Case study 2023: Mohib Rahman

Deputy Director for Economic Security, Ministry of Defence

Mohib Rahman is Deputy Director for Economic Security at the Ministry of Defence. Here he describes how he has sought to promote a culture of engagement within his department by sharing experiences and insights from his CSaP Fellowship.

CSaP's unique Policy Fellowship has given me the opportunity to engage in trusted conversations that transcend conventional boundaries. When I first began the programme, I was working in the Department of International Trade (DIT) and later moved to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), where I am responsible for developing how Defence responds to evolving economic security threats, in line with the broader national security objectives. No matter the differences in substance between my DIT and MOD roles, they’re both shaped by the same geostrategic trends – that of systemic competition between states. And both require new and joined-up thinking. Which is where CSaP has been really valuable.

The hallmark of my time as a CSaP Policy Fellow lies in the depth and breadth of insights I've gained from interactions with academics, each of which has significantly enriched my policy perspectives.

Exposure to diverse viewpoints, facilitated through CSaP's networks, one-to-one meetings, and events, has helped me transcend the boundaries of my department and expand my understanding of complex issues. While trade policy benefits from a well-established body of literature and frameworks, economic security is a nascent field. Engaging with academics and experts in this domain has proven both challenging and intellectually stimulating due to the dearth of preexisting paradigms.

The CSaP Fellowship has given me the space and opportunity to really test out ideas – to experiment, take a few risks, and get an honest, respectful, view and critique back.

During my first visit, when I was working at DIT, I met with Professor Meredith Crowley, Professor of International Economics at Cambridge . Meredith presented me with a radical perspective on rewriting the rule book for international trade. While initially I approached this with a degree of scepticism, engaging in a one-on-one dialogue with Meredith enabled me to grasp the nuances of the proposal, its potential implications, and its alignment with contemporary trade tensions. And while these ideas may not find immediate traction, they merit consideration to broaden the Department's collective awareness of alternative approaches to trade policy, particularly when policy makers are in the market for new ideas.

“If you want to make sure that you are giving the best possible advice to ministers then you have to actively seek out new ideas, grapple with different and often conflicting perspectives, but synthesise these in a way that makes for effective policy outcomes.”

More recently, through conversations with experts like Professor Jason Sharman and Dr Tristen Naylor (Department of Politics and International Studies), and Bridget Kendall (Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge), I've been able to gain some valuable perspectives into some of our most pressing issues of the day and how they play out. For example, Jason’s rigorous academic examination of sanctions circumvention is both revealing and timely. Tristen’s in-the-room experience of G7 summitry offers some great insights into the usefulness of these fora in allowing leaders to interact with one another, and how it contrasts with and is shaped by other multinational groups. And Bridget’s experience of living and working in Russia offers a uniquely rich insight into Russian society politics, from the public through to its most senior politicians. Plus her anecdotes are amazing! This interconnected web of insights has allowed me to appreciate the intricacies of our various policies like sanctions for example, but how they interact and impact beyond their surface-level effects.

"It’s the two-way conversation that's important. I'm not merely reading an article; the relationship, which is born of trust, a face-to-face interaction, and the confidence of two institutions coming together, is just priceless."

Meeting Dr Julian Huppert, Director of the Intellectual Forum, Jesus College, Cambridge who had been a vocal critic of some of the previous work I was involved in when I was in the Home Office, was an eye-opening experience. It's amazing how the passage of time and evolving perspectives can transform such encounters. Our discussions allowed us to explore the historical context and pressures that had shaped our respective policy views. Julian's openness and our subsequent interactions have highlighted the transformative power of engaging in meaningful conversations. I’m glad to say this continues. For example, Julian’s idea of “automaticity” in deterrence strategies is, I think really important and deserves further consideration. It’s featured in my discussion with colleagues in Whitehall. I’ve also enjoyed our conversations about a range of other topics, including how GP services are organised and run!

Spending time away from the office through visits to Cambridge allows for a departure from the usual distractions and obligations, facilitating a focused environment where ideas can be explored more deeply.

My time as a CSaP Policy Fellow has led me to adopt a more proactive approach to policy formulation, particularly in the realm of economic security, where long-term considerations are essential. Since joining the fellowship programme I have sought to promote a culture of engagement within my department by sharing my experiences and insights with colleagues upon my return from Cambridge. I firmly believe that engaging with experts offers substantial benefits for shaping policy thinking and encouraging curiosity among civil servants. To any potential policy fellows considering applying, do it! It will benefit not only your current policymaking, but your entire career.