This Month at the War College: February - March 2012
During these two months at the War College, students are engaged in the second half of their study of a crucial element of strategic logic: context.
The last two months were devoted largely to a study of domestic context (for information on the domestic context course, click on the last "this month" feature at right). During February, students move into Core Course 6500, "Global Context." Seven weeks long, the course represents a survey of both functional and regional issues confronting strategists today. In the words of its syllabus, it "endeavors to build upon the previous segments of the core curriculum by providing a basic understanding of the broader global environment in which the U.S. and its leaders exist and act, and in particular how other nations and their leaders differ from the U.S. in their perception and understanding of the nature of the world, the chief threats to global and regional security, and the best means and paths by which to pursue peace and prosperity."
Students first spend several weeks examining a number of key global issues that have featured prominently in recent U.S. national security strategies-issues such as the environment, governance, global organized crime, and the role of international organizations. In the process they encounter writers such as Fareed Zakaria, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Kaplan, Samuel Huntington, Paul Collier, and Moises Naim. As in many of the courses, the course director, Dr. William Hill - a Russia specialist-uses particular texts as a "backbone" of the course: In this case, Zakaria's Post-American World features prominently in many topics, as does Collier's Wars, Guns and Votes.
Dr. Hill explains that in designing the course, he tries to find a balance between "issues that cut across the whole globe" and an emphasis on "identifying the most important countries and regions and examining what's happening there." A common claim that transcends regions, for example, and that is addressed and debated in the course, is that "current world history is a function of the spread of democracy and market institutions. Others look at the world," Hill notes, and see the main trend as "the rise of Asia and the decline of the West, in either relative or absolute terms." The course enhances the strategic perspective of students by examining such global themes in depth.
Scheduled speakers in the course include democracy expert Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment, journalist Misha Glenny on international crime, former U.S. diplomat and negotiator Dennis Ross on the Middle East peace process, Brookings researcher Kenneth Pollack on Iran, and National War College scholars Bud Cole on China, Zachary Abuza on Southeast Asia, and Omer Taspinar on Turkey.
After its section on global issues, the course begins a region-by-region survey designed to familiarize students with the key strategic issues facing the United States in the most important countries and areas of the world today. It looks at Asia, Europe and Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America-but not exhaustively, picking two or three key countries or issues from each region on which to focus. For example, the Latin America bloc provides the students with an overview of key strategic trends in the region and a special focus on the growing role of Brazil.
The course concludes with a strategic exercise in which student seminars are divided into two groups, each representing one country out of a pair of non-U.S. nations with some intersecting interests and, possibly, conflicting claims; each group develops a national security strategy for its nation; and the two strategies are compared and contrasted. The exercise allows students the opportunity to see the world through the lens of a nation besides the United States and gives them another opportunity to practice building a strategy, working through the elements of strategic logic.
As much as the course emphasizes the practice of strategy, however, its primary purpose is the understanding of the context for strategy. In this sense, Dr. Hill explains, "a large part of this course is about defining the problem rather than finding a solution." Students will move on to a capstone course with extensive strategy application exercises; in this course, their main focus remains on comprehending the environment in which they must operate as strategists.