A Tale of Three Cities: Moscow, DC, and . . . Monterey

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Students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, including Sarah Bidgood (second from right), with visiting expert Pavel Gudev (third from right)

Programs in Monterey, California, are training the next generation of specialists who will revamp Washington-Moscow relations and strengthen cooperation on nuclear proliferation.

The critically important (but never easy) relationship between Washington and Moscow has seen its share of ups and downs since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But for a whole host of reasons, things have reached a new low point, with consequent impacts on cooperation in areas that are integral not just to the U.S. and Russia, but to the well-being of the entire international community. Take one high-stakes issue: nuclear security. Together, the U.S. and Russia hold a formidable 92 percent of existing nuclear weapons, meaning that the global risk these arms engender cannot be managed without the buy-in of both countries.

Communication, therefore, is key. As part of its longstanding commitment to addressing important international peace and security challenges, Carnegie Corporation of New York supports two programs at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), both of which aim to improve understanding and build collaboration between the upcoming generations of American and Russian specialists.

First, the Graduate Initiative in Russian Studies (GIRS) "combines elements of a traditional Russian language program with unprecedented opportunities to learn from and collaborate with experts and scholars from Russia, to engage in hands-on scholarship using primary sources, and to develop professionalized language skills within the context of students’ broader academic interests." The second Corporation-supported program at MIIS is the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), the "largest nongovernmental organization in the United States devoted exclusively to research and training on nonproliferation issues." CNS equips students and fellows with the tools to create effective solutions to nonproliferation challenges through developing their scientific and policy expertise. The synergy and complementarity between these two programs at Monterey—GIRS and CNS—speak to the dual challenges of revamping the U.S.-Russian relationship while simultaneously strengthening expertise on the issues of arms control, nonproliferation, and nuclear security.

For Sarah Bidgood, a graduate student fluent in Russian who is focusing on nonproliferation studies at MIIS, the investment in the future generation of area experts as well as the cultivation of relationships between Russian and American counterparts makes the Middlebury Institute a unique place, rich with potential. The university setting at Monterey creates significant windows of opportunity. "We have all this freedom," Bidgood observes, "to talk openly about what our hopes and dreams are for nonproliferation and disarmament. And, frankly, a lot of it is really similar on both the U.S. and Russian sides.” She adds that working with Russian professors and peers through GIRS and CNS is invaluable, because “learning from Russians about their perspectives on critical issues . . . really prepares you to work with Russian colleagues on finding solutions to issues that are of mutual interest to all of us.”

Bidgood's sentiments were recently echoed by a program participant from Russia, who notes that the pool of graduates and former fellows is a "big, rapidly growing network.” For this former CNS visiting fellow, the current level of bitterness between the U.S. and Russia highlights the increased need for precisely these kinds of exchanges. Speaking highly of the MIIS program, she believes that “it is essential to communicate on different levels to overcome misunderstanding,” emphasizing the “need to study the experience of Soviet-American arms control cooperation." Her conclusion? "Lessons learned from this interaction may be helpful for finding new solutions for the future.”

Building on the demonstrated successes of the GIRS and CNS programs, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey continues to innovate. Launching in fall 2016, a new Dual Degree in Nonproliferation Studies will allow participating students to earn a master’s degree in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at MIIS as well as a second master's in International Affairs from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), one of Russia's most prestigious and internationally respected educational institutions. Furthermore, a Russia studies summer institute will be launched at MIIS in 2017 to make the GIRS learning model available to top students from around the country through an intensive 7-week program. Initiatives like these will deepen the personal and institutional ties that are at the core of MIIS’s vision for reenergizing the nuclear nonproliferation and Russian studies fields.

The potential impact of such investments can often only be seen by taking the longer view. Witness the course of two careers—one, Russian, and one, American—both inextricably linked to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

American nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker—former head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and himself a former Distinguished Visiting Scientist at CNS office in Vienna who continues to engage with MIIS students—is the editor of the forthcoming volume Doomed to Cooperate. The book tells the story of how longtime rival scientists from the U.S. and Russia came together in the 1990s, leading efforts for joint verification processes and ensuring the security of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear sites. Around the same time, Ildar Akhtamzyan—in 1991 he was the inaugural CNS visiting fellow from the Soviet Union/Russia—returned to MGIMO to offer the first course on nonproliferation in Russia. Now, twenty-five years later, MIIS and MGIMO—partnering with the Center for Policy Studies in Russia (PIR Center)—are demonstrating the strength of their shared mission through the new Dual Degree in Nonproliferation Studies.

Those at the highest levels of office in Washington and Moscow continue to make decisions that are crucial for addressing nuclear security and other major global issues, but as the stories—of Hecker, of Akhtamzyan, and of the many graduates and former fellows of the Monterey Institute—show, they are not the only players that matter. Building bridges between American and Russian experts, especially early on in their careers, can create valuable pathways for meaningful progress. In this endeavor, the world-class programs at MIIS have put Monterey firmly on the map.