Transforming the National Security Culture
A Report of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Defense Leadership Project
Transforming the National Security Culture (Full PDF Report)
From the Preface
General Edward C. Meyer, former Army Chief of Staff, has compared our best leaders to diamonds. Just as the diamond requires three properties for its formation—carbon, heat, and pressure—successful leaders require the interaction of three properties—character, knowledge, and application. We at the Harvard Kennedy School seek to foster an environment in which our student leaders can develop their character, expand their knowledge, and launch into promising career trajectories through the application of newly polished skills for the benefit of our nation’s security. The Harvard Kennedy School Defense Leadership Project is a proud example of the work that can be produced in this environment.
As we seek to generate and promote more effective leadership in national security policy, we are deeply committed to bridging the gap between leadership theory and practice. Supporting collabora¬tive thinking among experts in the field is critical to this objective. The student-generated Defense Leadership Project aptly sought to address a critical shortfall in national security leadership through its collaborative endeavor. As this report attests, the Defense Leadership Project specifically created unprecedented opportunities for reflection and discovery for students and prominent practitioners from different disciplines, sectors, and cultures to elicit proactive solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.
Well-trained and equipped leaders sharing collaborative mentalities are paramount for successfully preserving our national security. The combined support of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and the Center for Public Leadership speaks to the shared belief in the importance of this initiative, and the associated recommendations. We applaud the students involved in the Defense Leadership Project and the energy this team put into organizing guest speakers and writing this report. We hope our nation’s leaders might draw from their informed and insightful findings.
From the Introduction
In late winter 2007, a small group of veterans attending Harvard University decided to challenge the status quo. Frustrated by their experiences overseas and what they perceived as a lack of innovative leadership within their own organizations, they sought to develop new ideas. They wanted to create something the business world would call a skunk works, an autonomous group of creative thinkers, charged with working on advanced projects. Enlisting the help of three separate research centers at Harvard—the Center for Public Leadership, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy (which also had played a role in the publication of the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual), and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs—the students took their proposal to the larger student body.
At a special reception for all Harvard graduate students who had served (or were serving) within the national security community, the students announced open applications for an initiative they called the Defense Leadership Project sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. The response from the crowd—which had been full of veterans returned from combat tours, homeland security officials, intelligence analysts, private security consultants, and others—was overwhelming. Applications poured in, and after selecting the most talented, experienced, and creative individuals, the panel set to work defining its mission.
The students almost immediately came to realize that most of their frustrations were rooted in leader¬ship and organizational culture. In their eyes, the national security establishment was facing a major crisis: leaders at all levels were routinely ill-equipped to understand, visualize, or respond effectively to the modern security environment. The problem was one of adaptation: decades of Cold War doctrine and thinking had left behind a sense of unassailable institutional inertia. Despite the undeniable rise of asymmetric threats such as insurgents, terrorists, militias, and other nonstate actors, the defense establishment had continued to invest overwhelmingly in preparations for traditional, conventional warfare.
While many blue ribbon panels and study groups have been convened since 9/11 to develop recommendations for the security establishment, few have focused on the role of the individual leader. New organizational models and next-generation technologies may improve our nation’s readiness, but—in the humble opinion of the students—success or failure would be defined by the ability of individual leaders to operate effectively with minimal guidance, adapt, and collaborate across traditional institutional stovepipes. In other words, victory will not be gained by overwhelming our enemies with brute force, but by empowering our leaders to innovate faster than the enemy can respond.
The panel’s methodology would be simple: Invite senior level defense leaders to Harvard for closed door, nonattribution, and brutally honest discussions. Combine the enthusiasm and “on the ground” perspective of the students with the strategic outlook of decision makers and experts. Develop bluesky solutions, record notes for every session, and eventually, write the proposals into a report intended for senior policy makers. This booklet is the end result of our efforts. We respectfully submit these recommendations for your consideration, in the hope that a few of the ideas might prove useful or inspire further inquiry.
From the Foreword
When the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School brings together graduate students and national security students at Harvard—military veterans, homeland security officials, intelligence officers, private security contractors, and others—in a Defense Leadership Project, one expects powerful results as they work with distinguished guest panelists. After all, it’s Harvard, the Kennedy School, David Gergen’s Center for Public Leadership, and our own country’s security leaders. We have great expectations.
Rarely do results of such an intellectual engagement provide the call to action that this report delivers. Not an academic treatise, this is a tough report by people on the ground, across the sectors, examining every aspect of the defense community, and this is the powerful result. And it’s all about leadership, the leaders of the future required right across the national security community, to lead, respond, mobilize, inspire, build the alliances and partnerships an uncertain future demands in the emerging security environment.
The formal recommendations the panel makes in this report are sobering and illuminating and fall into four categories:
• Finding critical talent
• Transforming talent into institutional capability
• Reforming the existing organization to promote balance and interoperability
• Accelerating generational change.
Three powerful messages flow through the recommendations, the rationale, and the call to action in this report:
• A massive need for change in the national security organizations and community to prepare our leaders to meet future threats
• Emerging leaders, the new generation of national security professional workers, will generate the change essential to meet evolving challenges
• The inspiring ideas will come from bright young minds committed to our security establishment who know change is the leadership imperative of our time.
Transforming the National Security Culture (Full PDF Report)