Embracing "grace" In international security cooperation

Nov 23, 2017 | Guest author

Elisha Henry received her Master's in Public Policy in 2015. She recently shared this recollection with CISSM.


It is easy to get disheartened working in the security field, particularly in light of the current state of U.S.-Russian relations. We are up against grave challenges rooted in long-term grievances with no immediate policy resolution in sight. Will our contributions to security cooperation make a difference in the long term when running up against larger geopolitical forces?

In this holiday season, it is important to reflect on the role of grace in security cooperation. Three years ago, I was a student in Professor Gallagher’s Arms Control and Nonproliferation Policy class. Professor Gallagher introduced the concept of grace as part of the process of recognizing that, due to human or organizational flaws, cooperative efforts will be imperfect. Grace entails persevering to find a solution to a problem despite shortcomings and recognizing that the intrinsic worth of a person is more valuable than what that person has achieved (or failed to achieve). 

This relational aspect of grace reminds me of three Thanksgivings ago when I took a roadtrip home with Katya Kudrina, who was an ISKRAN fellow at CISSM that fall. We had developed a friendship and could hold frank discussions on any given topic, including the difficulties in U.S.-Russian security relations. When I think back to why we were able to navigate differences of opinion cordially, I realize it was because we were operating from a position of mutual respect. We valued our friendship and found the grace to look past disagreements and find areas of common ground. 

I would encourage policymakers—-and future policymakers—-to consider a similar approach towards security cooperation. This would require a shift in thinking, but it is possible to achive. Professor Gallagher said it most aptly, “To give and receive grace, one needs to have a particular type of identity, one that is more relational and community-oriented, and one that sees other humans, countries, and international societies as flawed but trying to get better, not in moral black and white terms.” 

This Thanksgiving, if you are feeling the weight of current security challenges, shift your focus to the relationships that matter and focus less on perfection. Celebrate progress, however small, as a step in the collective effort to improve, however slowly, together.