Maxwell Petersen, NPTS ’17

IPSS with Atlantic Council, DC 

January-May 2017

For the Spring 2017 term, I took on an International Professional Service Semester post where I interned with the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative (MEPSI) at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. This was my first time working in a policy-focused think tank environment and the experience gave me invaluable insight into both the culture and necessity of the field. The MEPSI team was small, just one senior fellow, two junior staff, and then fellow MIIS student Shirin Khan and myself. The small group setting proved advantageous for us, as we were able to take on much more responsibilities than interns for larger teams, and often assisted teams both larger and smaller than ours with an excess workload. For MEPSI specifically, Shirin and I monitored the MENA region and produced a daily regional news and analysis roundup for senior staff and visiting military fellows. We also conducted research on country-specific and functional issues supporting Senior Fellow and Director of MEPSI, Bilal Saab, and Initiative staff for reports, issue briefs, blog posts, infographics, and other ongoing projects.

Even when the workload slackened, we were encouraged to conduct independent research relating to Middle East security and to contribute blog posts to Atlantic Council platforms. We provided logistical support for public events, workshops, and members’ calls, including drafting briefing materials and agendas, assisting publications and events held in conjunction with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

With other initiatives and centers throughout the Council, we developed and implemented some of MEPSI’s growing capabilities, including digital forensics research and high-level war gaming. Partway through the assignment, MEPSI facilitated a war gaming simulation with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group to better understand future war fighting in an increasingly tech-dependent world. Shortly thereafter we facilitated the third annual Cyber 9/12 competition, in which a team of NPTS students from MIIS competed alongside students, military, and cyber professionals alike to provide policy solutions for simulated global cyber crises.

One of the most notable changes I experienced at the Atlantic Council was the shift in security focus from my time at MIIS. The Middle East “Peace and Security,” as the Atlantic Council saw fit to tackle, relied on many different facets of security than I had become accustomed to. For one, our team spent a great deal of effort analyzing the public innovation projects of governments and private sector entities worldwide and how best practices of government innovation may be applied to the Middle East. Another main focus centered on researching how best to establish sustainable economic growth throughout the Gulf region, exemplified by the Saudi Vision 2030 project, and strategic possibilities for the economics of the countries across the region. The project that most-closely aligned with my studies at MIIS (and which piqued my interest the most) were MEPSI’s attempts to understand Iran’s influence and activities across the Middle East, the research of which was amplified by digital forensics techniques and bringing in experts from varied security disciplines to compile a comprehensive profile of Iran’s ambitions for influence and expansion.

The Atlantic Council provided me a wide berth of opportunities for both academic and professional growth, with the added bonus of personal connections I made in my field, and I cannot recommend a semester learning the ins and outs of the DC think tank culture enough to other NPTS students.

Read his deliverable

Max and Shirin posing with the one and only Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.