This interview is adapted from a segment in the Brookings Cafeteria podcast called “Coffee Break,” where a scholar new to Brookings introduces their background, research interests, and offers book recommendations. The transcript has been slightly edited from the audio recording.
My name is Frank Rose. I’m a senior fellow for security and strategy in Foreign Policy at Brookings and I do this because I love it–it’s my passion.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Originally from Plymouth, Massachusetts, I moved to Washington in 1990 to attend American University. But I still have a lot of family up in Massachusetts, and I try to get up there a couple of times a year. It’s a great place, especially in the summer.
Q: What inspired you to become a scholar?
A: I spent a good part of my career in government working on national and international security issues at the State Department, the Defense Department, and also on Capitol Hill. My government career ended in January of 2017, but I still had a passion to participate in the debate and help develop sound public policy solutions. Brookings has an excellent reputation and plays such an essential role in the discussion here in Washington and across the world. I thought this would be a good platform for me to continue to help influence the debate.
Q: How did you find yourself in government work?
A: I have always had a passion, even when I was young, to be involved in international security. When I was very young, I knew I wanted to play a role in the government at the Defense Department, at the State Department, or at another government agency.
I began my career in the early 1990s working as a low-level legislative aide to a little-known senator from Massachusetts by the name of John Kerry. From there, I worked for a private contracting company which had a number of contracts with the Defense Department. I then went to London for my masters in war studies, which is a British way of describing defense studies. I returned to the United States in 1999 and worked at the Pentagon for about seven years, both as an assistant to one of the assistant secretaries of defense, responsible for strategic issues, and then for five years in the missile defense policy office where I was responsible for coordinating missile defense cooperation with our allies in Europe. From there I worked on Capitol Hill in the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee. And when President Obama was elected I joined the State Department first as deputy assistant secretary for space and defense policy and then eventually as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance where I worked on many issues in the strategic policy area.
Young people in the field often ask me what they should do for a living, and I have always said to follow your passion. Do what makes you happy and things tend to fall into place. When I was 17 years old, I was working on then-Senator John Kerry’s first re-election campaign for the United States Senate and at the end of his presentation at an event for volunteers then-Senator Kerry asked if anyone had questions for him. Me being the bashful 17-year old that I was, I immediately raised my hand and asked about missile defense and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Twenty-five years later, Secretary Kerry referenced that story in his introductory speech for my swearing in ceremony for assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance. If you follow your passion and do what you enjoy things have a way of working out.
Q: What is the most important issue we are facing today?
A: The emergence of disruptive technologies whether it be artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, or advances in biotechnology. I think what we have seen over the past several years, if not decades, is how these new technologies are fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and conduct conflict. The emergence of these technologies is genuinely one of the challenges that we’re going to be facing for many years to come. I think technology is only going to continue to expand and become more disruptive as we move forward.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a couple of projects that could be divided into four or five baskets. The first basket deals with the intersection between deterrence and arms control. If you look throughout the history of deterrence and arms control, especially during the Cold War, they were tightly linked. But since the end of the Cold War, they have gone on divergent paths. I’m trying to figure out how we re-couple them.
The second basket is related, and it’s the future of the U.S. Russia strategic stability framework. Since the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the framework had been focused on negotiating reductions in our nuclear arsenals. My main concern is that reductions process has come to an end. I think it’s unlikely that there will be a successor to the new START Treaty that focuses on reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons. At the same time, I think it’s in the interest of both the United States and the Russian Federation to have a framework in place that helps us manage competition and also reduce the risk of nuclear war.
The third project I’m focused on is global strategic stability. In the Cold War it was the United States and the Soviet Union that drove the global strategic stability discussion; now there are some other actors like China, India, and Pakistan that are influencing that discussion. And more importantly, there are new technologies such as cyber, space, and artificial intelligence that are also impacting calculations associated with global strategic stability. I’m trying to figure out how we maintain a stable global strategic balance with these new actors and new technologies.
The fourth basket is related to the third and that is asking whether there are rules of the road or norms of behavior we can use to help manage new technologies on an international basis.
Finally, the United States is at the beginning of modernizing its strategic nuclear forces. We have not done this in 30 years, and it’s vital that we have a bipartisan consensus amongst Democrats and Republicans because this modernization program will go on for the next 20 years. Therefore, the question we’re trying to answer is how do we maintain a bipartisan consensus in favor of the modernization of U.S. strategic nuclear forces at a time of great polarization.
Q: If you could recommend any book to our listeners, what would it be?
A: I would recommend two books. The first is “All Measures Short of War” by my colleague in Brookings Foreign Policy, Thomas Wright. I would consider it to be the best book on international politics that I have read in the past several years. I think Tom does a very nice job outlining the fundamental changes that we have seen and explaining why we’re at the end of the post-Cold War international order that came into being in the early 1990s. He lays out a very credible thesis on how we manage the return of great power competition.
The second book I would recommend is “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” by Edward Luce. In his book, Ed articulates that many of these populist uprisings we see across the Western world are all interrelated, and it’s a result of a number of things including slow growth in Western economies, but also the rise of disruptive technologies such as automation that is taking away opportunities for robust employment by a large chunk of the middle class.