Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why the plans to change NDU worry me

By Janet Breslin-Smith Best Defense guest columnist The issue here is the growth of NDU as a mass of new centers, institutions, et cetera. With each new president of NDU, there is a new initiative, a new center, a new mission. Over the decades of this growth, the original idea, formulated by Dwight Eisenhower and Hap Arnold, tends ...

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By Janet Breslin-Smith
Best Defense guest columnist

The issue here is the growth of NDU as a mass of new centers, institutions, et cetera. With each new president of NDU, there is a new initiative, a new center, a new mission. Over the decades of this growth, the original idea, formulated by Dwight Eisenhower and Hap Arnold, tends to get lost. 

War College is a face-to-face, intensive course focused on presenting dilemmas to senior military, diplomatic, intelligence community, and other national security officials. Ask any graduate and they will attest to the quality of the experience.

By Janet Breslin-Smith
Best Defense guest columnist

The issue here is the growth of NDU as a mass of new centers, institutions, et cetera. With each new president of NDU, there is a new initiative, a new center, a new mission. Over the decades of this growth, the original idea, formulated by Dwight Eisenhower and Hap Arnold, tends to get lost. 

War College is a face-to-face, intensive course focused on presenting dilemmas to senior military, diplomatic, intelligence community, and other national security officials. Ask any graduate and they will attest to the quality of the experience.

This assertion about NDU, that it must be “one university,” is a concept that baffles me. I now sit on a board of a university in New England, and there is no talk about making the graduate school of education the same core as the school of business or engineering. Harvard would not combine the Kennedy School with its Medical School. Where did this idea come from?

I am familiar with core programs, online education, and traditional settings. National War College is unique, with the other war colleges, in making an interagency student body grapple with national security challenges. Centralizing the selection of faculty, the curriculum, and decisions on programs is a mistake. There should be autonomy, and those decisions should reside with the college. The “one university” idea only seems to enhance the centralization of headquarters, management by those not in the classroom and not involved in the program. 

Again, this is an old story. More stars trump fewer stars. Cost-saving arguments cloud the growth of NDU. This is a normal bureaucratic phenomenon. But to me — a person not on the faculty, not trying to protect a job — I feel I can say that the college and NDU need more oversight. Active involvement by the new Ike Skelton, whoever that might be.

I can make a longer argument for better strategy, more content and area studies at the school, but those really are decisions for the leadership and faculty of the individual schools to make. Not a centralized command structure that, according to Tom’s article, does not allow for debate.

I am worried. The idea, the concept, for the college cannot be delivered online, homogenized, or determined by those not involved in teaching and evaluating. My two cents.

Dr. Breslin-Smith was a member of NDU’s faculty for 15 years, and was the first female to chair one of its departments. She is the co-author, with Clifford Krieger, of The National War College: A History of Strategic Thinking in Peace and War. She recently returned from four years in Saudi Arabia, where her husband was the U.S. ambassador.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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