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.
M.J. Crawford is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer currently working with the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance at the U.S. Department of State. Crawford was recently selected as a 2023 CNAS Next Gen Fellow. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of State or CNAS.
You did graduate research on racial and ethnic diversity in U.S. foreign policy institutions. What did you find? What improvements do you think we should make to our institutions?
This was back in 2016, when there was hardly any research on this topic. I am very grateful that since then, more attention has been given to the importance of diversity in international affairs. In my graduate research, I investigated how social and educational disparities affecting people of color contribute to low levels of diversity in internationally focused careers. I asserted that this is a U.S. national security concern. Many people of color are not provided adequate K–12 education and they are disproportionately represented in the U.S. mass incarceration system. Ultimately, these disparities mean the United States will not have enough qualified citizens to defend the nation against rising threats—military, cyber, terrorism, nuclear, biological, chemical, and the list goes on. Did you know that having a felony—no matter what age or crime—permanently bars Americans from joining the U.S. military? In some states, those with a felony aren’t even allowed to start and run their own businesses. If such disparities are not addressed, the United States will have difficulty maintaining the necessary human capital to militarily and economically compete with rising powers.
What motivated you to pursue a career in the foreign service? And what have you learned from living all over the world?
In addition to public service, I wanted to pursue the Political track because I have always been fascinated by the politics, cultures, and perspectives of other countries. I enjoy learning new things, and the constant emphasis that my diplomatic career has on learning and developing language, writing, negotiation, and leadership skills is something that I am immensely grateful to benefit from. Plus, over the trajectory of any Foreign Service career, you typically change jobs and countries every two to three years. It’s a very unique international relations career that enables you to focus on human rights in one job and arms control treaty negotiations in a subsequent job.
Living all over the world, not only have I learned about different countries, but I have also learned a lot about myself. Living and working in places where the language or culture may be unfamiliar is a great way to get outside of one’s comfort zone, which I find critical for growth and personal development. Working in other countries has also been educational for me to see and understand differences in management styles, meeting styles, and other customs in the workplace that may be different from what I know.
What advice do you have to someone who is early in their career?
First, rather than pursue your passion, pursue your interests. I heard this once and think this is great advice, especially for those who are curious about a lot of different areas. Using this technique, you can explore a lot of different areas and what you love will stick—the rest of what you don’t like will fall away, but it can still be helpful experience to draw on.
Second, if you know that you want to pursue a particular path, keep at it and don’t let anyone make you give up on a career or interest that you deserve to pursue. Your success is guaranteed if you believe in yourself.
Third, success hardly ever comes overnight. Most people who are widely seen as successful—in any career—have worked steadily behind the scenes, for several years, before achieving their “big break.” Along the way, they had several failures and small successes, but persistence and belief in their goals and abilities helped them ultimately make that quantum leap. Read the biographies of the people you admire, and you’ll see plenty of evidence to prove this.
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