Member Profile – Bryan Early: Approaching the Sanctions Profession from an Academic and Sanctions Policy Perspective

May 4, 2018
By Anna Sayre, Legal Content Writer

The use of sanctions as an international regulatory and compliance tool has risen exponentially in recent times. The increasingly complex nature of these sanctions programs has led to the need for qualified persons equipped with the knowledge to tackle the day-to-day compliance and operational duties brought on by the ever-changing rules that govern sanctions policy.

In order to gauge a real-life perspective of those in the business, has taken the time to ask sanctions professionals what they think is the best way of breaking into the sanctions field and how they see the future of the sanctions industry unfolding.

For this Member Profile, sat down with Bryan Early, Ph.D.* – Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at the University at Albany, SUNY – to find out what a career in sanctions academia looks like and what experience is needed to become involved in influencing sanctions policy.

Sanctions Alert:Could you please start by telling us a little bit about your educational background and sanctions work experience?

 Prof. Early:Yes, of course. I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Albany, SUNY. I am also the Director of the Center for Policy Research (CPR), and the founding Director of the Project on International Security, Commerce, and Economic Statecraft (PISCES). I received my Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Georgia, and while I was there, I worked for a ‘think tank’ called the Center for International Trade and Security that specialized in issues related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). So, while I was earning my Ph.D., I was also getting a lot of practical policy experience in working with governments around the world to set up so-called ‘strategic trade controls’. Strategic trade controls are tools that governments can use to regulate certain technologies and materials sold by the private sector that may have perfectly legitimate uses (commercial applications), but may also have uses in building WMDs (military applications), also called  ‘dual-use’ items.  Through this work, I became very interested in how these policies, or ‘economic statecraft’, can be used by governments to control trade to ensure that it is safe and helps promote a government’s long-term interests. Strategic trade controls are one way that governments use their commercial policies to promote their foreign policy interests, and economic sanctions are another. As such, these topics became my main focus as an academic and a policy practitioner as well.

Sanctions Alert: So, though most professionals start out at University, you seem to have stayed in academia. Was this always your plan?

Prof. Early: Once I earned my Ph.D., I was fortunate enough to get to spend a year at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation there and also had an opportunity to spend a month in Dubai as a visiting scholar. I think that all the enjoyment I got from teaching students and doing research is really what made me realize that I wanted to pursue an academic career, but in a way that still allowed me to be active in trying to influence policy with the knowledge and skills that I had acquired.

Sanctions Alert:It seems that all your experience is in academia, is that right?

Prof. Early: Yes, you are right. Pretty much all of my experience has been as an academic, or doing consulting work from an academic institution with governments. A lot of the work that I have done has been outreach work sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to assist foreign governments with the development of their strategic trade controls policies. Many of these projects have had a focus on how sanctions and strategic trade control policies ultimately impact the business sector.

Sanctions Alert: We seem to find that professionals enter the sanctions field in one of three ways: one being the law school route, another being a banking route and yet another being a more operational/tech route. Do you think that is true in your estimation? Do you think you are a rare case?

Prof. Early: Yes, my background is a bit more rare as there are not many people doing both research within the academic community who also try and become involved in influencing policy implementation.

Sanctions Alert: What in your opinion would be the best way of becoming involved in influencing sanctions policy?

Prof. Early: If you are interested in becoming a professor and you are passionate about foreign policy, trade policy, or how governments employ sanctions, there are a couple of steps you should take: first, you should try to identify the best set of political science programs that your grades and experience will allow you to attend, and then look to see if they have faculty members that are involved in work on foreign trade policy or economic sanctions.Try to attend a program with both a good overall reputation and faculty with the specific expertise you’re looking for. Once you’re at such a program,seek to develop relationships with those faculty members that have the expertise you want to obtain.  Often times, expertise at the graduate level is passed on, not just in the classroom, but through mentorship. Lastly, to break into the policy sector, always make sure you are aware of potential grant opportunities, outreach activities, or centers that are doing policy orientated work as early as you can in your Ph.D. program.

Sanctions Alert: In terms of those who already work in the private sector, is there a chance for them to switch to becoming a sanctions policy influencer?

Prof. Early:I guess there would be a few different routes to enter into academia. Someone in the private sector could enroll in a graduate program, earn their degree and draw on the wealth of expertise that they have garnered in the private sector to help them do policy research. There are also some instances where institutions that have policy-orientated programs hire “professors of practice” so that they can share their practical knowledge. So, that is always an option as well.

Sanctions Alert: What does a typical day in look like for a policy-influencer?

Prof. Early: It can vary quite significantly. Sometimes I spend the day like a lot of academics – teaching classes; answering emails; meeting with students – but there are other days where I do more policy-orientated work in which I manage international trips, develop curriculum for workshops, or prepare to do an activity overseas. For example, just a few weeks ago, I was in Ukraine putting together a workshop on strategic trade controls. So, in many ways my schedule can differ greatly depending on whether I am doing more traditional academic things or whether I’m spending the day working on my grant projects involving foreign outreach and consultations.

Sanctions Alert: Could you tell us generally what your grant projects usually entail?

Prof. Early: A lot of the work that we do is broadly nested with helping foreign countries comply with the obligations that were created by U.N. Resolution 1540, which was passed after 9/11 and obligated all countries to put policies in place to prevent non-state actors, like terrorist groups, from being able to obtain certain technologies that could be use to create WMDs. So, a lot of my work revolves around helping governments revise their laws and regulations to make their strategic trade control systems more effective as well as providing training to officials about strategic controls and how to use them.

Sanctions Alert: Where do you see the sanctions field heading in 2018 and beyond?

Prof. Early: I think the main challenge for companies will be how to implement sanctions effectively. If you take the example of North Korea, we are at the point where we cannot really impose many more sanctions, so I think it will come down to enhanced levels of implementation. As the North Korean government has been very successful thus far at circumventing international sanctions, the quality of national implementation will matter the most. There will be a lot of potential lessons learned in terms of understanding how to implement sanctions effectively and I think that will probably shape the discourse for years to come.

Sanctions Alert: Just one more question: for someone who wants to pursue a career in sanctions policy, what are the key things to keep in mind?

Prof. Early: I suppose the first recommendation for someone who is interested in a career in sanctions policy is that you can never read enough. Part of understating how sanctions work as well as the international context in which both governments are using sanctions and companies are learning how to comply with sanctions, is learning what the environment entails and reading as much as you can about it. I think there is a significant premium that exists for finding opportunities to learn specifically about policies, either from academic classes or finding positions that allow you to have valuable on-the-job mentorship. If you invest in developing skills in those areas, there is an increasingly larger market than there has ever been for those with specific policy experience and education.

*Bryan R. Early is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Albany, SUNY and the Director of the Center for Policy Research. He conducts research on topics related to foreign policy, international security, and political violence and is an expert on economic sanctions, strategic trade controls, and the proliferation of nuclear and aerospace technology. His book Busted Sanctions: Explaining Why Economic Sanctions Fail (Stanford University Press, 2015) offers the first comprehensive explanation of the causes and consequences of sanctions busting. Early graduated with his PhD in Political Science from The University of Georgia in 2009 and earned his BA in Politics from Washington and Lee University in 2004. From 2008-2009, he was a research fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. As a principal investigator at the Center for Policy Research, Early has been the recipient of 56grant awards totaling over $6.6 million since 2011.

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