Editor’s Note: SOFREP invites our members to submit articles for publishing consideration. Today we have a piece by Ray Vawter, an active duty service member working in intelligence.  Write to us here, editor@sofrep,com


The Smarts of War

American academia is displaying a complete disregard for national security that may cause the United States to lose a war against a near-peer competitor. Among the top twenty-five universities in the United States there are zero undergraduate degree-bearing programs pertaining to national security, and there are only two security-related sub-programs advertised on their collective majors and minors pages. If this doesn’t evoke feelings of shock or dismay, take into consideration that four of these universities have programs for jazz studies. Twenty-two offer programs dedicated to gender and sexuality. They also collectively offer fourteen musical theater programs and seven dance programs. Fashion design and LGBTQ studies individually appear as many times as national security, international security, defense, war studies, military science, and intelligence studies all combined. What does this mean? Students today have more opportunities to study oboe performance and Irish literature (no offense to James Joyce) than they do to study national security.

The two aforementioned security programs are offered at Stanford University and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. The former is entitled “International Security Studies,” which does not award a bachelor’s degree, just “Interdisciplinary Honors;” and the latter “International Security, Norms, and Cooperation,” is a sub-plan for their “International Studies” major – I’m imagining it’s their version of a concentration. This knowledge illuminates the main problem in national security education: the volume of programs. Students in the United States are simply not being given the opportunity to study national security because there are so few universities that offer it. Prospective students view the military as their only entry into the field. When the best and brightest high school sophomores and juniors find “U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2022” on Google, they start looking through undergraduate majors at the schools listed in front of them. They will sometimes see broader programs like “Global Studies,” “Political Science,” or “International Relations,” but those programs rarely, if ever, allow students to concentrate on war. Some who are uninitiated in the world of higher education may argue, “national security’s inclusion in those areas of study is implicit,” however that isn’t entirely true. To provide an analogy, studying political science instead of something more specific to national security would be like going to Northwestern to study “Music,” when Northwestern offers twenty-two different music programs. If you want to be a music critic, you don’t study “Musicality” or “Woodwinds” when you could be studying “Music Criticism.” Furthermore, it is impossible to argue that undergraduate education’s exclusion of national security is due to a lack of capacity for programs: the University of Pennsylvania alone has twenty-five undergraduate programs that start with the letter “A.” My goal is not to diminish the importance of programs like “Actuarial Mathematics.” I simply mean to provide a statistic to illustrate the sheer number of programs at these elite institutions while advocating that national security should be among them.

Protecting our Country is a Serious Academic Pursuit

Some may ask, “what types of courses would make up these programs?” For that answer, we can look to graduate schools, individual classes that already exist at the undergraduate level, and what our allies are offering at their institutions. Georgetown’s “Security Studies” program, Duke’s “National Security Policy” program, and Johns Hopkins “Global Security Studies” program serve as prime examples that top twenty-five schools have the faculty and resources to teach similar undergraduate programs. Anyone who contends that these programs are reserved for graduate candidates because the subject matter is too advanced or narrow for undergraduates need only reference professional military education programs and the fact that some teenagers are studying nuclear science and aerospace engineering. The maturity and brainpower are there, in some cases they are already taking the courses, they just need the program.

Take Princeton, the United States’ number one school according to U.S. News, a curriculum could be built with undergraduate courses they currently offer. Their political science program includes these courses: “Global Justice,” “Modern Iran,” “Violent Politics,” “China’s Foreign Relations,” and “Causes of War.” Their Sociology Department offers “The Western Way of War” and “Communism and Beyond: China and Russia.” The School of Public and International Affairs offers “Grand Strategy,” “U.S. Military and National and International Diplomacy,” “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency,” and “Science and Global Security.” Additionally, their History, Anthropology, Economics, and Near Eastern Studies Departments all offer further relevant courses. The school needs only to handle the administrative and organizational work on the back end to curate a sufficient program. Princeton is not the only U.S. university in this position.

The above suggestion did not add a single course that is not already taught in the hallowed halls of Princeton; thus, I am not claiming to have put together a perfect curriculum. I would heavily advocate for the inclusion of wargaming and practical exercises, which ample evidence has shown to be effective. For more on wargaming and its efficacy, I would refer you to Ed McGrady’s War on the Rocks articles. Aside from practical exercises, additional courses studying economics and security, technology and security, writing for security professionals, defense budgeting, basing strategy, biotechnology, nuclear weapons, intelligence in war, sea power, comparative defense, comparative intelligence, etc. could certainly be interesting and beneficial if the appropriate faculty were on-board. If King’s College London, a top ten university in the United Kingdom, can have a War Studies degree for undergraduates and have an entire department dedicated to the study of war, so can top ten universities in the United States. Bear in mind the United Kingdom also has professional military education, which brings us to our next point.


190614-N-YO069rNEWPORT, R.I.r(June 14, 2019)students of U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) 2019 graduating class participate in a commencement ceremony on Dewey Field in Newport, R.I., June 14. The graduating class of 2019 included 318 resident students of the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, federal civilian employees, and 110 international students. Additionally, 1,080 students completed coursework through NWC’s College of Distance Education programs. r(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Jeffrey J. Hanshaw/Released)


The Service Academies Can’t Do it All

Professional military education is, of course, an option. There are five U.S. service academies, seven senior military colleges, six maritime academies, and five military junior colleges. That brings the grand total to twenty-three military colleges, which accounts for a fraction of the 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States. In any case, each of the military colleges comes with its own rigors, military culture, and often a service obligation. If you want to spend a career in the military, they’re perfect. There are a few exceptions to this, e.g. The Citadel, a senior military college that comes without the commitment. So yes, military colleges are an option for undergraduate education, but to state the obvious, national security isn’t just the responsibility of the military. The United States has contractors, federal agencies, and entire industries contributing to the same goal. Students should be given the option to learn how to contribute in whichever capacity they are motivated. The 2018 National Defense Strategy stated that “PME has stagnated, focused more on the accomplishment of mandatory credit at the expense of lethality and ingenuity.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to that claim with “Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War,” guidance that laid out the requirements of the modern security landscape and admitted that “these requirements increase the demands on our leadership development continuum that we are not yet meeting. Put plainly, we require leaders at all levels who can achieve intellectual overmatch against adversaries.” There has been a great deal of scholarship and discourse on professional military education and its relation to the above documents, Celestino Perez Jr. offered a commentary that almost served as a meta-analysis on the topic in 2018, and James Lacey’s commentary in 2020 addressed the Joint Chiefs’ response. My point is, that obstacles in educating the next generation of national security practitioners are ever-present and professional military education should not have to address those problems alone. The United States has a robust higher education system that can provide a greater variety of programs, more programs overall, and in some cases, higher quality programs.

The Intel Community Has More PhDs than the Ivy League

If you have worked in or around the U.S. Intelligence Community, you may have heard the common aphorism, “there are more PhDs in the IC than in the Ivy League.” The one guaranteed method of rendering that phrase untrue is for national security professionals in the United States to ignore their field’s presence in higher education, neglect garnering interest at the high school level, and settle for the quality of subject matter instruction that currently exists in the United States. If you’re of the mind that these subjects should not be taught, and think the United States should exclusively be pushing STEM subjects (which every one of the top twenty-five universities already offers) to students interested in national security; then why not concede the point that the very presence of national security-based programs and opportunities through the medium of more minors and concentrations could inspire more STEM students to utilize their education in a career beneficial to national security. I want to be clear that I do not advocate divesting in STEM subjects. I’m merely postulating that if aerospace engineering and business students had the option to concentrate on the defense industry, it would be beneficial for U.S. national security.

Preparing for Conflict

The cold, hard reality of today is this: U.S. colleges are not providing programs that support the national security infrastructure, rendering young Americans without an opportunity to defend their country. There is a war in Ukraine and Russia is the aggressor. China has made its belligerence and willingness to fight public. There is a high probability of conflict on the horizon, so it would be wise to invest in future analysts and intelligence officers; strategists and instructors; warfighters and drone operators; and arms manufacturers and service leaders. Allowing one generation to lose a war before the next generation gets to fight it would be a mistake.