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For the Common Defense Study Group: Key Themes from the Fall 2023 Seminar Series

| Dec. 14, 2023

The Belfer Center's National Security Fellows (NSFs), as part of the Defense, Emerging Technology, and Strategy (DETS) program, developed and taught the "For the Common Defense" study group throughout the Fall 2023 semester. Each “Common Defense” seminar is an in-depth exploration of a national security or defense-related subject taught by senior defense officials. Over the course of eight seminars, this study group examined key foreign policy topics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and great power competition.

Each seminar topic was chosen by an NSF to share personal insights, policy-relevant knowledge, and professional expertise with the Kennedy School community. The objective of the study group is to provide a deeper understanding of topical national security issues in an informal and open environment. “Common Defense” weekly seminars were attended by over 100 Kennedy School students and fellows.

Key Themes Explored

Below are two key themes explored in the series, including lessons that could help inform domestic and international security policies.

1. Critical defense partnerships mean tactical successes 

Four seminars collectively illustrated how robust defense partnerships and alliances, ranging from long-standing programs to intelligence sharing and regional collaborations, are pivotal for achieving tactical successes in contemporary global conflicts.

In “U.S. Defense in Europe Before and After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, led by LTC Andrew Rhodes and Lt Col Michelle Sabala, the speakers identified key defense alliances and partnerships established before the war in Ukraine that have led to tactical successes throughout the conflict; these include the National Guard’s State Partnership Program which has linked California’s National Guard and Ukraine’s military since 1993.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has also highlighted the critical nature of intelligence sharing in various forms between allies and partners. Erin Crosby highlighted the evolution of post 9/11 intelligence sharing in “Intelligence Sharing in Ukraine: Observations from a U.S. Practitioner” and explored lessons learned in the U.S. Government’s response to the conflict.

Beyond NATO’s Borders: The Evolving Shape of Regional Security in Europe”, led by Lt Col Michael Perrottet, provided a deeper understanding of the NATO alliance, including the potential impact of regional sub-groups within NATO on stifling Russian aggression.

Australia remains a key U.S. partner in the Indo-Pacific. GPCAPT Jason Baldock of the Australian Air Force led a session on “Great Power Competition in the Indo-Pacific, a view from ‘Down Under’” which provided insights from a U.S. strategic ally on regional developments, opportunities, and partnerships, including AUKUS. 

2. In a time of near-peer competition, national security encompasses conventional and emerging domains

Four seminars examined the breadth of warfare in near peer competition, starting with the role conventional forces still play in force projection and readiness.

Lt Col Brent Peterson led a seminar titled, "A Pilot's Reflection on the Russia-Ukraine War: Airpower’s Decisive Role in Preventing Operational Stalemates" exploring the pivotal role of airpower in modern warfare. The discussion focused on why Russia's planned quick victory over Ukraine failed, and offered insights from a pilot's perspective on airpower's effectiveness in combined-arms strategies.

COL Casey Wilson’s seminar highlighted the multifaceted nature of warfare, emphasizing its impact extends beyond the battlefield in a seminar titled, “Addressing the Medical Needs of Ukrainian Refugees: An Army Medical Planner’s Perspective.” The seminar considered the effects of warfare on the health, safety, and overall well-being of women and children, particularly in situations of forced migration and displacement.

Shifting to understanding what constitutes defense in 2023, Julina Hooks led a conversation titled, “Near Peer Competition: Reimagining Defense for the Emerging World Order.” The seminar focused on near peer competition in the Indo-Pacific and its implications on U.S. national security. Topics discussed included Grey Zone tactics and U.S.-China relations, covered in conjunction with relevant economic data.

Rochelle Hicks described security amidst an interconnected world of commerce and industry in her talk focusing on supply chain exploitation titled “Exploitation of the Global Supply Chain.” The seminar highlighted the increasing threat of supply chain exploitation by malicious actors, outlining the importance of recognizing compromise indicators and implementing countermeasures to protect against such threats in today's globally connected commerce and industry. 

In the Spring 2024 semester, the National Security Fellows will design and present ten additional seminars focused on timely national security and defense-related subjects, including emerging technologies, autonomous weapons systems, space policy, malign influence and disinformation campaigns, U.S. strategy in the Arctic, and Department of Defense modernization. To receive the most current information on upcoming NSF events, please subscribe to the DETS mailing list

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Leiwant, Olivia. “For the Common Defense Study Group: Key Themes from the Fall 2023 Seminar Series.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, December 14, 2023.

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