Simon Reich is Professor in the Department of Political Science and Division of Global Affairs (DGA) at Rutgers University–Newark. During his career, he has moved between academia and policy work in International Relations (IR), national security and related areas.
Prior to arriving at RU-N in 2008, Reich spent more than two decades at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and, while there, took leaves to work at the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment in Washington, D.C., and as Director of Research at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He also started and directed the Ford Institute for Human Security at Pitt.
In addition to his dual roles at RU-N, Reich holds an appointment as a Chercheur Associé at the Center for International Studies (CERI) at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques–Sciences Po (Paris). In spring 2022, he’ll be the George Soros Distinguished Visiting Chair at the Central European University in Vienna, Austria.
Reich’s research has focused on global political economy as well as numerous human, national and international security issues. During his time at RU-N, he’s published seven books, among them Good-Bye Hegemony: Power and Influence in the Global System (Princeton University Press), The End of Grand Strategy (Cornell University Press), Comparative Grand Strategy (Oxford University Press) and Managing Ethnic Diversity After 9/11: Integration, Security and Civil Liberties in Transatlantic Perspective (Rutgers University Press). His work has been translated into numerous languages, and he’s been a regular contributor to The Conversation, where he had a bi-weekly column for two years, as well as Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, Salon, The Washington Monthly, and The Washington Spectator.
Currently Reich’s work focuses on American and comparative grand strategy, a field of International Relations that looks at long-term strategy pursued at the highest levels by countries to further their interests. He’s published several articles and books on the subject, including his latest, Across Type, Time and Space: American Grand Strategy in Comparative Perspective, part of the Cambridge University Press Elements series, due out this month.
We recently sat down with Reich to discuss his research, the need to diversify the ranks of academics and policy makers in IR, and his latest book.
Your research has focused on a number of different areas within Interational Relations, but after coming to RU-N, it shifted yet again. Can you elaborate?
My research, teaching, mentoring and public engagement has always been driven by economic, political and social issues, and I have always tried to bridge the gap between the academic and policy communities.
After arriving at Rutgers-Newark and serving as the DGA director for two years, I decided to refocus my research on the conservative biases that inform influential American academics and policymakers regarding America’s role in the world. I have since published a string of books that challenge the conventional wisdom that informs American foreign policy: of the benefits of American primacy, the desirability and feasibility of American global leadership, and of the ways in which American policymakers do—and just as importantly do not—engage with the rest of the world. I think that my growing up in the U.K. and continuing to spend parts of the year living in Europe helps me to operate outside of the bubble that often embroils American academic and policy debates and offer a different perspective, albeit one that is often questioned by mainstream opinion.
There is a tendency among American academics to assume that only great powers are able to have grand strategies, and that their leaders think in the supposedly rational way that we do.
Can you say more about those conservative biases?
In the field of grand strategy, these are exemplified by the preponderant academic and policy focus on the military instruments of strategy, commonly referred to the as “militarization of US foreign policy.” That focus has dated back several decades, to at least the end of the Cold War. American policymakers have regarded the use of force as a first, rather than a last, strategic resort. Washington policymakers and more traditional IR scholars have therefore focused on grand strategy in classical terms: as the preparation for, the fighting and winning of wars. Winning the peace, an alternative view that entails a greater diplomatic and economic focus, found little traction in Washington, especially after 9/11. While the U.S. may have been occasionally justified in the use of force, the fact that the U.S. has fought more wars than any other country since 1990 is an indictment on our lack of creative thinking in foreign policy and the neglect of diplomatic and economic tools.
We seem to have shifted back of late.
That’s right. As is often the case in America, the pendulum has now swung from one extreme to the other. We are now at a stage where Donald Trump, and now to lesser degree Joe Biden, have rejected any role for America in using force to defend any vulnerable population. The sad sight of women in Afghanistan once again being subjugated by the Taliban is an indictment of the failure of 20 years of U.S. grand strategy, where we have never figured out when the use of force is justifiable, when it is not, and how best to address foreign policy issues beyond the use of our military. It is a failure for which we have collective paid in blood and treasure.
That short-sightedness extends to the field of grand strategy as well.
Yes. There is a tendency among American academics to assume that only great powers are able to have grand strategies, and that their leaders think in the supposedly rational way that we do. But states, large and small, can and do have strategies that heavily influence America’s prosperity and security, from North Korea in Asia to Iran in the Middle East. And both their grand strategies and America’s are driven as much by national histories, national pathologies and the vagaries of domestic politics as they are by any rational calculation. Studying those countries carefully and comparatively, linking IR to country expertise, will have numerous benefits: reducing the myopia that is symptomatic of academic research and policymakers, and helping to prepare our students for careers in foreign service where minorities and women remain heavily underrepresented.
Diversifying the field has been a special focus of yours.
Women and minorities have so much value to contribute to the foreign policy community, where they are vastly underrepresented. Role models are needed in national security, as in any field. The Bush Jr. administration had Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, the Obama administration had figures like Susan Rice, and Biden has appointed Lloyd Austin, but otherwise there has been very little movement beyond them. Without such role models and mentorship, both in academia and policy circles, it’s tough to develop a feedback chain for these students and graduates out in the field. I believe that we, as a campus in general and in the Division of Global Affairs in particular, can make a remarkable contribution to our students and the nation if we give our students the tools to work in fields where they have been heavily underrepresented. Never is that truer than in the field of national security.
Tell us about your latest book for the Cambridge Elements Series.
It’s a short book designed largely for students and junior researchers who are open to studying any of the three comparative dimensions of grand strategy: across time, across different types of strategy, and across different countries. The response has been far greater than we ever hoped for. Cambridge made the book freely accessible online for an initial period, and it was downloaded over 3,300 times by a global audience. We’ve also been invited to participate in a series of webinars for Australian, European, trans-Pacific and even American audiences, where we can interact with a new generation of students and faculty from around the world who are open to unconventional ideas and who themselves offer a fresh perspective from which I can learn.
Thank you for sitting down with us.