Introducing the Winners of the 2021 Student Foreign Policy Essay Contest

The John Quincy Adams Society and The National Interest are pleased to announce the following winners in our 2021 Student Foreign Policy Essay Contest. This year’s contest offered students a choice of three prompts, all of them either being ripped from the headlines or related to relevant U.S. foreign policy issues.

Our first prize winner and runners-up will appear shortly at The National Interest and receive a cash prize, and a subscription to The National Interest‘s print issue. Our honorable mentions will be published in Realist Review.


First Prize

Samuel Leiter, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Kimo Gandall, University of California, Irvine

Matthew Hughes, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

Honorable Mentions

Chance Cansler, Middle Tennessee State University

Trevor Filseth, Brandeis University

Fiona Harrigan, University of Arizona

Matthew Mai, Rutgers University

Excerpts from the winners:

Samuel Leiter: “Despite having the world’s third largest economy and territorial disputes with China, Japan continues to “cheap-ride” on U.S. security guarantees. Japan’s failure to invest in its own defense tips the regional balance of power in China’s favor and increases the demands on the U.S. to maintain the regional balance. This makes the likelihood of inadvertent conflict between the U.S. and China greater, strengthens arguments for the U.S. to abandon its ally, and increases the incentives for China to pursue fait accompli strategies against Japan’s outlying islands.”

Kimo Gandall: “Since 2003, the situation has grown helplessly more frustrating, with the Washington Post leaking the 2019 ‘Afghanistan papers’ offering blunt insights of self-delusion American foreign policy calculus. “Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible… everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone,” explained Bob Crowley, adviser to U.S. military commanders from 2013 – 14. The people of Afghanistan have become similarly dismayed at the inactive American occupation, with the Taliban now governing nearly 70% of the country. In layman’s terms: “The result = Zilch.””

Matthew Hughes: “Effective defense alliances depend on mutual assurances, but the Philippines’ level of commitment has been inconsistent, especially within the last five years. The two countries signed a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998 and an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014, authorizing U.S. troop access to military bases in the Philippines through rotational deployments. These agreements enabled activities consistent with the MDT that would promote regional security. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, however, the durability of these agreements—and even the MDT—has wavered.”

Chance Cansler: “Turkey has the second-largest NATO military and a vast native arms industry that if both were properly tooled, could be supreme assets for the US and NATO. Turkey is a relatively stable country founded upon the pillars of secularism and republicanism, which if they were again embraced could go a long way in helping those ideas spread into the Muslim world. However, Turkey has squandered this potential, the goodwill of her allies, and soured the relationship of her historic friends. Turkish nationalism, increased authoritarianism, and general belligerence towards its neighbors and allies has made Turkey the least valuable player in US national security.”

Trevor Filseth: “However, over the past fifty years, the United States has discovered just how difficult it can be to successfully extract itself from a war it has started. On at least two recent occasions – Vietnam in 1973, and Iraq in 2011 – America’s foreign conflicts have, after a long and costly insurgency, ended with a face-saving peace agreement, the withdrawal of troops, the establishment of a friendly (but corrupt and unstable) local government, its subsequent collapse, and severe humanitarian consequences.”

Fiona Harrigan: “Despite a suboptimal start, the Biden administration can still embrace and improve upon key campaign promises, leaving behind a better foreign policy than it inherited. First, Biden should encourage and adopt congressional efforts to amend the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, giving Congress its due role in conflict decisions; second, he should reduce the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East, reducing the risks of involvement abroad; and third, he should recalibrate the U.S. treatment of Iran and Saudi Arabia, promoting a balance of goodwill and skepticism toward both nations. With these priorities, Biden could accomplish what so many presidents before him have promised.”

Matthew Mai: “Ironically, the Baltic states are more committed to NATO than their larger and wealthier allies to the west as evidenced by their higher levels of defense spending and troop deployments to the Middle East. However, their commitment to strengthening the integrity of the alliance does not match their ability to defend its most important member. In joining NATO, they correctly calculated that the United States would contribute more to their security than they would in return.”

You can read about the winners of previous contests here: 2020201920182017. You may find the original contest announcement here.