Tower Scholar Awarded Medders Undergraduate Fellowship

HCM Tower Scholar Ben Prengler ’19 was awarded the Tower Center Tom Bryant Medders, Jr. Fellowship for 2017-2019.

Prengler, a pre-law student from Fairview, Texas, plans to use the fellowship for research comparing constitutional design in the United States and Canada.  He wants to understand how Canadian multiculturalism and American Liberal-Republicanism impacts each country’s institutions.


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“Can America still be trusted with classified information?”

Tower Chair and national security expert Josh Rovner weighed in on the possible consequences of President Trump sharing classified intelligence with Russian officials.

The original source of the information that Trump leaked was reported to be Israel, viewed as one of the United States’ most important allies.

This Quartz article explores the possible fallout after the information was divulged (to an adversary nation) without the source ally’s permission. Rovner argues Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might forgive the U.S., since what he really wants is “real support from the U.S.”

However, the consequences could still be great. He told the Christian Science Monitor: “This whole episode is terrible for trust – and trust is what makes intelligence sharing work.”

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Ambassador Robert Jordan on President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia

Tower Center Diplomat-in-Residence Ambassador Robert Jordan weighed in on President Trump’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia.

“There’s a degree of nervousness,” Jordan told the Dallas Morning News. Diplomats prefer predictability and clear foreign policy, according to Jordan, which is something the Trump administration has lacked so far.

Read the article here.

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U.S.-China Relations and the Trump Administration

Tower Chair Josh Rovner edited a policy roundtable discussing the U.S.-China relationship under President Trump.

“The stable maritime-land balance is now in question, at least to some observers, because of China’s economic and military rise,” Rovner wrote.

Trump’s shifting attitude and rhetoric has created a cloud of uncertainty as to what his policy toward China and President Xi Jinping will be.

Read what the panel of experts have to say here.

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Admiral Patrick Walsh | “The Changing Battlefield”

Admiral Patrick Walsh asks a question at the 2016 Sun & Star Symposium in Tokyo.

Tower Center Senior Fellow Admiral Patrick Walsh was interviewed about cyber security and “The Changing Battlefield” for The Catalyst, a  quarterly journal put out by the George W. Bush Institute.

“It’s no longer just the nation-state. It’s no longer just the counterinsurgency. Just about anybody can get in and act on their motivations inside the cyber domain,” Walsh said.

Read the interview here.

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Tower Scholars address Russian cyber activities in simulation

The junior class of Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars participated in a simulations for their policy seminar course and presented their policy proposal to the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council May 1. The scholars acted as members of the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense and Joint Staff. This semester students were asked to imagine they were tasked with coming up with a response to cyberattacks from Russia.

This year the seminar was co-taught by Professors Josh Rovner, political science, and Frederick Chang, engineering.

“The policy seminar allows the Tower Scholars to explore a current policy issue in depth, using the analytical tools they learned in earlier courses,” Rovner said.

In October last year Chang was trying to decide what would be best for students to study and he thought to himself, “let’s have them study Russian hacking.” The topic is as timely as ever with ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collaboration with the Trump campaign.

The Scholars presented their policy proposals to their client Michael Elliott, who recently served as Deputy Director for Strategic Stability in the Joint Staff before his retirement. Elliott visited the class a few times throughout the semester to provide guidance and to layout his expectations for the simulation. Elliot, Rovner and Chang all three took turns asking questions during the students’ presentations.

“He’s a tremendous asset to the Tower Scholars Program,” HCM Scholar Thomas Schmedding ’17 said of Elliot. “It was an honor and privilege to talk with him about real challenges facing the country.”

The Department of State, represented by Schmedding, MacKenzie Jenkins ’18 and Brian O’Donnell ’18, presented first and suggested that the U.S. impose economic sanctions in order to pressure the Russian government to act in accordance to international norms. They noted that the challenge is norms have not actually been agreed upon since NATO has not accepted the Tallinn Manual.

Homeland Security, played by Isabelle Gwozdz ’18, David Shirzad ’18 and Fairooz Adams ’18, presented next. They identified the three critical infrastructure sectors as communications, energy, and the government facilities sector.  Their recommendations included increased funding, having authority over private energy sector companies in order to oversee information sharing, and to return to paper ballots in elections to prevent vote manipulation.

The Department of Defense and Joint Staff, represented by Grace Caputo ’18, Drew Wicker ’18, and Diana Cates ’18, concluded the brief advocating for thought-out plans and routines to address cyber threats, such as an added “Cyber Amendment” to the New START Treaty.

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President Trump and Russia with SMU’s Daniel Orlovsky

SMU history Professor and Russia expert Daniel Orlovsky visited the Tower Center to give the final monthly seminar looking at the new Trump administration April 26.

Orlovsky is an expert in the 1917 revolution, which ended imperial Russia, ushered in the new age of communism, and created the Soviet Union. President Putin, he says, is against this revolution since it suggests a violent overthrow of a regime; he blames the revolution on intellectuals, liberals and Western ideals.

While Putin’s approval rating remains strong, Orlovsky said his position is becoming precarious. The sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia after Putin’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 have had an affect: oil prices have dropped along with the value of the Ruble. If Russia’s economy collapses, so too will Putin’s regime.

Orlovsky says that U.S.-Russia relations are confused, as usual, increasingly confrontational, and that there is talk of a new Cold War. He advises the two countries to try harder to work together.

“You can’t assume diplomacy is dead just because the ideologies are different,” Orlovsky said. He calls for the U.S. to not foolishly demonize Russia since there is plenty that the U.S. has done to anger Russia, such as our “triumphism” after the fall of the Soviet Union and our position in Kosovo.

“In an odd way [President Trump] was right in trying to suggest better relations,” he said. Orlovsky argues we need to have relations with Russia, as Trump has said, but that relationship must take into account certain realities. For example, we cannot blindly support any future Ukrainian state. We must build up Ukraine as a viable state and not tolerate corruption.

“It’s sad Russia is seen as the biggest problem in public opinion,” he said. “We’ve got to get over this fixation of Russia as the cause of everything.”

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Recap | Is Cyberwar Coming?

Is cyberwar coming? One expert argues no, while another says it is already here — but it’s not what we should be worried about.

The Tower Center held a seminar looking at the potential of cyberwar featuring experts Jon Lindsay from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Jackie Schneider from the Naval War College April 24. The seminar comes more than 20 years after RAND introduced the notion of cyberwar in its famous study titled “Cyberwar is Coming!

Jon Lindsay spoke first answering the question if cyberwar is coming directly: “No*.” The asterisk here, however, is key. Lindsay said it is important to distinguish cyber capabilities from nuclear weapons. While nuclear weapons are a clearly-defined, devastating weapon, cyber capabilities are ambiguous. He examined cyberspace and nuclear weapons through the lens of the TV series Battlestar Galactica. The two takeaways, he said, are that cyber is not scary on its own, but that technology connected to weapons produces a real threat.

The first cyber failure

Lindsay told the story of the alleged Stuxnet attack that targeted Iran’s Natanz Fuel Enrichment facility in 2010. The attack, which was carried out by the United States and Israel, took years of intelligence gathering and preparation and yet it ended up increasing the efficiency of uranium enrichment by only disabling the spare centrifuges. Covert action took years of careful planning, but didn’t amass to any significant victory.

“Diplomacy, not covert action, is what ultimately halted Iran’s nuclear program,” Lindsay said.

Left of launch and North Korea

Lindsay then moved the discussion to the antimissile defense strategy known as “left of launch,” which has been the strategy that the United States has used to prevent North Korea from developing more advanced nuclear capabilities. The New York Times explains this strategy: “The idea is to strike an enemy missile before liftoff or during the first seconds of flight,” whereas typical missile defense focuses on striking the missile in later stages of launch.

Left of launch attacks are preferred because they can be used as a preemptive measure, i.e., they can be used when there is incontrovertible evidence of a coming attack. This is considered better than a preventive measure, like the Stuxnet attack, which is used to eliminate an ambiguous, but still imminent threat.

A final, distinguishing characteristic of cyber technologies as opposed to conventional weapons, and especially nuclear weapons, is that in order to be effective cyber attacks must be covert. This means they can’t function as a deterrent. Nuclear weapons can be paraded around and bragged about, as North Korea has shown which each advancement in their military. However, a regime can’t be intimidated by something that it doesn’t know exists.

Cyberwar is already here

Jackie Schneider took a slightly opposing view, opening her argument by claiming that cyberwar is already here and has been for quite some time. Thousands of cyberattacks are initiated around the world every day. She argues that the real question is whether or not the use of cyberweapons will lead to conventional conflict.

In her research, Schneider found that decision makers are more likely to use conventional weapons, such as bombs, in response to threats before resorting to cyber efforts. On the flip side, decision makers almost never responded to cyberattacks initiated against them, but almost always responded to conventional attacks. She says this is because the consequences and repercussions of using cyber are largely unknown. Leaders fear the use of cyberattacks could lead to inadvertent escalation, or that the response could even be nuclear.

The dangers of digital dominance

Schneider claims that the greatest danger brought about by accelerations in cyberspace and technology is the military’s dependence on digitalized weapons and launch programs. “The U.S. can’t launch an airstrike without a computer,” she said. “Now computers are vital to win a war.”

She believes that digital dependence presents a two sided problem, the capability-vulnerability paradox: “1) because of the current offensive balance in cyberspace, the proliferation of digital technologies creates more cyber terrain to defend than may be technically possible, and 2) the infrastructure-like quality of cyberspace (as opposed to a weapons platform) means that digital vulnerabilities are both exponential and networked making entire operations vulnerable instead of particular weapons.”

Because digitally dependent states know that they are vulnerable to a debilitating first strike cyberattack that could wipe out most of their weapons systems, Schneider thinks that those states may be more likely to strike first themselves in order to avoid losing their capabilities. 

The solution, Schneider argues, is to develop military tactics that are not dependent on technology and are therefore less vulnerable. Digitalized weapons may be more effective now, but the U.S. must be ready to react to situations in which cyber is not an option.

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Meeting Basic Health Needs in a Venezuela in Crisis

Dr. Katherine Bliss

In a new report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Tower Center senior fellow Katherine Bliss examines the deteriorating health situation in Venezuela, where the administration of President Nicolás Maduro has been reluctant to seek external assistance to address the resurgence of malaria, a rise in maternal and infant mortality, and a lack of availability of essential medicines following the collapse in international oil prices and a deepening economic crisis.

With the government’s insistence that there is no humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, and with diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela strained, the options for direct U.S. engagement on health are limited. However, Bliss identifies opportunities for the U.S. and other countries in the region to work through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to encourage the Maduro government to fulfill its obligations to provide health services to the Venezuelan people and with Venezuelan civil society organizations, as well as Venezuelan health care providers living outside the country, to develop proposals for health sector reform, should there be a political opening to introduce them.

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Q&A | A Scholar’s Life in Buenos Aires

Kelsey Shipman in Uyuni, Bolivia on one of her weekend excursions from Buenos Aires.

The Tower Center talked with HCM Tower Scholar Kelsey Shipman about her experience studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shipman is a sophomore studying economics, public policy and foreign language. While in Buenos Aires she is interning with CIPPEC (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento) and attending classes.

Describe your life in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The past few months, I have been living with a host family in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have breakfast and dinner together each weekday, which has given me ample opportunities to practice my Spanish. Many of our meals consist of beef, as beef is the most popular meat in the country. The unofficial national drink of Argentina is a type of tea called maté. Maté is prepared in a special gourd-like cup with a straw that filters out the leaves of the tea. The leaves of the tea are poured directly into the cup and sometimes sugar is added as well, although the traditional way of consuming the tea is without any sweetener added. Many people bring a thermos and a bag of maté with them to work to drink throughout the day, and it is very common to see maté drinkers hanging out in parks or other public areas.

On the weekends, I often attend cultural shows and festivals in the city, such as tango expositions and musical performances, while many other weekends I have traveled to other areas of the country and continent, ranging from locations such as Mendoza, Argentina to the Brazilian Amazon. These experiences have given me insight into what life is like not only in other regions of Argentina but in other regions of South America as well.

What was a typical day like for you?

Each morning, I walk to school along one of the main streets of Buenos Aires, Sante Fe. My classes are taught all in Spanish by local professors. I am taking courses in Argentina’s history, poetry, and literature, as well as Spanish language courses. The classroom setting is much more casual than at SMU, with a large component of the courses consisting of discussion between the professor and students. We also have no class on Friday, which gives me additional time to travel to other areas or to explore the city.

Outside of class, I spend 8-12 hours each week working at CIPPEC, a local public policy think tank. I have been specifically working in their Economic Development department on several projects related to the Argentine economy. The goal of the department is to support economic transparency, efficiency, and equity while promoting fiscal solvency and democratization of budget decisions. On a day-to-day basis I work with a small group of Argentines conducting research and translating documents. I have also prepared presentations regarding the research we have been doing in order to share our findings with the greater community. I have had the opportunity to read primary and secondary sources regarding the economic and political system of Argentina, which have greatly increased my understanding of the current state of the nation.

What is one lesson you took away from your time there?

I have learned to better adapt to cultural differences, as well as the different pace of life here in Argentina. For instance, each day at work, my coworkers tend to arrive anywhere from 9:10-9:30, with the work day technically beginning at 9:00. In addition, I have learned a great deal about the Spanish language, particularly the ways in which it varies across regions and nations. The accent and pronunciation of Argentine Spanish was slightly difficult for me to understand at first, though now I have become much more confident in speaking and understanding a wide variety of Spanish accents.

How has this experience impacted your goals for the future?

The experience of interning at CIPPEC has reaffirmed my desire to work in international policy post-graduation. I hope to work in several different countries throughout my life, and the experience of working here in Argentina has been a wonderful opportunity to enter the workforce of another cultural and economic system. In addition, working in a bilingual environment has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone by discussing complex ideas in a different language, something I hope to continue doing in my future career.

How has this experience enhanced your study of PPIA, or vice versa, how has PPIA enhanced your experience abroad?

I have really appreciated immersing myself in the professional world of Argentina, and I think that this hands-on experience working in public policy has enhanced my understanding of PPIA in a global sense. With my background in PPIA I came to Argentina eager to learn more about the ways in which current public policy endeavors are affecting the country’s citizens; having the chance to contribute to public policy-related research has been very fascinating for me. I have really enjoyed discussing political issues with members of the professional community, my host family, and my peers at local universities. It has been very impactful for me to have the opportunity to analyze ongoing public policy initiatives first-hand.

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