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Hannah Solomon-Strauss '12
Hannah Solomon-Strauss '12

Oil Pipelines, Interdependence, and the Arab Spring

Hannah Solomon-Straus ’12 is spending her summer studying the political dynamics of oil production in the volatile Caucasus region, while Matt Cebul ’13 is immersing himself in the current events of the Arab Spring and studying its impact on Middle Eastern politics. Both political science majors are serving as research assistants at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI).

Founded in 1955, FPRI is a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that studies U.S. policy development and the relationship between U.S. policy and international events. FPRI is currently conducting research on a number of different topics including the war on terrorism; nuclear proliferation relations with China, Russia and Japan; and the roles of religion and ethnicity in international politics. As research assistants for the FPRI fellows, Solomon-Strauss and Cebul spend much of their time working on smaller aspects of some of these long-term projects. Solomon-Strauss helped the fellows conduct research on U.S. military involvement in a region on the border between Russia and Georgia called the Pankisi Gorge and Cebul spent his first few weeks of the internship researching the political instability in Jordan.

In addition to assisting the fellows, Solomon-Strauss and Cebul have been given the opportunity to conduct and execute a self-designed research project this summer. Cebul is studying the structuring of al-Qaeda and the impact of the Arab Spring on Arab nations and organizations.

“While it is tempting to believe that the new found democratic surge in the Middle East and the death of Osama Bin Laden will spell disaster for the group [al Qaeda],” explains Cebul. “The failure of any of these revolutionary movements may actually rejuvenate the group by proving parts of their ideological position, for example, that non-violent movements simply aren't enough to oust ‘western aided’ authoritarian regimes.”

Solomon-Strauss has chosen to study the massive, above-ground oil pipeline network that criss-crosses the Caucasus region and includes countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“The pipelines are nearly impossible to protect because they are so huge and so long,” says Solomon-Strauss. “They are an attractive target for those reasons, but also because of the scale of damage that a pipeline attack can cause—hitting one of the largest lines, like the BTC [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan] line in the Caucasus, could cripple the international economy instantly.”

The goal of her research, which she characterizes as “a very intensive, careful examination of the regional dynamics that affect the pipelines,” is to understand who might attack the pipelines and why. She is studying the neighborhoods the pipelines run through, trying to understand who likes them and who doesn't. She is also studying the U.S.'s relationship with the countries that host these lines to understand how alliances were formed.

Solomon-Strauss and Cebul, whose internships are supported by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, have also been given the opportunity to attend different speaker’s events. Cebul recently enjoyed a conference event about the Arab Spring.

“There were three speakers [Samuel Helfont and Aaron Rock, fellows at Princeton University, and Eric Trager, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania], each specializing in different aspects of Middle Eastern politics. All three spoke varying degrees of Arabic (two were fluent), which was cool for me because I'm trying to learn Arabic myself, and it was great to see how they used the language to further their own careers,” says Cebul. “This talk was focused on the Muslim Brotherhood--they made some extremely specific and knowledgeable arguments, which I definitely wouldn't have found on any common news station.”

Her research has allowed Solomon-Strauss to appreciate the interdependence of the world. “An angry farmer in a rural Georgian village could cripple the international economy because the U.S. didn't appropriately understand his concerns,” she says. “I think it's a lesson we could all stand to learn—the lesson of interconnectedness—and I'm really glad to be learning so much about a place that many people haven't given two seconds of thought. The Caucasus is a tremendously important region for the U.S. and for the world, and we would all do well to understand their situation just a bit better.”

--Jacob Lowy ‘14

Students cross in front of Founders Hall.

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