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Strategic Approach to Foreign Policy

Strategic studies programs are vital for grooming the next generation of policymakers and analysts.


With India’s growing role on the international stage, the importance of academic programs on strategic studies for the country’s future leaders and policymakers is also increasing. Indian students who want to pursue these programs can explore a number of U.S. universities, including the highly respected Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, near Boston, Massachusetts. 

“In the 21st century, India will be the most important story told in the field of international relations,” says Admiral James G. Stavridis, dean of The Fletcher School and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

“We spend a lot of time focusing on China, on Europe, on the U.S., on emerging nations. We don’t talk enough about India which, within a decade, is going to be the world’s most populous nation. India has a real democracy, a dynamic new leader, an enviable geopolitical location. In short, all the ingredients to lift off in the 21st century and play a critically important role.”

The Fletcher School, where more than 50 languages are spoken among a student body of about 600, has more international students from India than any other country, followed by China, Japan and Germany, notes Admiral Stavridis. In 2014, the school also hosted members of the Indian Foreign Service for an intensive one-week leadership program in advanced diplomacy, covering topics like negotiation, digital diplomacy, emerging economic and security structures, law of the sea, organizational behavior, global energy trends, the art of persuasion and global governance.

Although students at The Fletcher School study how the United States develops and implements its foreign policies, Admiral Stavridis emphasizes the school’s international and multidisciplinary approach.

“We are not U.S.-centric,” he says. “Our strategic and securities studies program takes a 360 degree view of what security is in the 21st century, which means we also cover economics, finance, business, political science and a fairly healthy component of smart power.” Smart power is a combination of hard (military) power and soft (diplomacy and development) power, which can help produce effective foreign policy.

Other U.S. universities too offer strategic studies programs. At Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, students explore the relationship between politics and the many kinds of military power. Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program has concentrations on intelligence, international security, military operations, technology and security, terrorism and sub-state violence, unconventional weapons and non-proliferation, and U.S. national security policy. Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, located in Washington, D.C., is headed by Keith B. Payne, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy.

“Our international students have the benefit of learning both the general theories and principles of international relations and security, and they also become much more familiar with how the U.S. approaches these issues,” says Payne. “They become quite a valuable asset to their home countries. Many countries, especially India, are seeing the need for more expertise in international relations and for a cadre of experts in that arena.”

Students can pursue masters or doctoral degrees, with the universities adapting their curriculums in response to the ongoing geopolitical, economic and military developments.

“Counterterrorism and cyber [security] have grown a lot in importance, and we are hiring someone who has a huge reputation in cyber security,” says Admiral Stavridis. “Number three would be water security. And, we also have a pretty robust program in piracy. Those are four areas that are growing in the security studies area.”

“Counterterrorism is an increasing concern in all countries, and the demand for courses in that area has grown substantially,” says Payne. “This summer, we are adding another course in that field, taught by folks who have considerable professional experience in addition to academic expertise.”

Faculty members at strategic studies programs include those with related academic backgrounds and those with on-the-ground experience, he adds.

Competition for admission to security studies programs is stiff and the programs are expensive. For instance, tuition fees at Georgetown University’s Security Studies program are more than $67,000 for graduate students, and the cost estimate for the Master of International Public Policy program at Johns Hopkins exceeds $70,000.

However, students can go into a number of different fields after graduating. “About one-third of our students go into the private sector, including business, banking and corporate risk,” says Admiral Stavridis. “About one-third go into government service. They go back to their home nations and enter the diplomatic corps, the military or government services. And, about one-third go to work at international organizations such as the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross and other charitable groups.”

Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.