Profile with Meg Braun

Meg Braun (California & St John’s 2011) recently completed an M.A. in International Relations at the University of Oxford. Her area of research is foreign policy and warfare, specifically the use of unmanned weapons systems in the post-9/11 era. Meg holds a BA in History with a minor in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Meg Braun: San Diego.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell us a little bit about your current research?

Meg Braun: I’m interested in US foreign policy, more specifically the ethics and legal and policy implications of target killings. My thesis was looking at the early development of drone policy, post-9/11, and asking why the CIA rather than the US military was tasked with using lethal weapons. I’ve written a number of publications looking at it from a just war theory perspective which considers the ethical ramifications of using unmanned weapons systems.

Rhodes Project: What has been the most interesting development that you’ve come across in your research?

Meg Braun: For me it’s exciting to work on something so current. It’s fascinating to watch how quickly policy evolves and to watch different presidential administrations reconsider or continue the policies of their predecessors. It’s eye-opening to get an insight into how the US government works and the factors that drive decision-making. More often than not, policies are less the product of strategy and more the product of bureaucracies. I find that unsettling.

Rhodes Project: How have you found studying International Relations in England?

Meg Braun: It’s been a fabulous opportunity. It’s a huge asset for me that of the 24 people on my course, only three are American. We have a lot of discussions around global issues and US foreign policy but from the perspective of people who are predominantly European or from other westernised parts of the world. I think that learning to appreciate their criticisms and to take a more critical perspective on American politics has been a great opportunity for me.

Rhodes Project: What did you find most surprising about Oxford?

Meg Braun: I had a very romanticised notion of Oxford. Studying here involves learning to recognise that it’s both charming and exasperating at the same time. It’s very set in its ways and sometimes does things for tradition’s sake but it’s also a place that’s incredibly dynamic and diverse with respect to its student body. It really is on the cutting edge of research in a variety of fields. The juxtaposition of old and new, frustrating and wonderful, is something that definitely caught me by surprise.

Rhodes Project: Do you have any role models?

Meg Braun: I think that there are a lot of people that I admire and I would consider myself lucky to count as mentors, but I don’t think of myself as someone who has a strong set of role models. I admire various professors I’ve worked with, my family, people who have been a source of professional inspiration to me throughout my life, but I wouldn’t consider them as role models. Often with role models we envisage ourselves aspiring to achieve the same things they have. I like the idea that I have a constellation of people in my life from whom I derive inspiration but I really have my own vision of where I want to go.

Rhodes Project: What’s a memorable learning moment you have recently experienced?

Meg Braun: I’ve recently gone through a quarter life crisis in which I’m trying to decide whether to go to Yale Law School or to continue with a DPhil at Oxford. The thing about being a Rhodes Scholar, or anyone who is successful coming out of their undergraduate degree, is that you have any number of opportunities presented to you. If you say yes to a succession of opportunities you can often find yourself on a very different path to the one you envisaged for yourself. And Oxford is very much a bubble. It is an eye-opening place in many ways but it can often distract from where you see your place in the larger world.

Rhodes Project: Is there anything that consistently frustrates you?

Meg Braun: Right now, I’m frustrated by the state of global politics and the extent to which current leaders throughout the world are putting short term issues above long term problems. I think it’s something that my cohort of Rhodes Scholars is very aware of. It’s the sense that we’re facing ballooning welfare programs, the issues of global warming and fractured financial systems throughout the world. My cohort is going to inherit these crises twenty years from now and for us that’s incredibly frustrating. It’s a sense that the problems are building but also that we don’t yet have the influence and skill set to address them in the present. It’s shocking the extent to which our generation is already at a disadvantage in so many different ways, particularly student debt, the state of the economy and job market. We’re coming into adulthood with a particular set of disadvantages and by the time we enter middle-age we will have a whole new set of challenges.

Rhodes Project: Is there anything that inspires you?

Meg Braun: As someone who studies warfare, it has to the human decency, empathy and charity that I often see when reading about or studying conflicts. You have to really look below the surface to recognise these things because they often occur in interpersonal interactions. I do think that, while often on the face of it, it looks like the world is lost, if we look at people and how they interact with each other we are often surprised by our capacity to do the right thing. That capacity for goodness and decency and morality often inspires me. It makes me think that if each of us just keeps working on our corner of the world’s problems then everything may turn out all right.

Rhodes Project: Are you looking forward to anything in particular right now?

Meg Braun: I’m really looking forward to going back to the US and being able to perceive the issues I work on, my society, my relationships with friends and family all in a different light by virtue of my experiences at Oxford. I think finishing up my two years here, and the recognition that this is coming to an end, has made me quite interested in going back and seeing how I have changed. I’m hopeful that I’ve changed for the better and that I’ve learned a lot. I’m really excited to see how the lessons and the personal impact of this experience manifest themselves.

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