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NSA curricula review leans into Great Power Competition

Rear Adm. Will Pennington, center, serving as director of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) N-51 Strategy and Policy Division, holds the National Security Affairs department’s curricula review during a visit to campus, March 5.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) just completed its latest curricula review for the National Security Affairs (NSA) department, adjusting course to meet the new challenges of increasing Great Power Competition.

NSA leadership presented the review to Rear Adm. Will Pennington, director of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) N-51 Strategy and Policy Division, as well as representatives of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), through an in-depth, day-long tour of the department’s capabilities and priorities, March 5.

“As a result of the 2019 NSA curricula review with OPNAV and DSCA, the NSA department will be updating the Educational Skills Requirements (ESRs) across all nine of our programs to reflect changes in the strategic environment and recent strategy and policy documents,” noted Cmdr. Paul Rasmussen, NSA program officer. “We are confident that the NSA curricula will continue to produce graduates with the crucial strategic and critical thinking skills needed as we shift from two decades of fighting in the Middle East to an era of Great Power Competition.”

Biennial curricular reviews are commonplace at NPS, providing an opportunity to refine academic requirements of degree-granting programs to ensure the university continues to provide relevant and unique advanced education to the nation’s military officers, and the timing of the 2019 NSA review was impeccable.

The recent publication of several key reports has marked a sea change in strategic direction and policy across the armed serves, reflecting complex and rapidly changing global conditions. Chief among these is the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), which specifically observes the re-emergence of China and Russia as long-term strategic competitors requiring increased and sustained investment well into the future.

In December 2018, the Navy published A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0 (DMMS 2.0) to orient the fleet’s contributions to national security objectives more firmly toward great power competition. And more recently, the Education for Seapower (ESP) study report was released in February to unify academic efforts across the service and sharpen its competitive edge.

“If you look at these critical documents, we are fulfilling a number of missions,” explained NSA department chair Dr. Clay Moltz. “We are looking at the international side of these problems and making sure that the critical thinking skills that have to do with Great Power Competition are being delivered to students.”

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is that we are really doing deep dive analysis – not a broad brush – into these critical areas,” he added.

Officers training to become Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) at NPS, for example, undergo intensive engagement with the nation’s leading country and subject matter experts to cultivate an intimate understanding of key security issues in the regions they will work in. This directly aligns with DMMS 2.0’s “Line of Effort Purple,” which explicitly prioritizes expanding and strengthening the Navy’s network of partners, at home and around the world.

“The officers that come to NPS have come away with an understanding of the various regions of the world and how to interact in those regions,” Moltz said. “Not only do they understand the adversaries that they’re going to be facing - whether great power adversaries or smaller combatants - but they also learn to work with allies and friends in those regions to build coalitions to create a more effective fighting force around the world.”

The changes in the 2019 NSA curricula review are geared to better prepare students to better navigate the complexities of a changing international security environment. Recent updates include a new foundational course required for all students, “Great Power Competition in the Modern World,” a new FAO security cooperation course entitled “Security Sector Assistance in an Era of Great Power Competition,” and an ongoing lecture series focused on new Global Challenges.

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