Alumni Profile: Peter Krause | 2017 | News

Alumni Profile: Peter Krause
Peter Krause

Alumni Profile: Peter Krause

In this section we will ask an SSP alum ten “Frequently Asked Questions” in order to spotlight their own career achievements as well as what insight they have gained as a result from their years at SSP.


Peter Krause is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston College



1) What is your degree and your dissertation title?

I received my PhD from MIT in political science in the fall of 2011. My dissertation title was "The Political Effectiveness of Non-State Violence: Paradox, Polarity, and the Pursuit of Power," a much-revised version of which has just been published with Cornell University Press as Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight and Win. The dissertation/book examines why some national movements like the Zionists, Irish, and Algerians achieve states while others like the Palestinians and Kurds do not, as well as why groups within each of those movements opt for violent or nonviolent strategies.

2) What is your current position/title?

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston College.

3) As is often the case for SSP alums, when you finished your dissertation you had an important choice to make between a position in the policy world and an academic career. What inclined you toward the option you chose? Do you have any advice to share with current SSP students as they weigh their career choices?

For me, the choice was made before I arrived at MIT. I love to research and I love to teach, and the academic freedom of being a professor was exactly what I always wanted. My time teaching high school before MIT and doing research while at SSP only reinforced my desire to research, publish, and teach on the topics that fascinated me—Middle East politics and political violence. I also know that I was fortunate to get a great academic job in a difficult market, and I would have been prepared to pursue other options if needed. My advice to SSP students is to work as hard and as smart as they can before they hit the job market. In this environment, if you are deciding you want an academic job at graduation, you are going to have a very difficult time landing one. You need to channel your passions while in graduate school to excel in your courses, publish a solid article or two on your topic(s) of interest, and write a high quality dissertation. If you do that, you will have options in academia as well as policy. How to make that happen? People rarely reinvent the wheel; look into what other recent graduates have done to get an idea of what is possible in graduate school and how to approach things. I learned so much from SSP students in the program 1-4 years ahead of me, and their example helped me accomplish what I needed to position myself to land the job I wanted.

4) Would you say that your experience at SSP has continued to influence your current position? What key concepts or values from SSP have served you well in your current position?

Absolutely. I came to MIT with a lot of passion and some general knowledge, but I didn't have the sharp focus and sophistication necessary to be a true scholar of security studies. SSP gave me that through its classes, its professors, its students, and its staff and fellows. SSP taught me how rarely people really think through the nuts and bolts of a problem, and how doing so—and untangling assumptions along the way—can lead to incredibly powerful insights.

My first peer-reviewed article, published while a graduate student at SSP, was a net assessment of U.S. operations to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001, and it reflected all of the lessons I learned at SSP. Before I took Barry Posen’s class, I had some interest and background in military history, but no experience doing net assessment of real or hypothetical military engagements. His course on U.S. military power gave me those skills and pushed me to ask the question that many raised at the time: “Could the U.S. have inserted more troops to get Bin Laden, and would such an operation have worked?” To help answer questions about the capabilities of the 82nd Airborne to deploy rapidly to Afghanistan using C-130 aircraft, I simply walked down the hall to the SSP fellows’ office and talked extensively with an experienced member of the 82nd Airborne and a C-130 pilot. No other program offers that combination of high-quality academic instruction and top-notch real-world knowledge of security issues. After completing the seminar paper, Professor Posen encouraged me to work hard to revise and submit it for publication, something that I otherwise had not considered doing. After it was published, a subsequent U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report noted, “Krause’s well-documented article is the most thorough examination of the alternatives available to military commanders at Tora Bora.” I knew at that point that SSP had prepared me to design and execute high quality, policy relevant research. I have tried to apply the lessons from that first article to all of my subsequent work. Furthermore, I work to inspire my students and teach them valuable real-world skills in the same fashion as I learned at SSP.

5) One of the primary premises of the MIT SSP is "War is an extension of politics. Politics causes wars. Policy must be the governing force." Can you explain how, in your experience, this has been true or false? What has been your own experience?

I find this to be generally true. I study the Middle East, which unfortunately has been a region marked by more than its share of conflict for some time. At the root of proxy wars, insurgencies, and terrorist attacks that many observers call “irrational” or due to “revenge” or “hatred,” I find politics again and again. Whether it is the importance of regime security or the desired spread of a religious or ideological revolution, it always comes back to the pursuit of political power. When I interview former politicians or militants—or read about their exploits in archives—politics is always front and center. Indeed, the core argument of my book Rebel Power is that, for non-state organizations, whether insurgents, terrorists, or nationalist political parties, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” In other words, where you stand on using violence and pursuing victory depends on where you sit within your national movement, i.e. what you political position is. Even though it sometimes is counterproductive for the collective cause, politics almost always drives conflict behavior and outcomes.

6) What is the part of your current position that you think allows you the most satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction and why?

Soon after I arrived at Boston College, I started building my own research team of graduate and undergraduate students called The Project on National Movements and Political Violence. The team is the best example of my research and teaching, highlighting how well the two can complement one another. The team conducts research on the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. foreign policy, and terrorism and political violence under my guidance, and they have made significant contributions to all of my publications. At the same time, I teach team members to develop and utilize a variety of research skills including archival work, survey analysis, mapping, and content analysis in a dynamic environment. This type of cooperative, hands-on learning has a deeper and more lasting impact than anything I can do in the classroom. Having 20 other creative minds looking at the same problem as me provides powerful new perspectives, while having 20 other sets of hands lets us do things I could never do alone, like build a massive dataset of outcomes for all insurgent organizations. The research team has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, and I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of what it can do for my research and teaching, as well as for my students.

7) What in your career are you most proud of and has SSP been a part of that?

Right now, I am most proud of my book Rebel Power, which was just published this month. It's the best work I've ever done and the best thing I've ever written. Although I have completed many other projects along the way, the book itself has been a ten-year effort, as it started as my dissertation while an SSP student. SSP was obviously a big part of the project. I wrote the proposal for it in Professor Ken Oye’s class, had a wonderful dissertation committee of Professors Stephen Van Evera, Roger Petersen, and Barry Posen, and received significant insights and support along the way from Professors Fotini Christia, Owen Coté, Taylor Fravel, and Richard Samuels, among others. Much of the best feedback and suggestions I received came from other SSP students, both before and after receiving my PhD.

In a broader sense, I’m most proud of being able to do work at the nexus of subfields that often ignore or even distrust each other—Middle East politics and security studies—and to hopefully publish objective, rigorous research that is respected by both subfields, as well as policy and public audiences.

8) What, outside of SSP and your work here, has been the factor that has most influenced who you are now, and what your current research interests are?

I am most driven by the belief that despite all of the polarization in this country, and despite the endless studies that suggest that people never change their opinions regardless of new information, ideas and evidence matter. I see it everyday in my classroom and when I speak to public audiences: many people can and do change their minds when presented with powerful analysis that engages them and helps teach them how to think, rather than what to think. This belief of mine has recently acquired some sound evidence to back it up, as a series of experiments I conducted on students across the country reveals that taking classes or watching mini-lectures on terrorism causes significant changes in how people define “terrorism” and “terrorist,” assess the size of the terrorist threat, and choose among competing counterterrorism strategies.

I also believe that a healthy democracy needs independent scholars who provide transparent, objective analysis of important issues, not necessarily as the final word, but rather as one important perspective alongside those of the public, politicians, and the media. In a time when people are increasing facing “fake news,” clear evidence and strong arguments about sensitive topics like Middle East politics and terrorism are needed more than ever. These two beliefs—that rigorous, objective analysis is needed and that it can make a difference—drives who I am now and where my research program is going.

9) Looking back, what, if anything would you do differently?

I would have started visiting and doing fieldwork in the Middle East earlier. I didn't make my first trip to the Middle East until a few years into my graduate career, which meant that most of my time in the region has been very structured by necessity. My interactions often have to be instrumental: I have this amount of time so I have to spend this many weeks in archives and talk to these people in this many organizations. I've been able to get a lot done and learn a tremendous amount from living all over the region, but I wish I had spent more time in the Middle East earlier in life, as it would have allowed me more time to enjoy it and get to know the people there in a non-professional capacity. I still set aside time to enjoy my stay and maintain my personal relationships, but I envy my undergraduates who study or live abroad and are able to get to know a place before they have career demands on their time and effort.

10) What is the key piece of advice that you would pass along to current SSP graduate students, or those just beginning their careers?

Don't be dissuaded by failure; it's the essence of academia. If you're not failing regularly, you're not taking on big enough projects, you're not submitting to the best journals you can publish in, and you're not having the overall impact you could. Now, you don't simply want to keep redoing things the same way either. As much as we have romantic visions of going off to write in our corner and then emerging to have everyone recognize and reward our brilliance, that's not how it works. You get better by constantly exposing your ideas and work to others and subjecting yourself to scrutiny. The most successful people are those who can take criticism and learn from it, identifying and separating the true wisdom from the unhelpful advice, all while not taking it too personally. I got rejected by the MIT Political Science department the first time I applied to their PhD program. I didn't back down or stubbornly refuse to change; I worked hard to become a better scholar, reapplied, and was accepted the second time. Very rarely in this business does everything work out great the first time. If you can honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, work hard to hone the former and improve the latter, and try again, you’ll often be pleased with the result. I’m pretty convinced that at the level of MIT PhD students, everyone is really smart, what sets you up for success is how hard you work and your ability to respond effectively to the many failures you will undoubtedly face.