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Course Motivation

The years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War are often referred to as America’s “unipolar moment” with the U.S. enjoying global dominance measured across all indices of national power. Since then, rival great powers like China and Russia have sought to undermine the U.S. led international order through deliberate and concerted whole of government efforts aimed at leveling the playing field with the U.S. and, wherever possible, tilting it to their advantage.

The return of strategic competition between great powers became a centerpiece of the Trump Administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy. Then U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis led the effort to develop the current National Defense Strategy which admonishes:

The risks of failure for America in this competition are especially acute for U.S. national defense. For the first time since the start of the Cold War, Americans must confront the prospect of being unable to prevail in a future conflict. In 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, warned, “In just a few years, if we do not change the trajectory, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage.” Those few years have since passed and this dire warning is arguably coming to fruition.

The Biden Administration is embracing a similar view of the nature of the prevailing challenges in U.S. foreign policy. A preview of the Administration’s approach can be seen in the Interim National Security Guidance released in March 2021 that counsels:

Russia’s unprovoked February 2022 invasion and ongoing brutal aggression in Ukraine is a sobering if not shocking example of the means we can expect Vladmir Putin to employ in pursuing his vision for a resurgent Russia. 

A range of technologies are emerging today that are radically changing how America and our rivals can compete in this great power competition employing all instruments of national power e.g. diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement and across all domains—air, land, sea, space, and cyber. Significantly, these emerging technologies are being developed in the commercial sector and, unlike in the Cold War era, advances in these national security relevant technologies are driven by consumer demand not government directives.

Prevailing in this competition will require more than merely acquiring the fruits of this technological revolution; it will require a paradigm shift in the thinking of how this technology can be rapidly integrated into new capabilities and platforms to drive new operational and organizational concepts and strategies that change and optimize the way we compete.

Course Description

This is a unique course. We offer the combination of reading, lectures and guest speakers seen in traditional policy courses; however, this is an experiential policy class. The material we offer explores how new technologies pose challenges and create opportunities for the United States to compete with rivals in the international system with a focus on strategic competition with the People's Republic of China. You and a small team you form will embark on a quarter-long project that will get you out of the classroom to identify a priority national security challenge, and then to validate the problem and propose a detailed solution tested against actual stakeholders in the technology and national security ecosystem.

In this course, you will examine the new operational concepts and strategies that are emerging from acquiring, funding, and fielding a range of emerging technologies critical to US national security and global competitiveness. The course examines the challenges and opportunities of competing with cutting edge technologies that originate in the commercial technology base when U.S. government agencies, our federal research labs, and government contractors no longer have exclusive access to these advanced technologies.

The course draws on the experience and expertise of guest lecturers from industry and from across U.S. Government agencies to provide context and perspective. Past speakers include Condoleezza Rice, James Mattis, Mike McFaul and a range of senior policy makers and leaders from across the USG. The course builds on concepts presented in MS&E 193/293 “Technology and National Security” and provides a strong foundation for students interested in enrolling in MS&E 297 “Hacking for Defense”.