the world. This has boosted my confidence as a reporter and will hopefully make me a valuable voice in the public debate of my country, which has found itself at the crossroads between democracy and autocracy. Being in the US, where the democratic institutions are still robust, has helped me remember where my values lie.

Networking on a global scale

MISTI | First published here.

While international travel continues to be limited in much of the world, MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) sought to capitalize on the increased digital connectivity brought about by the pandemic by developing cutting-edge virtual programs designed to allow students to be exposed to international education and build connections around the world.

MISTI is MIT's flagship international education program, with internship and research opportunities spanning more than 25 countries across six continents. In a typical year, MISTI facilitates over 1,200 in-person student placements around the world. While the pandemic paused travel, programs doubled down on their commitment to creating connections between MIT and the global community.

MIT-India Program Manager Nureen Das and MIT-UK Program Manager Stephen Barnes came together to create the MISTI Career Conversations Series, a weekly virtual lunch meeting between current MIT students and top executives from the industries of electric vehicles, the digital economy, and telecommunications. MIT-India's long-time intern host, the TATA Group, was a partner in the development of the series, and many of their executives attended as speakers for the sessions.

When it came to developing a virtual summer program, identifying an ideal host partner from one of MISTI's many programs was paramount. “TATA has traditionally been a very strong partner for the MIT-India program, but they also have lots of activity and work in the UK, so we thought this overlap would be a great way to engage students and constituents at TATA alike, as well as bringing in exciting UK partner organizations,” says Barnes.

“The goal was to provide students with an opportunity to engage with industry leaders and hear their insights on trends and career advice from their respective sectors,” continues Das. "It turned out that the perfect intersection of these industries lay with TATA and MISTI's UK partners.”

Students from across campus were eager to get involved. “Being able to speak to industry leaders from different countries about the unique social and political issues they confront while developing new technology allows me to gain a less American-centric view of innovation, which I strive to do,” said political science sophomore Leela Fredlund. “I would like to get their advice on my future career path so that I can make the best possible decisions given the opportunities presented to me,” said electrical engineering and computer science sophomore Anish Ravichandran.

Each session was facilitated by a different group of students who were responsible for connecting with that week's speakers and developing a question-and-answer session. The program allowed the speakers to present an overview of their work, along with their own personal advice on career tips in today's industry. Speakers from the TATA Group (including TATA Motors, TATA Digital, TATA Consultancy Services, and TATA Communications), Arrival, Perlego, Bethnal Green Ventures, Mobilus Labs, and BT all offered unique in-the-field insights on how to begin careers in their industries.

Translating one's passion into a career path was a common theme among speakers. “Find what you're passionate about; otherwise, you're not going to have fun, and that's a problem,” said G. Napo Montano, vice president of mobile robotics at Arrival. Ankur Jindal, vice president and global head corporate venturing and innovation at TATA Communications, echoed Montano's thought with a small caveat, urging students to be passionate about what they do, but remain flexible to the way their career may take shape. He warned against the old model of the 10-year plan, noting the rapidly changing market. 

Another common theme in career tips was the importance of taking risks. “I'll say this very cliché, maybe 'Boomer statement,'” joked MIT alumnus Jordan McRae, now CEO and founder of Mobilus Labs. “Take as much risk as you can when you're young. I mean, you should always be taking risks throughout your life, but it's easier when you're younger and have less responsibility. So, take more.” Rajarshi Purkayastha, head of pre-sales at TATA Communications, added that if one doesn't take chances, their career will stall. Failure, he noted, is often something of which to be proud.

Speakers also offered advice and insight regarding networking. “Networking is awkward — everyone thinks so,” said Nelly Lavielle, portfolio manager at Bethnal Green Ventures. “But practice makes perfect,” she added. Honey Bajaj SM '17, head of customer experience and insights at Tata Digital, was optimistic. “Follow your heart, and just go to anybody. Everybody, I think, in the world is approachable,” said Bajaj.

Feedback from the students and speakers alike was overwhelmingly positive. “It helped me to develop a better picture of what different jobs look like,” said computation and cognition sophomore Simon Radhakrishnan. “Up until now, I basically only knew about research jobs and my parents' careers, and now I know more about the possibilities for me.”

“One of the biggest takeaways I had from this series on the sectors discussed is that innovation is driving all of them to change fundamentally and rapidly,” noted mechanical engineering junior Aljazzy Alahmadi.

Alumni were also in attendance at several of the sessions, and benefited from participating in the discussions. Bajaj, a graduate of the Integrated Design and Management program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, reflects upon how special it was to connect with current students at MIT. “It was nostalgic for me, from an alumni perspective. In the future, we could do a session with alumni and current student cohorts for specific industry areas.”

“As an alum working in finance, it was great to participate in the seminar series focused on ESG [environmental, social, and governance] innovations. Speakers and content were of uniformly high quality. Having students facilitate the sessions and asking thoughtful questions of industry leaders worked really well. The conversations were stimulating and engaging and provided excellent food for thought around the future of work,” reflects Archan Basu MBA '99. “Renewable energy and ESG investing are close to my heart and are rapidly gaining importance.”

“The MISTI Summer series was an excellent engagement between industry leaders and students at MIT,” adds Aparna Jain, talent and leadership general manager at Tata Group. “The speakers greatly enjoyed the interaction, incisive questions about innovation, ESG, and more. The students had done their research before the sessions, and it was a rich exchange. We look forward to many more throughout the year.”

As MISTI continues to straddle hybrid operations, programs remain committed to providing their students with enriching international experiences that allow them to explore academic and professional opportunities within an evolving global context.

What’s the next chapter in Afghanistan?

MIT News | First published here.

After nearly 20 years, the US has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan, and the Taliban has regained control over the country. In light of those developments, a panel of foreign-policy experts on Tuesday addressed two separate but related questions: Why did the US military action in Afghanistan fall short, and what comes next for the strife-ridden country?

The event occurred as observers are still digesting the rapid collapse of the US-backed national government in Afghanistan, which could not maintain power as the US undertook its military withdrawal.

“Even I didn’t think they would go down in 10 days,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, PhD ’07, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology.

The virtual event, “US, Afghanistan, 9/11: Finished or Unfinished Business?” was the latest in the Starr Forum series held by MIT’s Center for International Studies, which examines key foreign-policy and international issues. Barry Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, moderated the event.

As to why the US could not help build a more solid state in Afghanistan given 20 years, the panelists offered multiple answers.

Juan Cole, a professor of history at University of Michigan who specializes in the Middle East, suggested that large-scale military ambitions in Afghanistan constituted a case of strategic overreach. The Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, providing a haven for the Al Qaeda terrorist group that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US But any military activities beyond those aimed at dismantling Al Qaeda, he stated, were likely to be quixotic.

“The initial US attack on Afghanistan could be justified,” Cole said. “Al Qaeda had training camps there which were used to plot out 9/11, and so destroying those camps, making sure they couldn’t continue to operate, was a legitimate military mission.”

However, Cole proposed, “occupying an entire country of millions of people, and a difficult country to run and occupy” was “foredoomed to fail.” The US inevitably worked more closely with some ethnic groups and not others; local elites siphoned off foreign aid; and some militarized factions who had been aligned with the US reacted strongly against seeing foreign troops in the country. All this meant US expectations were soon “met with reality on the ground,” Cole said.

Felbab-Brown emphasized two long-running factors that helped undermine US efforts to build a new Afghan state. For one thing, she noted, neither the US nor any other country could reorient neighboring Pakistan away from its decades-long alignment with the Taliban.

“Essentially, the United States never resolved how to dissuade Pakistan from providing multifaceted support for the Taliban, down to the last days of July and August … and throughout the entire 20 years, the material support, safe havens, and all kinds of other support,” she said.

Secondly, in a country where 40 to 50 percent of income in the last two decades has come from foreign aid, Felhab-Brown noted, the US and its allies were not able to determine “how to persude local governing elites to moderate their role” and create more satisfactory habits of local administration.  

All that said, Felbab-Brown pointed to positive consequences of US efforts in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, including economic benefits and educational gains for women in particular.

“There is still a big difference between the poverty of today [in Afghanistan] and the mass starvation and huge degradation of civil and human rights that was the case in the 1990s,” Felhab-Brown said.

So, where is Afghanistan headed, assuming the Taliban consolidate control over most or all of the country?

“The worst outcome is rule that over time will come to look like the 1990s,” Felhab-Brown said, referring to the highly repressive Taliban policies that provided virtually no rights for women and massive restrictions on cultural activity.

Alternately, Felhab-Brown suggested, “The best outcome is an Iran-like system, with both the political structures of Iran … and a set of political freedoms where women can have education, can have jobs, can leave a house without a guardian, a crucial condition.” That would still represent a restrictive state by Western standards, and as Felhab-Brown suggested, it is also possible that the Taliban will settle on a more restrictive set of policies.

The international-relations repercussions of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan remain uncertain as well, noted Carol Saivetz, a senior advisor and Russia specialist with the MIT Security Studies Program. She observed that while some in Russia might take satisfaction in watching the US struggle while departing Afghanistan, Russia itself has long-running concerns about the spread of radical Islamic groups in its sphere of influence.

“I think that it’s a short-term gain … that longer-term I think could be very problematic for the Russians,” Saivetz said. “I think they are really scared of any kind of threat of Islamist terrorism overtaking Russia again.”

Saivetz also observed that the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979 to 1989, indicated the difficulties of trying to transform the country, especially in its rural settings.

“The Soviet experience in Afghanistan was really very similar to ours,” Saivetz said.

In his concluding thoughts, Posen called the winding up of the US military presence “a tragic chapter in a 20-year book” and noted that with so much of the Afghanistan economy having consisted of foreign aid programs now seemingly about to end, outside countries still have difficult decisions to make about what sort of relationship they might pursue with the country’s new leaders.

“The West has a lot of deep ethical choices to make here, about its relationship, not just with the Taliban, but the Afghan people,” Posen said.