Charles Dunst '18 in Wat Banan, in Battambang Province, Cambodia,

Barely out of Hamilton long enough for The Spectator staff to turn over from his days as editor-in-chief, journalist Charles Dunst ’18 already has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Council on Foreign Relations. His reporting has taken him to Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Romania, Hungary, and Israel and the West Bank. Dunst, working on a master’s degree and ever busy, nonetheless agreed to answer some questions about himself for his alma mater.

Tell me about what you are doing now. 

Right now, I’m doing a few things: I’m finishing up my master’s in International Relations at the London School of Economics, working as an associate at LSE IDEAS, the school’s foreign policy think tank, and writing for publication as much as possible (and looking for full-time work in the U.S. foreign policy space). My work in all three realms focuses on Southeast Asia (I lived in Cambodia for much of 2018-19), China in the world, and U.S. foreign policy more broadly. 

As a journalist you’ve published stories in highly respected newspapers and magazines. Is what you are doing now a change of direction or an evolution? 

I think that my current work — which is analytical and argumentative, rather than strict reportage — is a bit of an evolution, but it isn’t so different. I’m still writing for similar outlets, but my pieces now often appear in the opinion rather than news section. I’m able to write effectively about what U.S. policy towards Cambodia or Vietnam should be only because I did traditional reporting in both countries. I may not be doing straight-up reporting anymore, but I don’t think that my overall direction is so different.

What do you find most meaningful about your work at LSE IDEAS?

Working at LSE IDEAS — recently ranked as the number one university-affiliated think tank in the world — has allowed me to engage with thought leaders across Europe and elsewhere, thereby improving my own American perspective on world affairs. It’s really incredible to work with and engage scholars and policymakers from Panama to Romania to Nigeria and hear their opinions on topics like China’s rise and growing ethnic nationalism.

Please give me a specific example of what you do.

At LSE IDEAS, I both edit scholars and policymakers’ contributions to our publications and carry out my own research. In March, for example, I wrote a 5,000ish-word piece on the United States and China’s battle for influence in Southeast Asia. I more recently collaborated with Professor Chris Alden to write a piece on regional organizations’ responses to the transnational challenge that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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How did your time at Hamilton — your world politics major, running The Spec, and all the rest — shape what you’ve gone on to do?

Hamilton had a really formative impact on the path I’ve pursued. I arrived on the Hill unsure of what I wanted to study, let alone what I wanted to do; studying world politics, while honing my writing skills at The Spec, made it quite clear to me that I wanted to write about (and hopefully influence) U.S. foreign policy. Sharon Rivera’s incredible Authoritarian Politics class, which I took during my senior year, established a necessary theoretical framework and knowledge base for my future work on the authoritarian regimes running countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Without that class, and without the work of other professors at Hamilton — including President David Wippman, Nicholas Rostow, Erica de Bruin, and too many others to name — I would not be where I am today.  

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