The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students.

Meet Dokyoung Koo, a second-year Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in International Conflict Resolution. She is also a Fulbright Scholar.

Can you talk about your service in the Republic of Korea Army prior to starting at SIPA? 

My responsibilities focused largely on political and public affairs. Prior to studying at SIPA, I worked as a political affairs instructor at the Korean Army Field Artillery School and the Korean Army Signal School. In that capacity, I taught my junior officers about Korean national security strategy and international politics focusing on a variety of security issues, including U.S. defense strategy in East Asia, security issues such as the US-ROK alliance, North Korea’s nuclear threats, and East Asian security dynamics based on each studied country’s military strategies.

How did serving in the United Nations Mission in India and Pakistan help shape your career?

I joined the United Nations Mission in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in 2016 as a military observer. My responsibilities included monitoring and reporting developing situations along the Line of Control in Kashmir, and investigating alleged ceasefire violations. It was during this time, while working in a conflict zone where bombings and killings continued, that I started to think seriously about how I could contribute to conflict resolutions and world peace.

How did your military experiences prepare you to attend SIPA?

When I began my military career, I was very focused on my military requirements and responsibilities, and did not have time to think about pursuing a graduate degree in international affairs. I first starting thinking about graduate school while visiting the U.S. to take a public affairs qualification course at the Defense Information School in Maryland. In addition to the coursework, I really enjoyed the interactions with other students and friendships that I formed. That experience led me to apply for the mission in Kashmir, as I wanted to work with people from diverse backgrounds and from different parts of the world. There, I met many great people, while witnessing firsthand one of the world’s long-standing conflicts. My teaching experience also inspired me to want to study more about international affairs. Since I taught more than 800 students during a semester, I felt responsible for choosing credible, high-quality materials that reflected the changing situations. The limitations I felt while struggling to find those resources made me thirsty for more academic knowledge on the subject.

Why have you chosen to focus your SIPA studies on International Security Policy and International Conflict Resolution?

The two areas are closely connected, as war is one of the common means to resolve conflicts. Many people in Korea believe we should reunify the Koreas by peaceful means. While I support the idea that peaceful resolution is the best option, I am also aware of the possibility that the two countries could go to war to achieve their strategic objectives. With my working experience in the Korean Army, I wanted to navigate more of the intersection between these two areas to become a real expert in the field.

Can you talk about some of your SIPA experiences outside of the classroom?

Before COVID-19, I was lucky to join Israel Trek to learn about Israeli innovation strategy and security policy. It was a great opportunity to see and experience many places in the Bible as well as places like the Gaza district border, the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem where conflicts are still ongoing. I am very grateful to SIPA Israeli students who were dedicated to making this happen.

This semester, I am interning remotely with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. I am assisting a Senior Fellow with research on various Korea related subjects. This has been a great opportunity for me to apply what I have learned in the classroom and to develop my expertise by working with the world’s best analysts.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

There have been so many, but if I have to choose one, I would say my individual research under the guidance of Professor Stephen Biddle last semester has been my best experience so far. The research idea came to me while I was reviewing assigned reading from the course materials last summer. An article I read, “Different Threats, Different Militaries: Explaining Organizational Practices in Authoritarian Armies,” written by Dr. Caitlin Talmadge, argues that dictators tend to worry about internal threats such as coups over external threats, so their conventional militaries tend to be designed to prevent coups rather than to counter external threats. I wondered if this theory could apply to Kim Jong Un’s regime. The research process was quite challenging because credible information about North Korea is usually limited, but thanks to Professor Biddle’s sound guidance and advice, I successfully completed my research paper.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I am going to continue my military service with the Korean Army, taking all good memories and knowledge from SIPA with me. I will continue working as a major for some years, while thinking about and planning my next steps. SIPA has given me many opportunities to connect with great people and to the world in which they live. I am grateful to have these lifetime opportunities and to be a part of the SIPA community.