All FSI News News February 1, 2021

CISAC Alumni Selected for Senior Roles in New Administration

The CISAC Honors Program provides an opportunity for Stanford seniors of all majors who have strong academic records and interest in international security to receive honors in International Security Studies.
CISAC Honors Program alum Michael Sulmeyer
CISAC Honors Program alum Michael Sulmeyer addresses new program graduates in 2011. Photo: Center for International Security and Cooperation archive

The Biden administration has chosen Martine Cicconi, Michael Sulmeyer, Tarun Chhabra and Varun S. Sivaram, four alumni of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) Honors Program at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), to serve in the White House. 

Cicconi graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2007 and a JD in 2010. She will serve as Associate White House Counsel, a role she also held in the administration of President Barack Obama. For her CISAC Honors thesis, she wrote “Weighing the Costs of Aggression and Restraint: Explaining Variations in India's Response to Terrorism."

Sulmeyer earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford in 2002 and a JD in 2011. He will serve as senior director for cybersecurity at the National Security Council (NSC). In addition to participating in the CISAC Honors Program as an undergraduate, Sulmeyer was a pre-doctoral fellow and teaching assistant at CISAC during his studies at Stanford Law School.

Chhabra, a double-major in Slavic languages and literatures and international relations, also graduated from Stanford in 2002. He will serve as the NSC’s senior director for technology and national security. Chhabra wrote his honors thesis at CISAC on "The Generals' Intervention: U.S. Humanitarian Intervention in Somalia, 1992-1993." 

Sivaram graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and international relations. He will serve as a senior advisor to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who reports directly to President Biden, has a seat at the National Security Council and at the State Department, and leads diplomatic efforts to reassert U.S. climate leadership and raise global climate ambition. Sivaram wrote, "Sunny Side Up: Characterizing the U.S. Military's Approach to Solar Energy Policy," for his CISAC Honors thesis and won the William J. Perry Prize for policy-relevant research.

The CISAC Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies provides an opportunity for Stanford seniors from all undergraduate schools and majors who have strong academic records and interest in international security to receive honors in International Security Studies. Students are admitted to the program on a competitive basis during winter quarter of junior year.

Martine Cicconi
Cicconi clerked for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court and Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Prior to matriculating at Stanford, Martine spent several years as a member of the New York City Ballet.

“Martine Cicconi wrote an absolutely superb undergraduate honors thesis in 2007, analyzing the evolution of the Indian government's responses to terrorist attacks allegedly sponsored by Pakistan,” said Scott Sagan, who is an FSI Senior Fellow at CISAC. “Her interest in international security continued when she was at Stanford Law School, helping produce a CISAC report on how to interpret the nuclear weapons states' responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to work in good faith toward disarmament.”

Michael Sulmeyer
Prior to joining the NSC, Sulmeyer worked at the Harvard Kennedy School’s as the cyber security project director at its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He was also a contributing editor for the national security blog Lawfare. Before Harvard, he served as the director for plans and operations for cyber policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. There, he worked closely with the Joint Staff and Cyber Command on a variety of efforts to counter malicious cyber activity against U.S. and Department of Defense interests. For this work, he received the Secretary Medal for Exceptional Public Service.

"Michael Sulmeyer isn't just a leading light in cyber policy, he's a Stanford treasure who has been paying it forward to generations of CISAC Honors students ever since he was a student here,” said Amy Zegart, who is an FSI Senior Fellow at CISAC. “He brings his Stanford training to Washington, but he also brings Washington to Stanford, creating fantastic opportunities for today's students to engage with senior leaders and inspiring the next generation."

Tarun Chhabra
Following graduation from Stanford, Chhabra worked closely with Stephen Stedman, a senior fellow at FSI and deputy director at the Center on Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, on the research staff for the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. He was also a Fulbright Scholar in Russia at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and received a Marshall Scholarship to study at Merton College, Oxford, where he earned a MPhil in international relations and was an instructor in international relations at Stanford House.

“Tarun has always been at the cutting edge of thinking about new developments in technology and how they might or might not impact our security,” said Stedman. “When he was a 23 year old working for me at the UN, his understanding of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons made him a go-to person for the Secretary General’s staff when they needed policy advice. He’s the perfect person to help guide the president’s thinking about technology and national security.” 

Varun S. Sivaram
After graduating from Stanford, Sivaram attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and completed his PhD in physics. He served as a senior advisor on energy and climate-related issues to both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A fellow for science and technology for the Council on Foreign Relations, Sivaram was most recently a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy.

"Varun's brilliance was immediately apparent to all of us in the honors program,” said CISAC senior fellow emerita Martha Crenshaw, who was Sivaram’s thesis advisor. “He wrote a remarkably astute and truly interdisciplinary thesis on the military's use of solar power, and he even finished it early. It's no surprise that he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. It's very welcome news indeed that he is bringing his expertise to the Biden Administration."

The National Security Council is the president’s principal forum for national security and foreign policy decision making with his or her senior national security advisors and cabinet officials, and the president’s principal arm for coordinating these policies across federal agencies.

Applications for the CISAC Honors Program are accepted in the winter quarter. The application deadline for the 2021-2022 program year is February 12, 2021. 

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