Michael Beckley Aims for Mix of Academics, Government Service
Author: Dominic Contreras
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
“Debating the pros and cons of government policy, applying scientific methods to pressing national challenges and teaching the next generation...that’s ultimately what gets me out of bed in the morning” says Michael Beckley, a research fellow with the Belfer Center’s International Security Program who was recently named an assistant professor of political science at Tufts University.
According to Beckley, who expects to receive his Ph.D. from Columbia University later this year, “It is clear to me that public policy, both domestic and foreign, has a tremendous effect on people’s lives and that individuals armed with information can and should work to improve those policies.”
Beckley knows first hand what kind of an impact public policy can have. During World War II, a number of his immediate and distant family members were imprisoned at U.S.- run internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry. Among them was Beckley’s grandmother, as well as one of her cousins, Gordon Hirabayashi. Hirabayashi was one of several Japanese Americans detained during the early 1940s who refused to be interned, and who, along with two other dissenters, were convicted of felonies and sentenced to federal prison.
In 1943, Hirabayashi took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued that his detainment was unconstitutional. Though the court upheld his conviction at the time, it was overturned 45 years later by the U.S. Court of Appeals, with the help of Peter Irons, then a political scientist at UC San Diego.
Though Beckley’s research now focuses on U.S. and Chinese foreign policy, Beckley credits his awareness of the internment experience and legal challenges as one of the factors that first sparked his interest in public policy. Since graduating from Emory University in 2004 with a B.A. in International Studies, Beckley has excelled in academia and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and fellowships.
In 2009, he received the International Studies Association Carl Beck Award for Best Graduate Paper in International Relations and in 2010 was awarded the Journal of Strategic Studies’ Amos Perlmutter Prize for Best Essay of the Year. He is a former fellow with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and was a summer associate with the RAND Corporation.
Having accepted a teaching position at Tufts University for next fall, Beckley plans on staying inside the ivory tower for the time being, though he is leaving the door open to possible government service if the right circumstances present themselves.
“Most of my idols are people who circulate back and forth; they are able to advance the academic literature on a subject and then are able to work as leaders and managers in the government and apply their expertise directly to the policy process,” Beckley said.
Since arriving at the Belfer Center in September 2011, Beckley has continued to work on his dissertation, which looks at the foundations of U.S. power and challenges the general assumption that China is overtaking the U.S. He recently published a widely discussed essay on this subject in International Security titled “China’s Century? Why America’s Edge Will Endure,” and is currently working on a full-length book on the same subject.
Speaking to the impact that the Center has had on his work, Beckley said, “I really can’t say enough good things about the Belfer Center. I’m in a research center with fellows from around the world, so being able to bounce ideas off them, to share and present papers to them, has been incredibly helpful in developing my ideas.”
Beckley also credits the Center with publicizing his work, “Belfer has been amazing at promoting it, circulating it around, trying to feature it as much as possible, and getting it in front of as many people as possible so that it can have as much influence as possible,” he said.
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