CNS Alumni: Mary Beth Nikitin

Updated: January 11, 2010

Mary Beth Nikitin, MA IPS 2000

CNS Alumni | Charles MahaffeyRisa Mongiello | Mary Beth Nikitin

I am writing to you to share my experience at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). I have never regretted my decision to study here, and I hope that my story will help you in choosing a graduate program.

My interest in nonproliferation and disarmament issues was first inspired by the War and Peace Studies program at Dartmouth College, where I majored in Government (International Relations) and French. After my junior year at Dartmouth, I received a grant to spend the summer as an intern at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in Cambridge, MA. There, under Randy Forsberg’s mentorship, I was exposed to the field of disarmament and its implications for future peace. When I was looking for graduate schools, I wanted to combine these issues with a focus on Russian language and history. I also wanted to continue my study of conflict resolution and human rights. When a professor recommended the Monterey Institute to me, it seemed to combine all of these interests.

My decision to attend the Monterey Institute was ultimately based on its unique strengths in nonproliferation studies and its Russian language program. The MA in International Policy Studies at MIIS was also the only program I found that offered political science classes taught in foreign languages. Since MIIS/CNS has a record of placing over 90% of its graduates in jobs in the nonproliferation field, I knew it would offer me a good support system for finding work after graduation. I was also attracted to the international faculty and student body at MIIS. Financially, graduate school can be a daunting endeavor. Fortunately, I received a scholarship from CNS and loans from the financial aid office. I have also worked at CNS for 15 to 20 hours a week while studying. This is definitely recommended, since it is the best way to meet the researchers at CNS and gain more expertise on a region or subject area.

All of my professors at the Monterey Institute have been excellent and are authorities in their fields. The focus of teaching here is to help students articulate a particular policy problem or dilemma and formulate possible solutions to it. This differentiates the MIIS environment from a typical university setting, where highest priority is given to the theoretical training of PhD students. Professors here have an open-door policy and devote much time and energy to their students. In my first semester, I took Dr. Amy Sands’ Survey of Nonproliferation course, Introduction to Policy Analysis with Prof. Ed Laurance, and Russian language. In my second semester, I took Data Analysis with Prof. Laurance, Arms Control Negotiations with Prof. William Potter (which was a START III negotiations simulation), a seminar on Russian Negotiating Behavior with Prof. Anna Vassilieva, and Russian language. I also took advantage of several weekend workshops on different subjects, offered for credit. At CNS, students supplement their coursework with weekly seminars given by a variety of international nonproliferation experts and government officials.

Another major attraction in attending MIIS was the chance to be an intern at an international organization that deals with disarmament issues, sponsored by the CNS International Organizations and Nonproliferation program (IONP). I was fortunate to have been chosen to be an intern at the United Nations (UN) in New York after my first year of study. At the UN, I worked for the Department for Disarmament Affairs as a junior political officer for six months. As the “Monterey Intern,” I was in a privileged position and was even given my own office next to the office of the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala (a former Diplomat-in-Residence at CNS). Since I had already had specialized training in the field, I was given only substantive work. I was asked to do research and writing assignments by the Under-Secretary-General and by the Chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch, Hannelore Hoppe. I helped Ms. Hoppe prepare the press kit and public information booklet for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference held in April 2000. For Mr. Dhanapala, I wrote a summary of arms trade, military expenditures and nuclear arsenals worldwide. I also prepared notes on disarmament progress for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s meetings with Foreign Ministers during the General Assembly.

The highlight of my internship was attending the UN General Assembly’s First Committee in the fall. All of the UN member-states attend the First Committee, where they debate disarmament and security issues. I assisted the UN Secretariat and diplomats with their work, and sat behind the podium at every meeting. This gave me a unique perspective on how the General Assembly addresses disarmament concerns and on the procedural functioning of the UN. I witnessed the process of drafting, debating, and voting on UN General Assembly resolutions. The most valuable aspect of the internship experience was the chance to see how differently the worlds of academia and diplomacy function. The CNS internship gives students an opportunity to bridge that gap personally, and lets the experience inform them in their future careers. I am still learning from my time at the UN.

When I returned to Monterey for my third semester, I was asked to be the “President” of the NPT Review Conference simulation, a participatory class on international negotiations. I had the chance to meet the real-life Conference President, Ambassador Abdullah Baali of Algeria, at CNS in January, and learn his strategies for the Conference, which I then tried to simulate. My internship at the UN also prepared me greatly for this task as I had already met many of the real-life participants and had helped to prepare background information for the Conference. The months sitting in the First Committee also helped me follow the correct procedures during the class.

The NPT entered into force in 1970 and now has 187 states. It recognizes five states to be possessors of nuclear weapons—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These five states are obligated by the treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament. All other states parties to the Treaty agree not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for equal access to peaceful nuclear technology under international safeguards. A review of the treaty takes place every five years. In 1995, the states parties agreed that the Treaty would remain in force indefinitely. It was therefore important that states reaffirm their commitment to the Treaty’s obligations at the 2000 Review Conference. Three states that have a nuclear weapons program—India, Israel and Pakistan—are not parties to the NPT.

Lectures to the class were given by Dr. Potter and Tariq Rauf, with guest lectures by Lawrence Scheinman and Amb. George Bunn. The Foreign Minister of Canada, Mr. Lloyd Axworthy, also visited the class and discussed disarmament issues with the students. Students and junior diplomats from ten different countries (China, Czech Republic, Georgia, India, Japan, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States) took on the roles of 14 key parties to the Treaty. Over the course of the semester, the student delegates met in two committees each of which adopted a report by consensus. We then returned to meeting in plenary sessions where we worked out the unresolved issues. The most difficult negotiations for us were over how to address the establishment of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East, as agreed in the 1995 Resolution. There was also heated debate over national missile defense, the lack of progress on disarmament, and how to address the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests. After much hard work and many hours of consultations outside of class sessions, we were able to agree on a final document without a vote.

Following the successful conclusion of the CNS Review Conference, I returned to New York and attended the last ten days of the real-life Conference. There I presented President Baali with the class’ final document. I assisted the Acronym Institute in publishing daily reports on the progress made in negotiations. Most meetings were closed to non-governmental representatives during the last week, so I helped the Acronym team find out information on the talks by speaking to various delegates and by comparing the language in old and new drafts. The adoption of a Final Document in New York came after many late nights and difficult impasses.

I am spending the summer of 2000 working for both the International Organizations and Newly Independent States (NIS) Nonproliferation Projects at CNS. I am updating a reference work called the “Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes,” which documents the changing membership and policies of international treaties and organizations devoted to nonproliferation and disarmament. For the NIS Project, I update the CNS database with regard to export control legislation in Kazakhstan. Students who work on the database read news articles or legislation and abstract the important information for entry into the database. This database is subscribed to by research organizations, international organizations, and government agencies worldwide.

I will graduate in December 2000 with a Masters in International Policy Studies and Certificates in both Nonproliferation Studies and Conflict Resolution. After graduation, I will search for a job in the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation field, hopefully involving international negotiations. My internship and simulation classes exposed me to the dynamics of multilateral negotiations, important to understanding the progress made on disarmament issues.

Of course, my time in Monterey hasn’t been all study. There is an abundance of outdoor activities here, and since it is a holiday town, an assortment of excellent restaurants and cultural activities too. Monterey is also two hours away from San Francisco and just an hour from Santa Cruz. Nearby Carmel Valley offers wine tasting, there are beautiful beaches on the Monterey Peninsula, and spectacular hiking in Big Sur.

Best of luck with your decision— just remember, if you’re interested in nonproliferation, this is the place to be!

Mary Beth Nikitin

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