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Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Military and Political Power | Sara Downing

I spent my summer as a Visiting Military Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Partnered with the national security consulting group Valens Global, I worked remotely most of the summer researching Russian extremist groups.
My research centered on Wagner Group and Task Force Rusich, two groups with roots in the white supremacist movement and Russian veteran population. Though both groups are presently aiding the Russian war effort in Ukraine, the breadth of Wagner’s global operations indicate a broader base of support and agenda. I sought to precisely describe the ideology, organizational structure, recruitment efforts, and patterns of violence for both groups. Studying non-state threat groups also required me to gain a greater understanding of both U.S. and international legal frameworks that seek to curb terrorist activity. My hope is that the reports I produced this summer helps policy makers at all levels make more informed decisions about how to counter Russia’s aggression and blatant disregard for international norms.

I was also able to travel to Washington, D.C. for two guest interviews hosted by FDD. On separate occasions, I was heard both LTG (R) H.R. McMaster and LTG (R) Sean MacFarland speak. I found LTG (R) McMaster’s perspective on civil-military relations and the importance of political neutrality for military officers particularly timely. LTG (R) MacFarland’s reflection on the campaign against the Islamic State was a master class on the value of cultural fluency and partnership with host nations.
The research and relationships I enjoyed this summer deepened my analytic skills and expanded my understanding of the national security enterprise. I was particularly grateful to work alongside the Valens team. The company culture was simultaneously academically rigorous and personally welcoming. I could not have spent the summer in better company, and I am surely richer for the experience.