July 28, 2017

Batten Teams Up with Foreign Policy Magazine for D.C. Launch of New National Security Policy Center

Senior foreign policy experts headlined Batten’s recent conference The Future of National Security Policy: Threats and Interests in the Digital Age at the Washington, D.C. launch of Batten’s new National Security Policy Center. Foreign Policy magazine co-sponsored the conference.

More than 120 students, policymakers, scholars, and others attended the July 20 event, where speakers addressed “important security issues including deterrence and intelligence reform,” said Philip Potter, Director of the National Security Policy Center and Associate Professor in the Batten School and the Department of Politics.

“If you want to understand American foreign policy leadership, it makes sense to learn from actual policy makers,” Potter said, calling the launch event “just the start of an exciting process.”

“We’re dedicated to public service and improving the quality of U.S. foreign policy, which I think sets us apart” from other, similar programs, Potter said.

“We take a practical approach. So while we draw on scholarship, and we’ve got leading national security researchers working with the Center, we’re interested in making an immediate, positive contribution.

“We do that by training students to become the next generation of foreign policy leaders. We equip them with knowledge and analytical skills, and also teach them to understand the foreign policy bureaucracy and how to lead from within it.”

One of the conference’s afternoon panels, “Managing Intelligence and Security in a Digital Age” included Adm. Paul Becker, former Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Timothy Kilbourn, a former CIA senior officer. Jenna McLaughlin, intelligence reporter for Foreign Policy, served as moderator.

Left to right: Jenna McLaughlin, Timothy Kilbourn, and Paul Becker


A second panel discussion, “Rebuilding Deterrence to Address New Adversaries and Technologies,” included Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy of the German Marshall Fund; Paula Dobriansky, former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University; James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and moderator Robbie Gramer, State Department reporter for Foreign Policy.

Left to right: Robbie Gramer, Derek Chollet, Peter Feaver, Paula Dobriansky, and James Lewis


Potter said the conference sought to make “the evening keynote discussion more wide ranging and focused on the big picture issues surrounding U.S. security and our place in the world, which I think is fitting for the level of the speakers,” Michèle Flournoy and Robert Zoellick. Flournoy is a former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and is CEO of the Center for a New American Security. Zoellick is a former president of the World Bank who has served as Deputy Secretary of State and U.S. Trade Representative.

Left to right: Phil Potter, Michèle Flournoy and Robert Zoellick


Flournoy urged that policy professionals develop the necessary “political courage to dissent when there is group-think taking things in the wrong direction.

“I think one of the most important things that we can do is create an environment where dissenting views can be heard, if not welcomed openly and actively.

“I think that, truthfully, I have found that among the most important moments are when people have the courage to speak up and say, ‘I think we’re missing something, I think we’re about to make a mistake, I think we need to think this through again.’ I cannot count the number of times that better decisions were made” because of that.

She warned of “leaders who create (an) environment” of discouraging such frank discussion, saying “those who stifle it are going to pay for it down the road.”

Zoellick agreed. He cited former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whom he respects, as someone who “had a certain desire to dominate” in meetings.

“So you had uniformed officers, very senior, three and four stars, and they had to be careful about disagreeing, because some of them saw their careers ended.

“And if you’re a civilian…like Michèle and me, if you disagree, you go off and do something else. But these are (military) people who have devoted 25 or 30 years: if they watch somebody else, who kind of lost their career to something they objected about, even a courageous person is going to use caution.

“So I used to watch Don, and he would sometimes say, ‘Look, you know, do you disagree?’ And I think a part of him was honestly trying to understand whether they agreed. But he didn’t recognize, or some part of him didn’t recognize, he created an environment for people to be a little cautious.

“And here’s the tricky part, going back to what Michèle and I have said: if you’re trying to drive to get things done…often it’s a matter of timing and pushing, and you’ve got your own government and other governments.

“Sometimes you have to push, but you have to be careful if you’re pushing, to ask ‘Are you still listening?’ Getting that judgment call right is a real trick.”

Current national security actions of the Trump administration naturally figured into the discussions. During the evening question-and-answer session, a Batten student, Katherine Brandon, asked when the actions of the Trump administration would become “unacceptable” and “unforgivable” for the American public, citing as one example the investigations of alleged collusion with the Russian government.

Zoellick said the response lies with Congress, whose Democratic members seem to prefer a resistance strategy, rather than proposing alternatives.

The Republicans, he said, draw their support from the same electoral base as President Trump. “I’m not saying if it’s good or bad (but) if you’re political, you want to survive.” As for the public, they will decide what mattes at the conclusions of the investigations, “whether people say enough is enough.”

Flournoy cited her concerns over the lack of official responses to continuing Russian cyber-attacks. “Because the president has been sort of in denial about what happened, the U.S. government is not leading the national effort … to improve our defenses,” she said. “That’s my biggest worry: we are not doing what we need to do to stop this.”

Brandon, who is in the accelerated master’s degree program, earned her UVA Bachelor of Foreign Affairs degree this spring. She will finish her master’s degree in public policy next year.

She sees great value in Batten opening its new National Security Policy Center.

“We’ve got a new administration that is not operating like other administrations in the past, and in a lot of ways has a different take on American policy,” Brandon said in an interview after the presentation.

“This is an opportune time for the Batten school to explore foreign policy and national security policy.

“We’re pursuing new avenues to engage our foreign partners, adversaries, allies, and anyone who falls in-between. I think it’s great that Batten is providing opportunities for our students to understand the nuances behind foreign policy and national security policy.”

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Associate Professor of Politics and Public Policy and Director of the National Security Policy Center
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