Oral history interview with Stephen Sestanovich, 2017
Steven Sestanovich is the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Diplomacy at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. He has had a diverse career in high-ranking positions in NGOs, academia and government. From 1997 to 2001, Sestanovich was the U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union. He has also served as vice president for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, director of Soviet and East European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, senior director for policy development at the National Security Council, a member of the State Department's policy planning staff, and legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He has written prolifically on the topic of Russian and post-Soviet politics and foreign policy and American foreign policy in the popular media and in professional journals.
Scope and Contents
In the first session, Stephen Sestanovich discusses his personal history, focusing on his education and how his desire to study "the big issues" drove him towards academia. He speaks to the differences between academic study of policy-related issues and policymaking fields themselves. For Sestanovich, the gap between these worlds is so wide that it is difficult to see how academics and academic discourse can have direct policy influence. Sestanovich considers the decline of area studies a major issue, but his own position on the matter is conflicted. In the second session, Sestanovich discusses the failure of academics to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, citing numerous structural factors. He then analyzes the rise of nationality studies and human rights studies. He details the transformations in scholarship over the course of his career, which he sees as all-encompassing: Russia, post-Soviet states, and genres of accepted academic work are all radically different. Sestanovich then discusses the current state and potential future of the Harriman Institute. He is optimistic about the scholarship, but he doubts the ability of the Institute, and academia in general, to influence policy.
Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2017.