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Dr. Colin Kahl

From April 2021-July 2023, Dr. Kahl served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense. In that role, he was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense for all matters related to national security and defense policy and represented the Department as a standing member of the National Security Council Deputies’ Committee. He oversaw the writing of the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which focused the Pentagon’s efforts on the “pacing challenge” posed by the PRC, and he led the Department’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and numerous other international crises. He also led several other major defense diplomacy initiatives, including: an unprecedented strengthening of the NATO alliance; the negotiation of the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom; historic defense force posture enhancements in Australia, Japan, and the Philippines; and deepening defense and strategic ties with India. In June 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III awarded Dr. Kahl the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian award presented by the Secretary of Defense.

Dr. Kahl served as Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President from October 2014 to January 2017 where he advised President Obama and Vice President Biden on all matters related to U.S. foreign policy and national security affairs, and represented the Office of the Vice President as a standing member of the National Security Council Deputies’ Committee.  Dr. Kahl has formerly served in the Department as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. In this capacity, he was the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and six other countries in the Levant and Persian Gulf region. In June 2011, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Secretary Robert Gates. 

Dr. Kahl is the co-author (along with Thomas Wright) of Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021) and the author of States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). He has also published numerous articles on U.S. national security and defense policy in Foreign AffairsForeign PolicyInternational Security, the Los Angeles TimesMiddle East Policy, the National Interest, the New Republic, the New York TimesPolitico, the Washington Post, and the Washington Quarterly, as well as several reports for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC.

Dr. Kahl previously taught at Georgetown University and the University of Minnesota, and he has held fellowship positions at Harvard University, the Council on Foreign Relations, CNAS, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and International Engagement. 

He received his B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan (1993) and his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University (2000).