Tom Brister

tom_bristerAssociate Teaching Professor

Office: Kirby 315
Phone: 758-3996

Areas of Expertise: Terrorism, Intelligence, Globalization

Thomas Brister is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University. He received his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, and his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. His courses focus on international politics, with special interests in terrorism and counterterrorism, intelligence, and globalization. He also serves as faculty advisor for the Wake Forest Model United Nations Club, and has been faculty director for the Wake Forest Summer Program in Fez, Morocco and the Worrell House Semester Program in London.


Ph.D.            2000, Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia
M.A.             1986, Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, Charlotttesville, VA
B.S.             1984, Foreign Affairs, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Academic Appointments

University of Virginia, 1997-2000 (adjunct)
Sweet Briar College, 2000-2005 (visiting assistant professor)
Wake Forest University, 2005-present (senior lecturer; associate teaching professor)

Member, Omicron Delta Kappa, Wake Forest University;
Faculty Advisor, Wake Forest Model United Nations
Academic Advisory Board, McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series (CLS), Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism series.

“Battering Down Chinese Walls? Globalization and Democratization in the People’s Republic of China”, Al Ahram Democracy Review, October 2007.

Swadeshi’s in Competition: Enron and India’s Anti-Globalization Movement”, Contemporary Politics, December 2007.

Pol 116   International Politics

This is an  introductory survey course in international relations and world politics,  covering a number of features of international politics: great power rivalries past and present, non-state actors in world politics, international political economy, issues like the global environment, terrorism and weapons proliferation, as well as attempts to control armed conflict among states through power politics and international organizations.

Pol 252  Terrorism and Political Violence

This is a course about terrorism and political violence, covering the longer term history of the phenomenon, with a focus on a variety of cases ranging from early 20th century anti-colonial movements, ethno-nationalist and separatist movements, left wing terrorism in the 1970s and right wing terrorism in the United States, along with a special focus on America’s present ‘war on terrorism’. The course examines several important general questions: How do the weak fight the strong, and why do individuals or groups choose violent over nonviolent means to achieve their political goals? Is terrorism a political crime, or is it actually a new (or old) kind of warfare? What exactly do we mean by a “war on terrorism”?  What is the nature of the threat facing the United States and other countries today? It also addresses the changing global context of terrorism, given the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, tactics like suicide bombing, and new communications media that have changed the nature of the threat today.

Pol 252 Globalization

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War we appear to have settled upon a new term to define and describe the new world order — “globalization”. This course explores the continuing debate about “globalization” from a variety of perspectives. Is this something new, or simply the repetition of old historical patterns in new disguises? Is it to our ultimate benefit or detriment? If the world is becoming “one”, why is there more ethnic conflict than ever? And what about the future of democracy in a world without borders? In addition to a general overview of the globalization debate, this course will focus more specifically on a variety of trans-border issues (controversies, problems, and dilemmas that no one state in isolation can address or hope to solve) – and the roles of non-state actors (in addition to states) in addressing them.  Issues addressed include the global food system, energy politics, environmental issues, immigration, the “illicit” global economy, and global media and culture.

Pol 252 Intelligence and International Politics

This course examines the many important roles that the world of intelligence and espionage plays – and has played – in international politics.  Topics explored include: an overview of the basic elements of intelligence collection and analysis; the structure and oversight of the American intelligence community; a history of the CIA and American covert action since WWII; accounts by influential actors detailing the KGB-CIA contest in the Cold War, counterintelligence and scandals surrounding ‘double agents’ like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, and the opening battles with radical Islamic terrorism in the 1980s. We will also look at more recent intelligence failures involving the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq, as well as the role of the CIA in the ongoing ‘war on terrorism”. We will also do a brief survey of several prominent foreign intelligence agencies. The course ends with a discussion of moral and ethical dilemmas in this secret world that often seem at odds with the ideals of an open liberal democracy.

Pol 252 Politics of Global Media and Culture

Since the end of the Cold War, observers from a wide variety of disciplines and perspectives have talked about the emergence of a ‘network society’ facilitated by the development and application of digital technology to all spheres of life: personal, political, economic, and social.  This course explores the growing role of communications and information technology in international politics, looking at the way that various types of social networks are changing the global ‘playing field’ upon and within which states and other actors interact. In addition to a comprehensive comparative regional survey of media across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Latin America,  we analyze the impact of the internet and social media on international and domestic politics, as well as controversies surrounding the ‘Americanization’ of global culture. We also examine how the expansion of global communications technology is introducing new types of security threats, from terrorism to fears of ‘cyberwar’ in an increasingly interconnected and complex global order. We will evaluate to what degree global networks and media represent a qualitative change in the nature of global politics, and how much conventional patterns of power politics still matter in understanding the international system today.