June 27, 2023

Around the Table with Chris Estep

Three Questions with the Make Room Email Newsletter

Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.

Chris Estep is the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense. He formerly served as Press Secretary for the House Armed Services Committee, and previously as a Communications Officer at CNAS. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Department of Defense.

Why is communication such an important part of national security?

It’s not enough to just make all of the right policy choices—policymakers have a responsibility to communicate those choices, as well. People should know about good policy outcomes, and we shouldn’t be shy about talking about results. That’s why public messaging should be part of the policymaking process at the earliest possible stage, not just an afterthought once all of the substantive decisions have already been made. At the end of the day, members of the public feel strongly about national security issues, regardless of whether some folks apply the “national security” label to a problem or not. And because those issues can often draw out feelings of concern, sometimes even fear, for many people, it’s more important than ever for policymakers to communicate about everything we’re doing to solve the biggest national security problems. In a democracy, that’s part of what it takes to turn good ideas into concrete policy.

To you, what does it mean to be out in national security?

As a national security professional who’s proud to be part of the broader LGBTQ+ community, I know we’re in a unique moment that can be both inspiring and fraught, sometimes all at once. Just think about the overlapping generations of LGBTQ+ national security professionals working in the field right now. Some have spent the majority of their careers under the shadow of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), and their stories of resilience and courage truly inspire me. Some—like me—came of age at a time of exciting progress, like the repeal of DADT, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, and rapidly growing public acceptance of the community. And now some are entering the workforce at a time when it’s clear that none of that progress should ever be taken for granted. To me, that looks like standing up for this community, embracing visibility as an LGBTQ+ person in this field, and trying every day to learn from the experiences of those different generations, because we all have so much to offer this country.

What motivated you to pursue a career in government?

I want to do my best possible work on the toughest possible issues in national security alongside people whose insight and expertise inspires me. Especially when it means helping people understand the real-life, human effects of tough decisions in places like the Pentagon or Capitol Hill. And I was extremely fortunate to start at CNAS, a place where public service is viewed not only as an honorable career choice, but also as an opportunity to be creative and collaborative and results driven. I was surrounded by people who believed that good ideas in national security policymaking are worth getting excited about, and they acted like it. I try to carry that with me to work every day.


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