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.
Sylvia Mishra is a new tech nuclear officer at the European Leadership Network (ELN) and a doctoral researcher at the department of defence studies at King's College London (KCL). The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of ELN or KCL.
You cochair the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Security Policy (CBRN) Working Group for Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS). What led you to this role? What have you learned from it?
I work as a new tech nuclear officer for the European Leadership Network (ELN) and serve as the cochair of the WCAPS CBRN Working Group. My research work focuses on understanding, researching, and writing about nuclear weapons policy and strategy issues, as well as emerging and disruptive technologies and their impact on international security and nuclear weapons decision-making.
Nuclear policy issues are complex—its challenges, effects, ramifications, and mitigation strategies invite deeper and de-siloed thinking and demand a variety of perspectives. I joined WCAPS to promote the perspective of women of color and underrepresented communities on issues of weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation and arms control. Driven by the desire to strengthen the voices and participation of women in the nuclear policy field, I have been leading the CBRN Working Group as the cochair since 2018. I endeavor to advance knowledge through the publication of policy papers and recommendations, and encourage the participation of students, young professionals, and policy experts through inclusive programs and workshops.
This goal led me to coedit a volume with Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins called Policy Papers by Women of Color, Second Edition: CBRN Policy and Global Health Security, which is a unique and special publication, as it showcases the substantive work of 20 women of color—both established experts and emerging professionals from diverse backgrounds.
I have learned about the importance of mentorship and advocacy to nourish talent and the need to practice reverse mentorship to enrich the national security and nuclear policy field.
You are pursuing a doctoral degree at King’s College London on nuclear strategy. What led you to this path? How has your career in national security so far contributed to your research as an academic?
I started my career working in think tanks in New Delhi focused on India-U.S. defense and security cooperation and South Asian security. It is a topic that is close to my heart, and I believe that the United States and India, as the world’s oldest and largest democracies, have a special role in shaping the geopolitics of the 21st century. Through my work and scholarship, I try to advance ties and shared understanding between the two countries where partnership on defense, emerging technologies, and civil nuclear cooperation play a critical role.
I gained global experiences working in New Delhi, London, and Washington, D.C., and looking at great-power competition among nations from a strategic security lens. These experiences guided me to research questions about how emerging tech and its integration with strategic weapons impact the balance of power among countries in conflictual dyads.
Academia helps me have a rigorous theoretical understanding and examine the bigger picture and structural shifts, while a career in national security enables me to analyze the pressing challenges of today and tailor strategies and actionable recommendations that are relevant to policy. I believe that academia and policy work share a symbiotic relationship—one augments the other. My work fuses, influences, and attempts to bridge the gap between the two with a long-term view to enrich the field.
What advice do you have for those just starting out in the nuclear policy field?
I believe and practice these three mantras.
Persevere—A career in national security, especially nuclear policy, in the initial years is hard and challenging. Persevere and don’t quit. The nuclear policy field is a niche one. Investing in oneself by gaining professional training and specialized degrees is also important to prepare oneself to enter and stay in this field.
Publish—Cultivate your own voice, develop an analytical approach to examining international security issues, and publish your research work. Publishing can be hard, but with practice and repetition, it will be both professionally and intellectually rewarding.
Pay it forward—Devote time to lift those who come after you. I have been fortunate to receive guidance and mentorship from experts in the industry and believe it is my duty to help, bolster, and amplify the voices of those who come after me. This has led me to sign up as a mentor at WCAPS, Scoville, Nuclear Fusion Project, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Youth Group—to name just a few.
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