Since October 2020, the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI) and the Institute of North American Studies (IEN) Foundation have been arranging various activities as part of the American policy and international security program.
Dr. Jeffrey Michaels, IEN Senior Fellow at the IBEI, is responsible for organizing and coordinating these activities.
We spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Michaels to find out a little more about the program.
What does it mean to be an IEN Senior Fellow at the IBEI?
It means that I am part of a team of professors and researchers at the IBEI, but my position is financed by the IEN. A good part of my research focuses on United States foreign policy due to the IEN’s interest in North American studies, and I also give classes on this and other topics, such as international security outside of the US.
One aspect to highlight is that, specifically because I am an IEN Senior Fellow at the IBEI, I organize a program with different activities on topics related to the United States, such as the webinar series that is currently underway and which will continue into the fall, but also other events like the one we organized last October related to the American presidential elections about what the US foreign policy would be like depending on whether the next president was Trump or Biden.
Apart from that, through my position at the IBEI, I aim to encourage interest in the study of US foreign policy in Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain, but also try to attract students from the US to study US foreign policy in Barcelona. Studying foreign policy from a foreign country gives a broader view of the topic and also introduces you to the local culture and society. In this case, you can see the Spanish and European foreign policies. That is why I think that people who study US foreign policy here will have a broader knowledge of international relations.
You said that one of the aims of the program is encouraging interest in the study of US foreign policy as well as the implications that it may have for Europe and the Mediterranean. How can that be done?
Firstly, through different Master’s programs at the IBEI, which include the subject “American Foreign Policy” and, secondly, through webinars, seminars and workshops. These activities which are published on social networks raise awareness of what we are doing. We use Twitter as a diffusion tool. There is also word of mouth. And professors and university scholars around the world who are invited to participate are also becoming aware of the work we are doing.
We have webinars every two weeks. If you take a look at other universities that have similar studies, they do not arrange activities so frequently.
Who currently attends the webinars and workshops?
There is a very broad profile. There are currently IBEI and Pompeu Fabra University students, members of these universities and others, members of the international community who live in Barcelona, academics from the UK and Germany and think tanks from other universities. We hope to stoke the interest of many more people.
Do you need to have prior knowledge to attend the webinars and workshops or are they open to the general public?
The activities are open to everyone. When I contact academics and professors, I mention that some of the audience will not have expert knowledge of the topic. They are an opportunity to learn about various aspects of US politics and ask questions, as the speakers are experts in their fields.
Aside from important academics, we have been able to talk to Dr. Lowell Schwartz, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee at the US Senate and, on June 1, we will have Mr. Robert Riley from the Consulate General of the United States in Barcelona.
To date, we have already held ten seminars and dealt with a wide range of topics, some of them more specific such as the Spain-United States relationship and the India-United States relationship, but there have also been much broader topics such as climate change policy and American diplomatic culture.
Some topics may be historical or taken from more recent history. Our intention is not to go back to the 18th century, but to focus on 1945 onward or the Cold War. To understand the current US foreign policy, you need to know the system that was established after World War II, but we endeavor to focus on the current US foreign policy or that from recent decades, not too far back. We seek to observe current events and predict what might happen as we look to the future. Especially if we bear the changes to the international system in mind, we have China’s growth and the COVID crisis… It is worth saying that I am also a historian and I like to look at US foreign policy from a historical perspective, as seeing what has changed and what has continued is also important. If we want to understand how the United States government manages foreign policy, we need to look back and not assume that what we are seeing today is new.
That is all very interesting. Besides going to the seminars, can you recommend reading to introduce us to US foreign policy?
There is lots of interesting literature on the topic and it is difficult to choose, but I can make a few recommendations.