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Reuben Steff
BA (Hons) Politics, Master of International Studies, PhD

Growing up in New Zealand with a mixed American-Ukrainian background, politics and international relations was always a staple of discussion around the dinner table for Reuben Steff. So the wide mix of expertise and diversity of papers on offer at Otago's Department of Politics seemed the ideal choice when it came time for him to pick a university.

“A student of politics and life should not be content to accept established orthodoxies but should be challenged to consider alternative views, and develop the ability to think critically for themselves. The staff and teaching style at the Politics Department helped me not only to develop this ability but also to be confident in conveying my views with confidence in a variety of situations. These skills proved essential in my position as a Policy Officer in the International Security and Disarmament Division (now Strategic Policy Division) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“I continued to use the knowledge and critical thinking skills I gained at Otago on a daily basis in my role as Policy Officer. Indeed, it added a level of depth and expertise to my knowledge that set me apart at my workplace, and enabled me to offer unique value.

“At Otago I gained life long friends and academic colleagues, a number of whom I continue to interact with to this day.

“Ultimately, studying Politics at Otago provided me with an insight into the diversity of the world that I would otherwise not have gained, and the ability to examine and understand the underlying complexities that are often deliberately obscured in the media and political discourse. If you want to begin a new unique and engaging intellectual adventure, study Politics at Otago!”

Honours, Master of International Studies and PhD

"My honours project addressed the literature on the causes of war and theoretically interrogated the official and non-official rationales put forward during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"I subsequently took the multidisciplinary Master in International Studies (MInSt) degree at the University of Otago. This required the completion of a year-long dissertation and the mastery of four interconnected 500 level papers, including International Law, International Politics, International Economy and International History. For the dissertation component, I examined the evolution of New Zealand's foreign and defence policy since 1945.

"My PhD was entitled: 'Deterrence, Global Security and the Long Road to the Deployment of Bush Administration's Missile Defence System'. It drew widely on the theoretical literature in international relations and strategic studies to critically examine the theory of nuclear deterrence, great power relations, nuclear proliferation and its relationship to ballistic missile defense. Using a case study methodology, I focused on the following research question: “what explains the emergence and rise of the missile defense project in U.S. strategic thinking?” The thesis found that two factors were critical. These are the domestic political (and military-industrial) forces, and changes in the international structure of power. The convergence of these two factors led to the deployment of a national missile defense system under the Bush administration in 2004, and its persistence under the Obama administration. The dissertation also examined how missile defence was (and remains) a key source of security competition between the US and China, and the US and Russia with the consequences of deployment having a destabilizing impact upon great power relations.

"My PhD thesis was subsequently published by Ashgate under the title 'Strategic Thinking, Deterrence and the US Ballistic Missile Defense Project: from Truman to Obama'."

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