Notre Dame International Security Program Takes Shape

October 15, 2009

"God, Country, Notre Dame" detail above Basilica door

New to the Department of Political Science’s faculty in fall 2008, Professor Mike Desch had barely moved into his office when Colin Kahl of Georgetown University visited campus to speak about the counterinsurgency in Iraq.

Desch, who came to Notre Dame from Texas A&M University, where he was the first Robert M. Gates Professor of Intelligence & National Security Decision-Making and the director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, was understandably interested in this lecture.

In his case, however, it represented more than an opportunity for scholarly dialogue.

Kahl’s talk was the first installment in a seminar series sponsored by something called the Notre Dame International Security Program (NDISP), which Desch and several of his new colleagues had founded in the preceding months.

“This Notre Dame International Security Program serves as the foundation for a larger program in international security affairs, broadly defined,” says Desch, who co-directs NDISP with Associate Professor Dan Lindley and Assistant Professor Sebastian Rosato. “This will not be a policy program, nor will it be a purely academic enterprise. Our intention is to bring to bear the very best in scholarship to consider and, hopefully, address the most important international security policy issues.”

As NDISP grows, it will continue the seminar series that in its first year included lectures by Tom Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford. The program will host its inaugural conference, “The Influence of Social Science Theory Upon National Security Policy,” this April.

“My colleagues and I hope that this conference will help to re-establish constructive ties between the policy community and the academy,” says Desch, who is also chair of the Department of Political Science.

The reach of NDISP will extend into the classroom, as well. In the works is a new undergraduate concentration in national security affairs modeled on Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy.

Students pursuing the political science honors major would be invited to apply to the concentration during the fall of junior year. Those accepted would take a common foundational course in the spring semester and then complete a national security-related internship over the summer. The concentration would also involve orientation visits to military bases, think tanks, and local businesses in the defense industry.

“Throughout their course of studies in the program,” Desch adds, “students would be required to regularly attend NDISP seminars, workshops, and colloquia run by faculty and graduate fellows, where they could present senior thesis research, become more knowledgeable about current events, and develop the skills necessary to become young professionals in the field.”

While NDISP is still in its early stages, Desch says it is already positioning the University as a national leader in policy-relevant security studies research and will soon do the same in security studies education. He believes the program’s immediate success and lofty potential are due in part to it being a natural fit for Notre Dame on multiple levels. For instance, there’s its grounding in “an Augustinian realist perspective on international security” that speaks to the University’s Catholic mission.

“In a world marred by war and conflict,” Desch says, “[NDISP] aims to advance more cogent policies through scholarly exploration and enlightened public debate.”

His enthusiasm about the program also has much to do with the faculty who join him in running it.

“Dan Lindley, the director of the [University’s] Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, is a well-respected teacher of national security studies here at Notre Dame,” Desch says. “The Journal of Politics called his Princeton University Press book, Promoting Peace With Information, an ‘essential text’ in demonstrating how security regimes cause peace by providing information.

“Sebastian Rosato is one of our department’s best teachers,” he continues, “and is fast becoming one of the most widely cited scholars of his generation on such important topics as the democratic peace and the origins of the European Union.”

Together with Desch, they have set NDISP on a course that promises to be no less distinguished.

Originally published at al.nd.edu on December 16, 2009.