Q & A with Courtney Brasier, U.S. Foreign Service Officer and CISSM/SPP alum

November 19, 2015
Former School of Public Policy (SPP) master's degree student and CISSM graduate assistant Courtney Brasier visited Washington, D.C., this fall and sat down with CISSM to discuss her current work as a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and her thoughts on ongoing international security challenges. Tell us about your current position and your current responsibilities. Foreign Service Officers choose one of five career tracks upon entry--political, economic, management, consular, or public affairs--and all officers are required to serve at least one tour in the Consular Office during their first two assignments. My first assignment was in the Office of Political and Economic Affairs at U.S. Consulate General Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and I am currently on my second assignment at U.S. Embassy Moscow, working in the Office of Consular Affairs. We are the first point of contact for Americans in trouble, and we routinely deal with U.S. citizens who were arrested, seriously injured, victims of a crime, or otherwise in crisis. The Consular Office also conducts immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews, public outreach to promote travel to the U.S., and investigations of visa and passport fraud.    How has your work at the State Department affected the way you see public policy making? U.S. foreign policy can have a very real and tangible effect on the daily lives of ordinary people in foreign countries. It’s not just the foreign government officials and the political elite that scrutinize our actions; regular citizens are often paying just as much attention as their foreign ministry to U.S. policy and politics, and they are often intimately familiar with U.S. policy concerning their country. In both social and professional settings, I routinely encounter policy questions from the locals that I meet. I have been struck by the way our policy decisions can alter the lives of ordinary, middle-class people who otherwise would have little reason to closely follow foreign affairs. Other countries have very high moral and ethical expectations for our foreign policy. It’s a high bar.   What part of your SPP education and work at CISSM has been most valuable to you professionally? FSOs are expected to be generalists, meaning that we can find ourselves in situations where we have little background or experience and must adapt quickly. FSOs often call this “mile-wide, inch deep” knowledge; when it comes to foreign policy, we need to know something about everything, and it helps to understand the nature of government and the policy process. I was an ISEP student at MSPP and a graduate assistant at CISSM. This background gave me a leg up in that area over my peers who came in from other fields and it helped me better play the “generalist” role. In Saudi Arabia, I worked on everything from international trade to civil conflict, and I always knew the issues because I could rely on the body of knowledge I gained from my ISEP coursework, policy-simulation exercises, and MSPP-supported internships.   What is the importance of understanding and working to maintain U.S.-Russian relations? The biggest security policy challenges of our time--nonproliferation, terrorism, and cybersecurity to name a few--all happen to involve Russia to a great degree. The state of U.S.-Russian relations will no doubt be a factor in our ability to mitigate these threats, not just for ourselves but for our allies. The U.S. wants a strong Russia as our partner, and we continue to cooperate on a range of shared interests. Right now, an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut are spending a year together aboard the International Space Station, and Russia and the U.S. worked diligently together on the Iran nuclear deal.        What international policy challenge are you paying the most attention to at present? Why? Syria. The complexity of the Syrian conflict is daunting. It has gone on long enough that second-order problems like a refugee crisis and mounting extremism have emerged, which connect more countries to the conflict in some way. The impact has spread far beyond the region, and soon enough everyone starts to feel like a stakeholder who deserves a seat at negotiating the table.   From your professional vantage point, where do you see international cooperation benefiting international security most significantly? Cybersecurity. Coping with the threat of cyberwarfare, cyber terrorism, and commercial espionage is totally new territory. What’s most alarming is how accessible cyber weapons are to both state and non-state actors, and how a single cyber-attack can affect many millions of people.  A major cyber-breach is reported almost every month by a government entity or private-sector company somewhere in the world. Cyber-attacks can undermine global economic security, endanger national sovereignty, and cause geopolitical instability. Going forward, we will need intense diplomatic engagement on cyber issues. Establishing internationally accepted norms of behavior in cyberspace--starting with mutual restraint--is a key part of our cyber-security policy.