Announcement - International Security Journal, Belfer Center

Remembering Owen Coté

| June 14, 2024

Owen R. Coté Jr., who exerted a profound influence on security studies as Co-Editor and later Editor of the Belfer Center journal International Security, died on June 8, 2024. He was 63. Owen was also the Principal Research Scientist and Associate Director of the Security Studies Program (SSP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“All of us at the Belfer Center are saddened to learn of the passing of Owen Coté,” said Belfer Center Director Meghan O’Sullivan. “While he was based at MIT, he has been an integral part of our Center through his decades-long work with our signature publication, the journal International Security. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

“Owen Coté was a central part of the editorial team at International Security, and his broad knowledge, high standards, and good judgment helped it remain the leading journal in the field. He was exceptionally smart, funny, and a man who handled daunting health challenges with grace and fortitude. We will miss him greatly,” said Stephen Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs and member of the board of the Belfer Center.

Steven Miller, the Editor in Chief of International Security and member of the Belfer Center board, remembers: “I got to know Owen while serving as supervisor of his senior thesis at Harvard College in 1981–1982. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and happily our careers remained entangled for the remainder of his life. For some three decades, Owen was my partner as part of the team that produces our journal, International Security. He combined a brilliant analytic mind, a mischievous sense of humor, a passion for his work, and a generous spirit that led him to mentor generations of graduate students at MIT’s Security Studies Program. His contribution to International Security was immense and will be missed; I relied on his judgement with total confidence. But even more I will miss the wonderful, decent human being, the dear friend, the warm and committed colleague. He was a brave soul, suffering much, overcoming much and contributing much. It is deeply painful to lose such a friend.”

“Owen was an indomitable scholar and leading expert on both naval warfare and nuclear weapons,” his colleagues at MIT wrote in announcing his death. “His monograph, The Third Battle: Innovation in the U.S. Navy's Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines, is the definitive work on the subject. Within SSP, he mentored several generations of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on all aspects of military technology and the implications for international security.” His colleagues said that “Owen’s humor, wit, and banter enlivened the program. He will be deeply missed by us all.”

“Owen is irreplaceable. At International Security, he bravely continued working despite serious illness and hospitalization. Owen loved learning new things. His excitement was palpable after reading a manuscript that told him something new,” said Jacqueline L. Hazelton, Executive Editor of International Security. “No one else has Owen’s deep expertise in sea power as well as nuclear security.”

Owen was renowned for his dedication to supporting up-and-coming scholars. Fiona Cunningham remembers Owen as someone whose “teaching, mentorship, and passion for security studies had a profound impact on my research interests during my graduate studies.” Cunningham is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Others who worked with Owen also remembered his unquenchable sense of humor and his commitment to the field and to the journal. During his last illnesses, Owen was still reading manuscripts for International Security from his hospital bed, often while in great pain. He never focused on that pain during journal meetings. During the last editorial meeting he attended, Deputy Editor Amanda Pearson recalls, “he sounded like his strength had returned. He was his usual upbeat self, cracking jokes.”

After graduating from Harvard College and before returning to graduate school, Owen worked at the Hudson Institute and the Center for Naval Analyses. He received his Ph.D. from MIT, where he specialized in U.S. defense policy and international security affairs. Some time after receiving his degree, Owen became Assistant Director of the International Security Program at Harvard's Center for Science and International Affairs (now the Belfer Center). He later became Editor of the Center's journal, International Security. Owen joined the MIT Security Studies Program in 1997 as Associate Director and Principal Research Scientist.

Owen’s dissertation, which he was revising for publication at the time of his death, analyzed the sources of innovative military doctrine, using cases that compared U.S. Navy responses to different Cold War nuclear vulnerability crises. He is the author of The Third Battle: Innovation in the U.S. Navy's Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines, a book analyzing the sources of the U.S. Navy's success in its Cold War antisubmarine warfare effort, and a co-author of Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy: Containing the Threat of Loose Russian Nuclear Weapons and Fissile Material. He has also written on the future of naval doctrine, nuclear force structure issues, and the threat of WMD terrorism.

Owen was the son of Ann F. Coté and the late Owen R. Coté Sr. Owen’s family wrote in his obituary that at home, Owen was always up for a good discussion about Star Wars or Harry Potter movies. Motorcycle magazines were a lifelong passion. Owen was a devoted uncle to his nieces Eliza Coté, Sofia Coté, and Livia Coté as well as his self-proclaimed “fake” niece and nephew, Sam and Nina Harrison. 

In addition to his mother, Ann, and his nieces, Owen is survived by his siblings: Mark T. Coté of Blacksburg, VA, Peter H. Coté and his wife Nina of Topsfield, MA, and Suzanne Coté Curtiss and her husband Robin of Cape Neddick, ME. 

In lieu of flowers, donations in Owen’s memory may be made to The Winchester Public Library and sent to Honor and Memorial Gifts, Winchester Public Library, 80 Washington St., Winchester, MA 01890. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Remembering Owen Coté.” Announcement, International Security Journal, Belfer Center, June 14, 2024.