It was a Wednesday morning in late May, and David Bosco and Scott Shackelford were busy making breaking news relevant to the theme they were getting ready to lecture on: “The Changing Nature of Conflict.” “It came up with North Korea this morning,” pointed out Shackelford, associate professor of business law and ethics at IU Kelley School of Business, “their ballistic missile program. Maybe they’re even behind the ransomware,” he ventured. “Who knows?”
The team-taught class was part of a three-week graduate-level seminar for mid-level military officers stationed around the world. A partnership between the Institute for Defense and Business (IDB) and Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, the Kelley School of Business, and Maurer School of Law, the Strategic Studies Fellows Program comprises courses, simulations, and lectures by visiting experts and dignitaries designed to broaden officers’ perspectives on national security, strategic planning, and crisis management.
Running May 15-June 2, the program is being hosted on the IU campus for the second straight year. IU is a long-standing partner of the IDB, a research and education institute based in North Carolina. The participating officers concluded the three weeks with a graduation ceremony on Friday night
Before embarking on their topic on this Wednesday morning halfway through the program, the professors paused to take the temperature of the room, in which 33 Army and Marine Corps officers – and one British army officer – were seated.
“This is always a hard thing to assess,” began Bosco, associate professor in the School of Global and International Studies, “but has your world been changed at all?”
“They’re still bringing laptops!” Shackelford responded, with a laugh. “We haven’t totally freaked them out yet!”
The degree to which cyberspace represents the new theatre of war has been much explored over the course of the seminar. “I never thought about applying legal regulations to cybersecurity and why that would matter,” Captain Erin Hahn shared with the class. “Until now. I understood there was such a thing as a cyber weapon but the context of policy making is not something I would ever have considered.”
In addition to several classes being offered by Shackelford on the topic of cyber conflict and cybersecurity, Professor David Fidler had addressed “Law of Cyber War” earlier that week. A member of the IU Maurer School of Law faculty, Fidler joined colleagues from across the university providing instruction at the SSFP – among them, Brad Wheeler, IU Vice President for Information Technology & Chief Information Officer, SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein, SGIS Professor of Practice Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, a faculty member in SGIS and the Maurer School of Law.
Courses addressed broad global themes – such as “NGOs and Conflict,” (with Clémence Pinaud, assistant professor of International Studies at SGIS) and “Climate Change and International Security” (with Stephen Macekura, assistant professor of International Studies at SGIS) — and take “deep dives” into global hotspots, in such courses as “North Korea’s Nuclear Program (with Adam Liff, assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at SGIS) and “Russia and Its ‘Near Abroad’” (with associate professor of Political Science Dina Spechler).
“This program has undeniable credibility,” asserted participant Captain Kedrick Palmer, “because of the faculty who are taking their time to be a part of it. [Kelley School of Business] Dean [Idie] Kesner has been giving us lectures on Saturdays. We’ve had former US ambassadors, a former congressman, multiple deans. I’ve always been told that a leader’s presence dictates what’s important. It speaks to IU's commitment to the nation's defense and both entities’ efforts to build upon the civil-military relationship.”
“I believe in the value of spreading cybersecurity awareness, especially to our military’s future leaders,” explains Shackelford, who, in addition to his teaching position is the Chair of the IU Bloomington Cybersecurity Program. “In every mission we want them to consider each domain -- from land, sea, air, space, as well as cyber.”
The participants in the program were handpicked by their superiors for their leadership potential. “The Army has decided to start developing future senior leaders at an earlier point in their career,” explained Palmer, a logistics officer and forward support company commander to a Special Forces battalion stationed in Okinawa, Japan. “As we are afforded the opportunity to begin thinking at a strategic level, or at least understanding how policy is made, by the time we promote into those positions where we’re going to be doing that, we have a deeper understanding and a shortened learning curve.”
Hahn, who is a civil affairs team leader stationed in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, explained why it is so crucial for officers to undergo training that broadens their perspective.
“A lot of times in the military you’re so focused on the tactical level—as captains and below, it’s the lifestyle,” Hahn explained. “You get your orders and understand that you have a mission set but you tend to not always think ahead, or what the big picture is. Which is what this whole strategic level of thinking — this strategic broadening – drives home for us, especially once we continue our careers in the military.”
She acknowledges that although new perspectives may be hard to incorporate on an institutional level, the nature of contemporary global challenges demands adaptability.
“When someone provides you with something, or says we want to make a change to your organization, a response might be ‘that’s not how we do things. ’ That contributes to that group-think mentality and that tactical focus and forgetting that we live in an ever-changing world, and that we have to adapt and respond in a way that’s appropriate for those changes.”
“We get set in this military mindset of doing things a certain way to complete the mission,” agreed Captain Gerren Alexander, a rotating military officer and instructor at the US Military Academy at West Point (who emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not the military). “But there’s a whole 99 percent of the civilian world that may think otherwise. So our one percent mindset may not be the same as the majority out there. So I saw this as a prime opportunity to engage with the civilian community as well as my military peers.”
Acquiring fresh perspectives is, in fact, a priority for the Army, according to Captain Nadi Kassim, an SSFP participant who serves at MIT as assistant professor of military science. “In the Army’s broader leader development model, experience is one of the three tenets. And it focuses on broadening your understanding of global cultures and domains that are outside of your immediate responsibility.”
“That’s what you want in your future leaders,” stated Hahn.
The officers participating in the IU-IDB SSFP agreed that the collegial academic environment was conducive to broadening their perspectives. For Kassim, who teaches at MIT, it has enhanced his understanding of “a concept I’m learning about in academia -- a safe space. Not a safe space where you’re sheltered from criticism or the real world; rather, you’re creating a positive environment where people feel comfortable to share their experiences and their opinions, and also to learn and make mistakes so that when they are in the real world, they’re not making those mistakes.”
And although many of the participants share a rank, these Army captains have had varied experiences. That’s a plus, according to Hahn. “The nice thing is that everyone in our class comes from different backgrounds. The diversity of this group blew me away. It’s been interesting because there has been a lot of perspectives.”
“Yes indeed,” Shackelford concurred, “the students range from Army divers to intelligence specialists, to Marines. Each of these students has an incredibly impressive background and desire to deepen their expertise in strategic studies.”
Along with the “safe space” created in the interactive lecture-discussion sections, the program’s pedagogical approach has included simulations in which the participants had limited time to prepare and execute a response to a security crisis. In class, one participant told Bosco and Shackelford how instructive that training was: “Without any preamble you just said, ‘we’re throwing you into the lion’s den’. Some of the guys had five or 10 minutes before they fielded questions from the press. I think trial by fire is the best and we all gleaned something from that that we’ll take back to our respective posts.”
After having worked as a group and received professional coaching, the students will present their capstone project to a joint IU-IDB and Army panel on June 2.
“Ultimately,” concluded Alexander, “it shows our commitment to work together — the US Army and the civilian sector — to solve a global problem.”