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J. Cliff Keller is a doctoral student in political science, studying how intervention by powerful countries can shape the course and conclusion of insurgency and civil war. He is originally from Tennessee but spent the majority of 20 years in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. He also holds a master of Defense Analysis degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.


J. Cliff Keller

What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?

For me, the main attraction of UNC-Chapel Hill was the opportunity to work with scholars who have similar research interests. I knew that I would get the training and resources to accomplish my goals here. Also, I had visited the campus several times from Fort Bragg, so being able to stay in Carolina was an added benefit.


Tell us about your research plans.

I want to understand how resistance movements and rebel groups can change the political opportunity structure in their countries to increase democratic freedoms. Specifically, I am working to determine how different types of support for rebel groups from other countries change the characteristics of the conflict and possibly affect how the conflict is concluded. My focus is on whether training provided by a sponsoring country can help rebel groups join and share power with the government when the fighting finally stops.


What is an important lesson that you learned in the military that has helped you in graduate school?

The lesson that has helped me the most is to focus on the things that I can control and do the work. Along the same lines, I learned that “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” (General Dwight D. Eisenhower) Since I can only control my actions, I plan for several possible outcomes and then get started on the hardest option. Then if things work out better than I expected, I’m ready to get the most out of the situation without having to start all over again.


What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?

First, I would like to contribute to the policy discussions about how powerful countries can support democratic reforms in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Secondly, I really enjoy researching and “finding things out,” so I would like to continue my research in the field of security sector reform in developing and under-governed areas.

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