What motivates and constrains nations? On Jan. 9, TFAS Public Policy Fellows delved into this important question during a seminar on foreign policy with TFAS friend and lecturer Dr. William Ruger.
Dr. Ruger is the vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute and the vice president for research at the Charles Koch Foundation. He is also currently a research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, as well as a senior advisor and foreign policy scholar at Defense Priorities. Ruger is a veteran of the Afghanistan War and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer.
“I miss teaching, so an opportunity like this is really fun for me,” Ruger said. “It’s great to see the fellows were open to the material and asking good questions.”
Prior to the seminar, Ruger gave the fellows excerpts to read from “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” by John J. Mearsheimer (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) and his own work, the chapter “The Problem with Primacy” he co-wrote with Christopher Preble in “Our Foreign Policy Choices: Rethinking America’s Global Role” (Cato Institute Press, 2016). The fellows came prepared to discuss and debate why states act the way they do.
“I loved it; it was invigorating,” reported Anna Ebers Broughel (AIPES 07), a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. “I liked having a Socratic dialogue. I appreciated how he integrated economic thinking and connected it to real-world examples.”
During the seminar, Ruger led the fellows in a discussion of how the realist theory of international politics can inform foreign policy debates. He explained the theory of realism is the idea that states are rational actors that try to achieve security for their territories, and so must pay careful attention to the balance of power between their own and rival states. He elaborated that realism also describes the natural constraints on states, namely that the difficulty of projecting power over land and water means a state is only able to gain and hold so much power relative to its neighbors and rivals. He then asked the fellows to explore the theory and apply it to the real-life behavior of states in modern times, particularly since the fall of the USSR.
The discussion sparked a lively debate as fellows applied the theory to North Korea, the actions of Russia in Georgia and Ukraine and explored U.S. policy on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The dialogue continued even as TFAS staff and the fellows surprised Dr. Ruger, who was celebrating his birthday, with a cake and a “Happy Birthday” chorus, to thank him for dedicating his special day to speaking with them.
To learn more about the 10th-anniversary class of Public Policy Fellows, click here. To learn more about the Public Policy Fellows program and keep up on seminars and events, visit the Public Policy Fellows page.