What We Do—and How We Do It
The mission of the National War College is to educate future leaders of the
Armed Forces, State Department, and other civilian agencies for high-level
policy, command, and staff responsibilities by conducting a senior-level course
of study in national security strategy.
The National War College (NWC) provides a single-phase Joint Professional
Military Education (JPME) program for mid-career U.S. military officers, civilian
U.S. government officials, and foreign military officers. We achieve our mission
by offering a professional, rigorous, multi-disciplinary curriculum emphasizing
active-learning and immersion in a joint environment. This joint experience
is further enriched by the inclusion of interagency and multinational partners
in all aspects of the program. The NWC program is accredited by the Middle
States Commission on Higher Education, and qualified graduates are awarded
a Masters of National Security Strategy.
When he served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell
first approved the current NWC mission statement (noted above) in 1990; this
mission has been reaffirmed five times since then by subsequent Chairmen.
This is the fourth mission statement the College has had, but all have had
the same essential thrust, which flows clearly from the original conception
of the National War College: a joint school focused on what was then considered
to be the realm of "grand strategy."
Background and Evolution
The National War College was officially established on 1 July 1946. According
to Lieutenant General Leonard T. Gerow, USA, president of the board that recommended
its formation, "The College is concerned with grand strategy and the utilization
of the national resources necessary to implement that strategy. . . . Its
graduates will exercise a great influence on the formulation of national and
foreign policy in both peace and war. . ."
America's early experience in World War II had revealed that senior U.S. officers
were considerably less proficient in planning and executing large-scale joint
and combined military operations than their British counterparts. Gerow observed
that the United States "had few officers whose training was sufficiently broad
to enable them to visualize, in order of priority, war requirements and their
application to modern war" and to solve "national problems" in the future.
The strategic challenges of the latter years of the Second World War and the
post-war world demonstrated the need for a cadre of senior military officers
and civilian officials who could play a skilled and substantive role in "the
formulation of national and foreign policy in both peace and war." These officers
would have to be expert in orchestrating the use of military power with that
of political, economic, and informational power to achieve national objectives.
They would have to be thoroughly familiar with the purpose, character, capabilities,
and interrelationships of each other's institutions. And they would need the
skills to operate comfortably at the senior policy and command levels where
key national security strategy decisions are made. The National War College
was established to help develop those "grand strategists." Thus the initial
mission of the NWC was:
- 1947: a) To prepare selected personnel of the armed forces and the
State Department for the exercise of joint high level policy, command
and staff functions, and for the performance of strategic planning duties
in their respective departments; and
- b) to promote the development of understanding of those agencies of
government and those factors of power potential which are an essential
part of a national war effort.
The National War College has continued to fulfill the distinct role envisioned
by its founders. It is the only school in the PME system focused primarily
on national security strategy, on the integrated employment of all the instruments
of national power – political, economic, informational, and military
– to serve the national interest.
A National War College education has fostered the intellectual growth of nearly
10,000 graduates to date, enhancing the habits of critical analysis and creative
energies of students who have in many cases risen to very senior levels in
their military Services or civilian agencies.
Four aspects of NWC's mission are crucial to the shape and focus of the National
War College program.
First is the charge to help prepare future leaders by conducting a senior-level
course of study in "national security strategy." While the service colleges
concentrate on national military strategy and the Industrial College concentrates
on the resource component of national power, NWC is singularly tasked with
focusing on national security strategy – the orchestration of all the
instruments of national power to pursue national interests. Every aspect of
the National War College program is shaped by the goal of providing senior
government officials a graduate-level education in evaluation, development,
formulation, and implementation of national security strategy.
Second is the task to "educate." NWC aims not at enhancing its students' capacities
to perform specific functions and tasks, but rather at fostering their breadth
of view, diverse perspectives, critical analysis, abstract reasoning, comfort
with ambiguity and uncertainty, and innovative thinking, particularly with
respect to complex problems. The primary disciplines that comprise the NWC
core curriculum include political science, international relations, history,
economics, ethics, sociology, and leadership. Nonetheless, at the National
War College, we maintain focus on the fact that we are a professional school,
and we emphasize education as the way to achieve program objectives rather
than education as an end in itself.
Third is the charge to prepare "future" leaders for high-level policy, command,
and staff responsibilities. In designing and executing its curriculum, NWC
looks beyond its graduates follow-on assignments and also considers the highest,
most important responsibilities they will hold during the remainder of their
careers. NWC concentrates on developing the habits of mind, conceptual foundations,
and critical faculties graduates will need as strategic leaders or as the
key strategists, planners, and executive assistants in the Department of Defense,
Joint Staff, Services, Department of State, and other government agencies.
Finally, there is the charge to prepare officers not only from the Armed Forces
but also from a wide variety of other civilian agencies. All aspects of the
National War College are thoroughly joint and interagency: its origins, its
programs, its faculty, and its students. The nature of the NWC environment
ensures all NWC graduates are able to transcend their particular service,
operational, or intellectual frame of reference and can operate from a truly
Desired Educational Outcomes
Given the National War College mission, its aim is to develop superior strategists
who are expert in the dynamics of force, diplomacy, economics, and information
and the orchestrated employment of those instruments in pursuit of national
interests. The War College has a two-fold goal:
- To improve the quality of applied strategic thinking among all of
its graduates, encouraging the shift in their intellectual and professional
perspectives from the tactical and operational to the strategic, in
order to produce graduates adept at functioning in the grey areas that
characterize the complex, civil-military, multinational interactions
at the national strategic level they can be expected to encounter for
the remainder of their professional careers.
- To foster and encourage the continued development of a select cadre
of bona fide strategists, strategy and policy advisors, and political-military
planners who demonstrate a high degree of conceptualization and innovation
in national strategy formulation and in areas such as implementation,
military theory and doctrine development, and the craft of campaign
The National War College program is based on seven educational outcomes derived
from the mission and fully consistent with the joint learning areas outlined
in the Joint Staff's Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP).
These outcomes define the essential concepts our graduates must master, and
they serve to integrate the entire academic program.
- Analyze the logic of strategic thinking for national security matters.
- Analyze how national, transnational and international factors shape
policy and strategy.
- Evaluate how U.S. domestic factors influence the development of strategy
- Analyze war across its spectrum as a holistic phenomenon.
- Analyze the nature, purpose, capabilities, limitations, and principal
concepts for use of the non-military instruments of power (e.g., diplomatic,
economic, and informational) in peace, crisis, and war.
- Develop national security strategies in peace, crisis, and war.
- Examine how strategic leaders shape and implement policy and strategy.
Given the distinct purpose of the College program, the current NWC core curriculum
also incorporates the Program of Joint Education prescribed in the OPMEP.
This curriculum was developed in 2005-2006 and is constantly updated to reflect
student feedback, program assessment, and changing strategic circumstances.
Consequently, JPME is an integral part of the entire National War College
curriculum and is subordinated to – and designed to implement –
the Chairman's charge to conduct "a senior-level course of study in national
NWC achieves these goals and executes its mission primarily through an extensive
and highly structured core curriculum that comprises approximately 75% of
the overall program. This core, taken by all students, consists of seven major
courses, to include an international field studies program, and a capstone
strategic applications course. The core program typically averages between
nine and thirteen contact hours per week. The National War College places
heavy reliance on active-learning throughout a common core curriculum to ensure
mastery of the educational outcomes in its ten-month program. In addition
to core courses, all NWC students take oral examinations before a faculty
committee at the close of the fall and spring terms.
The NWC core curriculum is complemented by an electives program of graduate-level
seminars that allow students to broaden their study of national security and
strategic issues and focus on areas of particular interest. Students at NWC
are required to take a minimum of four elective courses, two in the fall term
and two in the spring term. The NWC electives program offers courses that:
- Provide deeper, more comprehensive analyses of themes and issues presented
in the core curriculum;
- Support the international Field Studies program;
- Provide a venue for an in depth analysis of select Special Areas of
Emphasis in the OPMEP;
- Take advantage of faculty expertise in areas not covered or treated
briefly in the core curriculum; and,
- Offer experimental vehicles through which issues can be examined for
possible integration into the core curriculum.
In sum, the National War College program is intended to produce graduates
with the following intellectual attributes:
- Analytical. Exceptionally skilled in the critical, logical analysis
of strategic problems and joint issues; the integration and synthesis
of diverse and competing concepts, interests, and perspectives; and
clear, concise, and persuasive communications.
- Adaptive. Endowed with the mental flexibility and agility necessary
to handle ambiguity and uncertainty; sensitive to the moral, ethical,
and legal dimensions inherent in national and international security
- Innovative. Demonstrating creative, insightful, and imaginative thinking;
committed to wrestling with, and adapting to, the evolving character
of international relations and conflict.
- Broadly educated. Imbued with a joint, interagency, and multinational
perspective and possessing a broad theoretical, strategic, and cultural
awareness. This attribute provides a firm foundation for continued intellectual
development throughout the course and after graduation.