Congratulations CISAC Honors Class of 2017

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The 2017 CISAC honors program, from top left, second row: Elizabeth Margolin, Jack Weller, Marina Elmore, Alex Lubkin, Thu-An Pham, Lauren Newby. First row, from the left: Gabby Fisher, Tori Keller, Professor Martha Crenshaw, AnhViet Nguyen, substitute instructor Dr. Gil-li Vardi, Jiang Yang Lum, teaching assistant Shiri Krebs, Wyatt Horan, Ken "Ben" Chao, and Professor Chip Blacker.
Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

Congratulations to CISAC honors program Class of 2017! On June 16, students in the CISAC Interschool Honors Program in International Studies graduated in a conferral of honors ceremony on the front lawn of Encina Hall. 

We are proud to add our 12 new graduates to our expanding list of graduates from the program since it began in 2001. In total, CISAC has 193 alumni in honors. For the students, their graduation reflects an intellectual adventure that included a two-week honors college program in Washington D.C., tours of government agencies, meetings with influential policy makers, and weekly seminars with CISAC faculty. Honors students are also required to research and complete an original thesis on an important national security issue.

The 2017 program was co-directed by Martha Crenshaw and Chip Blacker. Crenshaw said, "We stress hard work, independent thinking, intellectual honesty, and courtesy and civility.  Our students are critical without being disrespectful, open to new ideas and ways of thinking, and self-made experts in the subjects they have chosen."

In his remarks, Blacker said several features of the CISAC program make it distinctive. "These include the diversity of the disciplines represented by the student's major fields of study, which range this year from political science, history and international relations, on the one hand, to computer science, energy systems engineering, and materials science and engineering, on the other. ..." 

While each project is different, "they all share the unifying and overarching themes of advancing the international security agenda and having value and utility in policy terms," Blacker said. The program, he added, places a "premium on knowledge of the real world, and of the art and science of policymaking in particular, coupled with intensive training in research and writing."

During the conferral ceremony, CISAC honors teaching assistant Shiri Krebs read statements from the students' thesis advisors regarding their final papers. Read below for those comments:


Ken Ben ChaoKen-Ben Chao

A New Journey to the West: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Chinese Foreign Policy

Thesis Advisor: Coit. D. Blacker

"What is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and, to be blunt, why should we care? In essence, this is the question that Ben Chao seeks to answer in this thoughtful, comprehensive and well-written senior thesis. Ben’s answer, like the question, comes in two parts. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, he tells us, is neither an emerging alliance nor a diplomatic “talk shop.” Rather, it has been – and it continues to be – a subtle instrument of Chinese foreign policy that has waxed and waned in importance since its creation in 2001 depending on Beijing’s assessment of the international security environment. In Ben’s judgment, this is reason enough for us to care and for us to pay attention. Ben’s thesis is a superior piece of scholarship that tells us a great deal about something most of us know little about and does so in an informed and wonderfully entertaining way."


Marina ElmoreMarina Elmore

When Things Are Not What They Seem: Explaining the Success of Countering Violent Extremism in Los Angeles

Thesis Advisor: Martha Crenshaw

"A policy of countering violent extremism and radicalization, known as “CVE,” was a hallmark of the Obama Administration as it struggled to respond to the threat of “homegrown” jihadist terrorism. But what is CVE? And is it effective? These questions motivated Marina Elmore’s fascinating inquiry into the apparent success of the Los Angeles program, highly praised as a model on the national level. Marina probed deeply into the case to discover that special circumstances predetermined the outcome and that the model was not easily transferable to other cities. For one thing, Los Angeles did not actually face a challenge of violent extremism because it lacked a population susceptible to the appeal of jihadist propaganda. For another, the city had already implemented most of the newly prescribed CVE “best practices,” such as community policing, in efforts to solve earlier social and political problems. Marina’s conclusions are astute, balanced, and fair, and she persuasively demonstrates both how important it is to test commonly held assumptions and how difficult it is to establish standards for policy effectiveness in the counterterrorism field."


Gabbi FisherGabbi Fischer

Towards DIUx 2.1 or 3.0? Examining DIUx’s Progress Towards Procurement Innovation

Thesis Advisors: Herb Lin, Dan Boneh

"In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the creation of Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx).  Through some great case-based work, Gabbi cuts through the complexity of the traditional acquisition system to observe that DIUX fills two important niches in the defense innovation ecosystem: it facilitates connections between DoD users and the tech community and it exercises non-traditional acquisition authority (called Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs)) to expedite contracting.  But she also cautions that the use of OTA may not be compatible in the long run with the traditional acquisition system, and suggests that future DIUX efforts may have to take advantage of other existing acquisition authorities (which do exist but which are rarely used) to make further progress in improving the coupling between the tech sector and the DoD.  She makes also substantive recommendations that DIUX should take seriously if it wants to survive in the long term."


Wyatt HoranWyatt Horan

Evaluating the U.S. Foreign Policy Institutions in Permitting a Coercive Russian Energy Policy

Thesis Advisor: Coit D. Blacker

"Following the twin “oil shocks” of the 1970s, the U.S. Government moved effectively to reduce the potential economic and political impact of any future such events by reorienting and reshaping key foreign policy institutions. When, thirty years later, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin began to manipulate Russian deliveries of natural gas to its customers in Europe, the U.S. failed to respond in a focused, deliberate and coordinated way. In this provocative senior thesis, Wyatt asks whether the clumsy American response to Russia’s manipulation of this vital energy resource contributed to Moscow’s alarming behavior. He answers in the affirmative and by so doing forces us to think hard about how seemingly obscure organizational issues impact the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy. Wyatt’s thesis is bold and a little unsettling. It also reads like a detective novel, which is a tribute to the author’s willingness to run risks in search of a good story."


Tori KellerTori Keller

The Rise and Fall of Secular Politics in Iraq

Thesis Advisor: Lisa Blaydes

"As you know from interacting with Tori over the past year(s), she is a passionate – almost obsessively curious – student of contemporary Iraqi politics. Her drive to understand the case has led her to write a normatively-motivated, policy-relevant thesis on the failure of democratic consolidation in Iraq. Her research suggests that a non-sectarian political future for Iraq was possible; the historical antecedents for such a vision existed. But as a result of a combination of US missteps, Iranian interference and, most importantly, the way these factors manifested into an insecure security environment, secular parties never really had a real chance to succeed even if a plurality of voters supported such an outlook. To write this thesis, Tori invested in her own human capital development in impressive ways. She studied Arabic, learned ArcGIS mapping software, collected original data, and undertook statistical analysis – deploying the skills she had acquired in her four years at Stanford with the goal of answering this research question. In the end, I believe she has the right answer as well. If there was any doubt left in her mind about whether she got it “right,” I feel confident that she would still be puzzling through the research today."


Alexander LubkinAlexander Lubkin

Plutonium Management and Disposition in the United States: History and Analysis of the Program

Thesis Advisor: Rod Ewing

"Alex’s thesis examines the issues related to the failure of the U.S. program for the disposition of excess plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. Based on his survey of the literature and interviews with key actors in this program, Alex analyzed the U.S. program and has made a number of important observations and conclusions concerning the causes for the failure of the U.S. program. His most significant conclusion is that one of the major causes of failure was that the U.S. program to use irradiated MOX fuel for the disposition of the plutonium was not consistent with U.S. nuclear policy. The U.S. is pursuing an open nuclear fuel cycle, and thus has limited experience with large scale processing of radioactive materials and the fabrication of MOX fuel. Alex was able to identify a number of other issues, such as over reliance on cost and schedule estimates of the different strategies and a failure to utilize advances in materials science for the development of actinide waste forms. I am very impressed with Alex’s dedication to this research project, and his persistence in the review of an often confusing and obscure literature. We have met regularly over the past year. I outline broad areas that he might investigate, but then he took these ideas and developed them according to his on evaluation of a variety of different sources. He also did an exceptional job of synthesizing the information from the interviews into an interesting and informative chapter in his thesis. Alex’s research will be the basis for a publication, but most importantly, he has opened the door to a whole series of policy issues that require more detailed analysis. He has certainly educated me on a number of these issues."


Jian Yang LumJian Yang Lum

To Bomb or Stab? The Impact of Ideology and Territorial Control on Rebel Tactics

Thesis Advisors: Joseph Felter, Jeremy Weinstein

“Lumpy” as we know him- explores how rebel groups’ ideology and degree of territorial control affect the type of violence they choose to employ in pursuit of their aims. Using fine grained conflict data and case studies from thirty-six years of insurgency and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, Lumpy finds both quantitative and qualitative evidence in support of the predictive model he develops in his thesis. In sum, rebel groups with weaker ideological commitment and more limited control of the territory they operate in are more likely to initiate indiscriminate attacks such as bombings and employment of improvised explosive devices. More ideologically committed rebels, and those exercising greater territorial control, initiate violence that is comparatively more discriminate such as targeted raids and assassinations. The human toll and economic costs incurred by civil war and insurgency around the world are staggering and continuing to mount. There is an urgent need for policy relevant scholarship that increases our understanding of the local level violence associated with these deadly conflicts and how states can better anticipate and respond to these threats. Lumpy’s thesis makes a significant contribution to these important ends."


Elizabeth MargolinElizabeth Margolin

Should I Retweet or Should I Go? Pro-ISIS Twitter Communities and American Decapitation Strategy

Thesis Advisors: Martha Crenshaw, Justin Grimmer

"There are many studies of the U.S. Government’s use of military force in “decapitation” strikes against terrorist leaders, particularly the effects of these strikes on levels of violence and degree of organizational cohesion. Researchers have also analyzed the relationship between social media and terrorism generally. But the specific question of the social media reactions of jihadist sympathizers to decapitation strikes directed against Islamic State leaders was neglected until the idea occurred to Eli Margolin, who took it up as the subject of her honors thesis. This difficult, demanding, and often frustrating research project required Eli to master new cutting-edge analytical methodologies and struggle to acquire elusive data from the archived Twitter accounts of now banned users, obstacles that she overcame with impressive ability, determination, and sophistication. After extensive and thoughtful consideration of three carefully selected cases, she found that Twitter followers of jihadist causes react quite differently to the deaths of different types of terrorist leaders. Her intellectual ambition and tenacity produced a thesis that is excellent in terms of conceptualization, analytical rigor, and empirical foundation."


Lauren NewbyLauren Newby

From Zero to Sixty: Explaining the Proliferation of Shi’a Militias in Iraq after 2003

Thesis Advisor: Martha Crenshaw

"Why has there been a sharp increase in the number of Shia militias in Iraq, a troubling development that may jeopardize Iraqi progress toward stability and democracy? Lauren Newby could not find a good answer in her review of the theoretical literature, so she proposed an original one of her own. Most scholars attribute the proliferation of violent non-state actors to the fragmentation of existing groups through splintering and splitting, whereas Lauren shows that in Iraq the increase is due to the emergence of new groups. Researchers typically focus on groups directly opposing the state, whereas the Iraqi militias side with the incumbent government. Most studies are limited to groups operating in a single bounded conflict zone, whereas the politics of Iraq and Syria are linked. Lauren concludes that the Syrian civil war has been a major impetus for the formation of Shia militias in Iraq and that most are established by Iraqi political parties. Her thesis is exemplary in making a clear and convincing claim, contrasting it to alternative explanations, and providing new supporting evidence from primary sources."


AAnhViet NguyennhViet Nguyen

Territorial Disputes in Court: Power, Compliance, and Defiance

Thesis Advisor: Kenneth Schultz

"In the wake of the arbitration ruling over the China-Philippines dispute in the South China Sea, AnhViet wanted to understand what the prospects were for this ruling to help resolve the conflict. To do so, he placed this case in the context of other territorial disputes that have involved great powers or states who were significantly more powerful than their adversaries. This led to the central research questions: why and under what conditions do great powers comply with adverse court rulings over territorial issues? The thesis draws nicely on the existing literature to articulate several hypotheses and then tests these hypotheses using a variety of methods. Case studies of the US-Mexico dispute over the Chamizal tract and the Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over the Bakassi Penninsula show that great powers who initially reject adverse court decisions might later find these rulings to be a convenient basis for settlement. He also makes a very important and sophisticated point that great power compliance with court rulings may reflect their ability to keep high salience issues off the agenda. The conclusion is mildly optimistic about the prospects for (eventual) compliance while remaining appropriately clear-eyed about the limits of international law in this context. Overall, AnhViet does an admirable job blending theoretical material, historical case studies, and large n data to develop his argument. Moreover, his application of these lessons to the contemporary case of the South China Sea dispute is nuanced and compelling. In short, AnhViet’s thesis represents an excellent example of how academic research can be made relevant to current policy issues."


Thu-An PhamThu-An Pham

On Treaties and Taboos: U.S. Responses to International Norms in the NPT and Genocide Convention (1945-1999)

Thesis Advisor: David Holloway

"Thu-An Pham has written an outstanding thesis on the role of norms in international relations. The United States has not tried strenuously to enforce the Genocide Convention of 1948, which calls for the prevention and punishment of genocide. It has, however, actively sought to enforce the nonproliferation norm expressed in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968. What explains the difference? On the basis of a subtle theoretical analysis and detailed empirical research, Thu-An offers three answers. First, the Nonproliferation Treaty is better supported than the Genocide Convention by institutions that monitor and enforce compliance. Second, the United States has regarded the norm of nuclear nonproliferation as more important for its national security than the ban on genocide. And third, the nonproliferation norm supports the current international order, which is based on the primacy of states in international relations. The Genocide Convention, by contrast, threatens to weaken the foundations of that order by challenging the primacy of states. Thu-An’s thesis suggests that there are limits on the role that international norms can play in a system of states. This is a wonderful thesis on a crucial issue in international security."


Jack WellerJack Weller

Counting the Czars: Extra-Bureaucratic Appointees in American Foreign Policy

Thesis Advisor: Amy Zegart

"White House czars are frequently discussed in the press, but most people don’t really know what they are and very few scholars have studied them. Yet the use of czars has serious implications for the presidency—signaling when the regular bureaucracy cannot get the job done. Jack Weller’s thesis provides a novel and important contribution to the study of the American presidency. He compiles an original dataset of every foreign policy czar created during the past 100 years and examines alternative explanations for why some presidents used czars more than others. He finds something surprising: czar creation is NOT driven by the individual management style of the president. Instead, it is driven by the external threat environment. Presidents facing simultaneous wars – as FDR did in World War II and George W. Bush did after 9/11 – are more likely to create czars than others. Jack’s thesis is beautifully written and masterfully argued, earning him the honor of being Stanford’s czar of czars."