Originally posted on the American Foreign Service Association website.
The National Defense University offers a tremendous vantage point from which to appreciate the value of America’s diplomats.
During more than 30 years as a naval officer, I always had great respect for the tremendous contributions the State Department makes to protecting the American people and advancing our nation’s interests abroad. In truth, those contributions have often had to be inferred, not observed directly, since I seldom had a Foreign Service officer on board during my submarine deployments or sharing my cubicle in the Pentagon— diplomacy requires more open and overt means of communication than are available from underwater or from a SCIF.
But the significant positive effects of their important work have always been just as clear as in the situations when military officers serve directly alongside diplomats across the globe, working together as we carry out our complementary missions. These partnerships evolve into strong personal bonds based on a shared sense of purpose: to serve the nation, preserve our freedom and promote our values.
In my few months as president of NDU, my appreciation of our diplomats has grown in both depth and breadth because I have been able to witness the great work of the five ambassadors and 62 other State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development personnel assigned to NDU as students, faculty and in leadership positions.
Therefore, one of my top priorities is to strengthen the relationship with the State Department to maximize its mutual benefit as we strive together to prepare our rising leaders— whether military or civilian, American or international—to positively influence the international security environment.
Let me first describe the history of that relationship and then our recent activities to strengthen it.
A Long, Close Partnership
NDU is commonly referred to as “the Chairman’s University,” because it falls under the direction of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; but the State Department has always been our most important partner outside of the Department of Defense. Ambassador George Kennan served as the first deputy commandant and international adviser at the National War College from 1946 to 1947. Ever since, the State Department has made invaluable contributions to preparing our military and civilian students to become strategic thinkers and to serve as national security leaders.
That close partnership is on display daily across NDU’s two campuses, and it was especially prominent at the recent American Patriot Awards hosted by the NDU Foundation honoring former Secretary of State James Baker and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The highlight of that evening’s program was when the two Secretaries shared their views on the international security environment.
I was struck that their reflections on the past and the present—through the prisms of a Republican and a Democrat, and the portfolios of State and Defense—were nevertheless consistent in acknowledging that the key to stability and security was, is and will be through diplomacy and the patient hard work that diplomacy demands.
We are privileged to be entrusted with the exceptional professionals State and USAID send to NDU. While I’m confident that every one of them takes from NDU the benefits of a rigorous academic experience, I would like to highlight instead what they give to us. They bring to each discussion a diversity of experience and perspective that exposes us all to a wide range of viewpoints and provides an increased awareness of the uses of all the instruments of national power.
Even for those assigned here as students, the reality is that each of them also serves as a teacher to their fellow students and to the faculty. This diversity of thought is important not only in the classroom, but also in real-world operations—because the ways in which the United States and our partners work together to improve security are joint, interagency and international.
NDU’s five colleges each deliver a unique master’s degree, joint professional military education or graduate certificates to about 2,000 students annually. Delivering those academic outcomes is by itself an ambitious goal, but in the new National Defense Strategy Secretary James Mattis tasked DOD to do more—namely, to use education as a strategic asset to build trust and interoperability across the Joint Forces and with allied and partner forces. A broad demographic helps us to do so.
While half of our students serve in the various branches and components of the U.S. military, the other half is comprised of civilians from across government and international fellows from allied and partner nations. Among the civilians, the largest cohort—nearly 10 percent of all students—comes from the State Department and USAID.
After graduation, they will join an extensive network of national security professionals that includes not only U.S. but international alumni, who now number more than 3,700 from 142 countries. Even more impressive is the quality within this quantity. Because we are entrusted with our partners’ best and brightest rising leaders, our international alumni have gone on to do great things for their own nations.
In fact, more than 100 have risen to the top echelon in their field, such as minister of defense, chief of service or ambassador, making this network powerful as well as extensive—a network that can help us to address the world’s challenging security problems.
In my introductory meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan we agreed that the partnership between State and NDU was of great mutual benefit, and we vowed to further strengthen the ties between our institutions. One of the first new initiatives to be pursued was to have State participate in the NDU Scholars program.
Just as has previously been done with the combatant commanders, State will suggest some of the wicked problems that could benefit from a fresh perspective. NDU students can then adopt one of these problems for their thesis work and propose strategies for a way forward.
This is a win/win: incorporating real-world problems into the curriculum makes the educational experience even more relevant and meaningful, and the results can be useful for policymakers as they can consider new insights and innovative recommendations.
To implement this program and to further strengthen our teaching team, the State Department is providing additional faculty for the next academic year—seasoned practitioners who offer firsthand experience on the value of diplomacy and development work.
Another expansion of an existing practice resulted in NDU’s inaugural “Foreign Affairs Day” in May. Military organizations routinely celebrate the contributions of their constituencies, such as each October when the birthdays of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps are commemorated.
This year, on May 9, NDU recognized our diplomats’ service with a birthday celebration and also inducted two Foreign Service NDU alumni into the NDU National Hall of Fame: Ambassador Joyce Barr, ICAF/Eisenhower Class of 2001; and Career Ambassador William R. Brownfield, National War College Class of 1993.
Deputy Secretary Sullivan delivered the keynote remarks, in which he recognized that “NDU plays an important role, not just in shaping the leadership of our armed forces, but also in molding our diplomatic leaders, such as Ambassadors Bill Brownfield and Joyce Barr. Their induction is emblematic of the strong partnership between the State Department and the National Defense University to produce a broad array of exceptional national security leaders.”
The partnership between the State Department and NDU has an important history, and an equally important future. The importance of our work together to promote peace and security around the world is well captured in an observation from former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: “Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.”
The talented and diverse group of midcareer professionals assigned to NDU arrive as tactical and operational experts in their fields. If we do well at providing them a world-class education, they will leave us as strategic thinkers capable of launching ideas that could preclude the need to launch ordnance.