Meet Dr Rubrick Biegon

Emily Collins

2024 is set to be the most significant election year in history, with elections representing 41% of the global population and 42% of GDP. The most significant of these is the United States Presidential Election. Given the US’s involvement in Gaza and Ukraine, deteriorating relations with China and rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, all eyes are on who will be next to lead the world’s biggest economic and military power. This is especially the case for Dr Rubrick Biegon from the School of Politics and International Relations, whose research specialises in the political violence and political economy of US power in international relations. 

How did you come to be researching US politics from the UK?  

As an American citizen, I’ve long been fascinated by issues of US politics and foreign policy. I came to the UK to pursue my PhD in International Relations at Kent in 2010. Compared to the US, where International Relations is taught as a subfield of Political Science, the International Relations community in the British academy is more open to the kinds of critical theories that interest me. There is a strong community of researchers in the UK that study US foreign policy and its impact on international politics more broadly. At Kent, I’m also fortunate to be a member of our Conflict Analysis Research Centre, which brings together analysts who study different aspects of international conflict.  

With the US Presidential Election on the horizon, what issues should we be paying the most attention to?  

I will be tracking how the candidates and their campaigns frame their respective positions on the major international issues of the day, including the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. There is the possibility that a Trump victory could lead to a major shift in how the United States approaches the war in Ukraine, though I think this is less the case for US policy toward Israel and Gaza. At the moment, the controversies regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza are threatening Biden’s electoral collation, with many Democratic votes opposed to the US’s steadfast support of the Israeli position. Additionally, it will be interesting to see whether the Biden team campaigns more on the achievements of its first term in office and economic performance or on issues of democracy and the perceived threats that Trump represents to the US’s democratic system.  

How easy will it be to predict election outcomes this year, and why? 

The polling industry has taken some hits in recent election cycles, including in the US, where Trump outperformed the polls in 2016 and 2020. Scholars also use other kinds of data to try and predict election outcomes, such as macroeconomic indicators. Of course, there is always a great amount of contingency in electoral campaigns. It will not be easy to predict outcomes this year, but that is always the case. In the US, however, it should be fairly easy to predict which “swing states” will determine the outcome of the presidential election (namely Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada). It is safe to say that the election will almost certainly be close, as has been the case in the last three presidential contests (in 2012, 2016, and 2020).  

You’ve done a lot of work around remote warfare. Is this something we should be concerned about? 

In my view, remote warfare has allowed the United States to extend the War on Terror almost indefinitely. Remote warfare includes the use of things like drones and special forces in the pursuit of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency efforts. Although we don’t hear much about the War on Terror nowadays, it has arguably continued, even after the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.  I do think the general public should care more about this topic, but the nature of “remote” warfare is to effectively hide or shield militarised counterterrorism policy from the public. Citizens should press politicians and elected officials more on the use of these remote tactics of warfare, especially because we seem to be entering a new era of conflict or competition between the so-called “great powers”, such as the US, China, and Russia.  

What advice would you offer to students and aspiring scholars interested in pursuing a career in your field? 

I often tell my students, whether at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, that they need to combine their specific interests in the issues they are passionate about with a more general understanding of the core concepts and “big ideas” that continue to shape the field. This will help given them the ability to move between abstract discussion and specific examples. I think this is a skill that bridges the academic study of international politics with the kind of “real world” or policy-level debate students will find in government or diplomatic circles, which is where many of our students hope to stake out their professional careers. For aspiring scholars and those who plan to remain in academia, my advice usually centres on the importance of finding a suitable supervisor. Additionally, many of the PhD proposals I review fail to demonstrate the potential impact the project will have on the discipline, which relates to my point about connecting specific interests to the bigger intellectual picture.  

Dr Rubrick Biegon has research interests in US foreign policy, remote warfare, populism and anti-populism in foreign policy, the international relations of the Americas, the politics of trade and US counterterrorism. He is the author of US Power in Latin America: Renewing Hegemony and is currently working on two books: a co-authored history of the US War on Terror and a research monograph on remote warfare and American hegemony.