This past week I was honored to be guest at the Army War College National Security Seminar in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The aim of the Army War College is “to educate and develop leaders for service at the strategic level while advancing knowledge in the global application of land power.” And the function of the National Security Seminar is to have those developing leaders interface with civilian leaders from diverse industries and organizations in order to mutually educate and inspire.

Each day there was a plenary session. These featured Ambassador Deborah McCarthy, director of NORTHCOM General Jeffrey Buchanan, Harvard University Professor of Government Jeffrey Frieden, and former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Each speaker focused on one of the four instruments of national power (captured in the acronym “DIME”): diplomacy, information, military, and economics. Then we would break up into our various seminar groups, of which there were 24 total.  Each seminar consisted of about a dozen rising colonels who had just completed the Army War College 10-month training (which is a prerequisite for continuing promotion up to the highest levels of the military hierarchy). In addition to these officers, there were several international military brass—those in my seminar were from Spain, Algeria and Brazil. There were military officers from about 75 nations total at the NSS. During our seminar discussions, we wrangled over the nature and role of diplomacy, emerging changes in munitions and technology, foundational values of military enterprise, and the importance and challenges of U.S. military and civilian relationships.  Very rich stuff.

In the above photo are pictured everyone in my seminar. There you will see all of the military officers (including a Navy officer and an Air Force officer) and the six of us guests, each of us having been sponsored by one of the officers. One guest does counter-terrorism work with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Another is a judge who has served on the state Supreme Court in Idaho. Another is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. And two others own or direct telecom and information security organizations.

All of us civilian guests were deeply impressed by the officers, whose collective knowledge regarding everything from federal intelligence to munitions to geopolitical dynamics is deep and extensive. Yet for all of their knowledge, experience and achievements, I was most impacted by their humility—every one of them. Truly inspiring.

I was one of just a handful of academics at the event (besides, of course, the professors who teach at the War College). It was good to see a fellow academic—Harvard scholar Jeffrey Frieden—give one of the plenary talks. He did a superb job explaining the pros and cons of economic globalization. Fascinating stuff, actually.

It is not an overstatement to say this experience was life-changing for me. I’ve always been a huge fan and supporter of the United States military (in part because my father served in WWII), but my time at the AWC NSS has taken that to a completely different level.

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