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Researcher Spotlight: Egle Murauskaite

ICONS researcher based in Lithuania gives START a more global reach

START has a more global reach thanks to Egle E. Murauskaite, an ICONS team member based in Lithuania, and an expert on unconventional security threats and gray zone crises – conflicts that don’t rise to the level of overt armed warfare, but exceed normal peacetime activities.

Egle Murauskaite
Photo source: (c) A.Morozovas

Murauskaite has been working with START’s ICONS project since 2015, modeling ways to overcome various hypothetical security crises and jointly running high-level political and military online crisis simulations. Murauskaite has designed a variety of security simulations that explore potentially provocative scenarios involving European security dilemmas and Russian attempts to leverage economic, political and unconventional warfare in their neighboring states. 

Murauskaite manages and participates in collaborative academic projects with several U.S. and European universities, and defense research agencies. These longer-term multi-methodological initiatives include looking at some of the pillars of deterrence theory in the context of gray zone crises, exploring public perceptions of certain cross domain deterrence tools and analyzing the patterns for the spread of propaganda narratives.

Her research has been included in more than 25 academic publications, books and joint research studies, and she also briefs and lectures for audiences ranging from European graduate students to military decision-makers from the United States and other NATO countries. Murauskaite comments regularly on European security issues for national and international news media, including Das Bildt, RFI, FPRI, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 38 North, LRT, Ziniu radijas, etc. In 2018, she also started a monthly podcast, Global Update, with Nanook team, in an effort to interest younger Lithuanian audiences in matters of international security.

How did your work with START lead you back home to Lithuania?

I had always been interested in big conceptual security questions. Before joining START in 2014 and ICONS in 2015, I worked on nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East at the American University in Cairo and in Washington, D.C., at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. At START, I started with a project on nuclear smuggling trends and patterns where I looked at illicit networks in the post-Soviet space in the early 1990s, including my home country Lithuania.

I transitioned from the START office at UMD to working remotely from Lithuania with the ICONS team shortly after the crisis in Ukraine. There was a great deal of interest and limited familiarity among NATO’s Western member states with the realities on the ground in the Baltics. Many people feared Latvia or Estonia could be next after Crimea was annexed. I had returned to Lithuania after more than 10 years of working and studying abroad, and was immediately fielding requests for information and research on the unfolding regional realities. Speaking the language and being present in this relatively small local community of experts and policymakers allowed me to develop a network to rely on, and connect others to.

When people are not able put you in a clear box, it can facilitate more merit-based attitudes – they see I am doing interesting research and covering new topics that are very relevant. That can open some high-level doors and allow me to circulate a bit more neutrally between local academics, military and civil servants.

How do you hope your work can benefit security policymakers and practitioners?

Decision-makers from the United States, Western Europe and the Baltics work through the scenarios I create to learn more about one another’s standard procedures and to develop mutual understanding for standard practices. These scenarios help them understand how an ally is likely to react and what channels (bilateral/multilateral, EU or NATO) are preferable for managing a crisis. We have found considerable disparities in trans-Atlantic perspectives, and processes have been set in place to start bridging those gaps.

I am glad to be able to contribute to shoring up Lithuanian security by helping external decision makers understand it better through these simulations and scenarios. I also put a lot of effort into working with local circles here in Lithuania, pointing out some of the shortcomings to fix and best practices to learn from. I am particularly active in trying to engage the Lithuanian society to take a more active interest in matters of security and foreign policy.

Tell us more about some of the outreach efforts you participate in.

Together with a local journalist collective NYLA, we recently started a monthly podcast, Global Update, that discusses long-term trends, such as the rise of populism, the role of the United States in European security and the potential role of China in the region.

I also mentor local students interested in a civilian career in the field of security, which is something still relatively new here, and contribute regularly to local publications and conferences.

Over the course of 2019 I am also leading workshops with Lithuanian public servants who work with migrants about the myths and realities of radicalization and terrorism. The hope is to help bust some of the prevalent stereotypes leveraging START’s extensive research in this area.

What first sparked your interest in security studies?

I was an avid reader and active debater in high school. The ethical dilemmas contained in many security policy issues always fascinated me. When I was considering university options, economics and law were the fields that used to attract the most talent at that time. After graduating with a degree in economics, I worked as a stock broker for a short time, but my interests lay elsewhere.

I found a great international security Master’s program at Sciences Po Paris, which was very practitioner-oriented, and spent half a year learning French on my own to be able to study there. My time there was very rewarding. High-profile UN diplomats, Red Cross personnel, Iraq weapons inspectors and people who were running their own NGOs in Afghanistan came to teach us, and it was amazing. I went into the field and got a position in Cairo to work with a senior diplomat who specialized in nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

However, I had arrived in Cairo a few months into the Arab Spring, and my time there turned out to be way more intense than expected; I realized that the stress of living in an active conflict area – even though that was probably nothing compared to what international personnel go through in Syria or Ukraine – was not something I wanted to make a constant part of my life. I have tremendous respect for people who can handle that, but I ended up straddling the academic and military establishments, studying international crises from a more distant perspective ever since.

What keeps you engaged in this field of study?

I am grateful for the wonderful people I can learn from and work with, and I constantly look for the next issue to engage and new methodological approaches to try.

It is fascinating to get to delve deeply into subjects that are of great interest to me, and to work with such talented researchers from all over the world. It’s always rewarding when I am able to leverage the knowledge, contacts, and opportunities available through my outpost in Lithuania, to benefit U.S. decision-makers, and alleviate, Baltic security challenges.

If my research or contacts can be of help to more students, researchers or professionals in START’s wide network, I’m always happy to help.