Arturo C. Sotomayor is an Associate Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Security Policy Studies Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs at GWU. He is a political scientist by training, an international studies scholar, and author of multiple academic articles and three books. His research is qualitative, comparative, regional, and includes analysis of public policy issues, international security matters, and military strategy. The unifying thread that runs through his research and writing is the intersection between studies on civil-military relations and international security, and research on the conditions and requirements for domestic order and stability in Latin America. He received his M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from Columbia University in New York and his BA degree in international relations from the Technological Autonomous Institute of Mexico (ITAM) in Mexico City.
- Program/Institute: Security Policy Studies
- Area(s) of expertise: Latin American security, UN peacekeeping operations, civil-military relations in developing nations and non-nuclear proliferation policies in the Western Hemisphere
- Undergrad Institution & Degree: International Relations from the Technological Autonomous Institute of Mexico (also known as ITAM)
- Ph.D. Institution & Thesis: Columbia University, Ph.D. in Political Science, Dissertation: The Peace Soldier from the South: From Praetorianism to Peacekeeping.
- Fall 2019 Courses: US National Security, Civil-Military Relations in Comparative Perspective
What made you interested in your field of study/expertise?
I think my first contact with international relations (IR) took place early in my education when I was involved in the UN model organized by my high school in Mexico City. When I started college, back in 1992, I had a very clear idea that I wanted to major in IR and was convinced that I would pursue a diplomatic career. I did eventually major in IR, but I did not become a diplomat, instead, I pursued an academic career. I eventually followed the footsteps of my college professors, who inspired me to pursue a graduate degree in international politics and motivated me to study overseas, in New York City at Columbia University. The rest is history, as we say!
What courses did you enjoy the most while still in school and why?
My favorite courses in college were taught by a former Mexican diplomat who served as Ambassador to the United Nations in the early 1990s. Her name is Olga Pellicer and she taught a course entitled: “The UN in a Changing World.” The course was a fascinating survey on how the world and diplomacy changed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ambassador Pellicer had amazing and personal stories to share with us, which she successfully connected to relevant IR topics and themes. At Columbia University, my favorite class was taught by Professor Kenneth Waltz, the founder of neo-realism and of the world’s leading IR experts, who used to teach a graduate seminar on international security. I was a neophyte in IR theory and Dr. Waltz’s class gave me a very solid and conceptual foundation to understand “grand theory and thinking”. As it turns out, Waltz’s neorealist theory was inspired by the study of oligopolistic markets in the global economy. Waltz himself had studied economics and his course enabled me to understand the connections between economics and politics. Professor Waltz was also extremely funny and engaging, kept us laughing and learning all the time!
What do you wish more people knew about your field?
I think there is a misconception that those of us who study security studies are focused mainly on issues involving war, military force, and conflict. I would want people to know that security studies also focus on the role of non-state actors (from humanitarian agents to insurgents), the causes of peace, and how non-military tools can serve national security goals (such as sanctions, trade, and diplomacy).
Within my regional expertise, I think there is an underlying assumption that Latin American security deals primarily with drug trafficking, immigration, public insecurity, and border security. As a matter of fact, Latin America is the most peaceful region of the world measured in terms of lack of inter-state war and conflict, but the region also suffers from high levels of internal security and homicides. So, there is a dual reality in the region where peace and conflict co-exist side by side. While drug cartels are predominant in Mexico and Colombia, the region is also known for having developed the first non-nuclear zone in the world and for concentrating the largest number of regional security fora outside of Europe.
What advice do you have for prospective students who are on the fence about applying to a graduate program at the Elliott school?
I would first and foremost recommend that they contact and meet some of our students and graduates. SPS, in particular, is a Program dedicated entirely to its MA students, we don’t have an undergraduate or Ph.D. program. So our success is largely measured by how well our students perform academically, how they grow professionally and how successful they are in the job market after they graduate from GWU. My second recommendation is to extend prospective students an invitation to come and visit us on campus and perhaps audit one of our classes. Get a glimpse of the classroom experience and witness how we invite critical analysis and innovative thinking among our students.
If you could have dinner with any 1 person from history, who would it be and why?
Being an IR scholar, I must admit I have a bias for stateswomen and great female global leaders. Two of my favorite global leaders are Eleonor Roosevelt, former First Lady and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and Golda Meir, Israel’s former Prime Minister from 1969-1974. Although both women were intrinsically different, they played key roles in the histories of their respective nations. They also were instrumental in establishing the foundations of U.S. multilateral diplomacy and the modern Israeli state. They also made a difference in creating better conditions for the citizens they served, respectively.
The #ElliottExpert series highlights current Elliott School professors and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by professors profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.
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