Marines discuss the future security environment with Yale University representatives

2 Mar 2009 | Maj. Juliet Chelkowski

Representatives from Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the Commandant’s Strategic Initiatives Group took advantage of a unique opportunity Feb. 20 to meet and share ideas with some of Yale University’s sharpest minds studying international security.

The conference, which was the first of its kind, was hosted by Yale’s International Security Studies in New Haven, Conn., and provided an open forum for professors, students and Marines to discuss the future security environment and how the Marine Corps will adapt to meet the new challenges.  

“This was an opportunity to change the perceptions of grand strategy thinkers and future national security leaders about the Marine Corps and Marines on a very personal level,” said MCCDC Deputy Commanding General Brig. Gen. Timothy Hanifen, who led the Marine Corps delegation. “It was a chance to re-build a fact-based intellectual relationship with Yale and academia that we have not had since the late 1960s.

ISS, although not a degree program, is a center that facilitates the study of grand strategy and international, diplomatic, and military affairs through classes, conferences, seminars, and debate. Previous guests of the program include former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, Former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, and former Ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton. ISS’ flagship enterprise, the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, provided many of the conferences participants, including undergraduates, graduate and professional students and associated faculty from Yale and elsewhere. The Friday conference was led by ISS’ director, Dr. Paul Kennedy, the director the Grand Strategy Program, Dr. John Gaddis, and Yale’s diplomat-in-resident and lecturer Ambassador Charles Hill. 

“This was a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the Marines’ most strategically-minded thinkers and to compare our assumptions about the current and future security environments,” said Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history who travelled from the U.S. Naval Academy to attend the conference. “Too often today, the nation’s top undergraduates have little or no contact with the very men and women who protect the United States. Yale and ISS are committed to changing that.”

Although the conference with ISS was a first, the Marine Corps-Yale connection is not new as Yale has a long line of Marine alumnae. But when Ivy League schools banned ROTC units from their campuses in the1960s it contributed to the growing gap between civilians and the military that has been a nationwide trend since the Vietnam War and the establishment of the all-volunteer service.

Though there is a push at some levels to reintroduce ROTC back to the campus –as the Yale Political Union, a student debate society, urged the university to do last fall – the civilian-military gap is still wide. And it was an article about this very issue that prompted Colonel Edward Yarnell, the Director of the Strategic Initiatives Group, to pursue a renewed relationship with Yale University, and specifically with ISS. With the help of a Marine reserve officer who is also a doctorate student at Yale, doors opened.  

Yarnell believes that re-establishing a relationship with students and faculty through discussion forums such as the one on Friday and through fellowship programs will contribute significantly to closing that gap.  

“History has shown us that when civilian leadership becomes out of sync with its nations’ military and vice-versa, bad decisions are made and national security is jeopardized,” Yarnell said. “We increasingly see more senior civilian leaders with little or no military experience.  As military leaders, we must make it our responsibility to educate today’s students, who will become tomorrow’s leaders, about its military and those who serve,”

Neal Reiter, a graduate student in Yale’s School of Management, was at least one student who benefitted from the Marines’ visit. 

“The forum was exceptional for all the students in understanding the culture of the USMC,” Reiter said. “For many students this was our first real exposure to the Marine Corps. None of us had considered the difficulties the USMC faces in planning, however, seeing the quality of people and the detailed strategy they produced, we have no doubt they are prepared to succeed in the 21st century.”

In addition to reestablishing ties with the University, the forum also provided a chance for Marines to obtain insight from students and faculty who have dedicated their professional lives to the study of specific regions of the world, international security and grand strategy.

“Hearing arguments and counterpoints to our strategic trends analysis and organizational solutions from internationally renowned historians and their students is very valuable,” Hanifen said.  “Their insight challenges us and keeps us thinking outside the box.”

In order to provide background to ISS, the Marines briefed the Vision and Strategy 2025 document that describes how the Marine Corps’ role and posture in national defense will change in the future global environment. The document considers current patterns and trends throughout the globe such as population growth, energy and water demands, and globalization to determine potential areas instability, ultimately helping the Marine Corps anticipate where and how it will operate. 

Director of MCCDC’s Strategic Vision Group, Col. Steve Zotti used a sports metaphor – that seemed to resonate with the group – to illustrate the dynamic security environment within which Marines must be prepared to operate. He said the Marine Corps needs to be “that middle-weight football team” that can quickly reorganize to play soccer, basketball or other sports to compete with the many “games” our adversaries play throughout the spectrum of conflict.

“We’ll also have to play in the stands and the parking lots because that’s where the people are. And our enemy plays that game better than we do right now,” Zotti said.

Following the conference, both Marines and ISS faculty expressed their support of future engagements and maintaining the open dialogue.

“I hope this initial encounter evolves into a consistent and enduring relationship,” Yarnell said. “Both institutions would benefit greatly from a habitual relationship that seeks to bridge two cultures, seemingly hundreds of miles apart, trying to make positive contributions to our nation.”

Headquarters Marine Corps