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Strategic Studies

Contact Us

Strategic Studies
Thayer McKell, Program Administrator 
1619 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Suite 708
Washington DC, 20036
+1 (202) 663-5774


Study the use of force for political means to understand the relationships among tactics, operations, strategy, and policy. Prepare for a wide variety of career pathways in aerospace, national security, cybersecurity, intelligence, defense, analysis, and research. Join an active alumni community of professionals in national security leadership roles worldwide.

Become an Expert 

Uncover the dynamics of national decision-making and policy response with renowned faculty scholars and practitioners. Learn through innovative methods including designing and managing crisis simulation exercises, hands-on tours of military installations, and staff rides to historic battle sites to examine critical decisions and strategies.


Featured Courses

Develop expertise on the preparation, organization, and application of force for political purposes by drawing upon theory, history, and contemporary practice.


Illicit Finance

This course will examine the methodologies used by criminals and terrorists to raise and move money, the tools that governments use to track and stop them, and the latest developments in the field.

Students will look at how illicit finance campaigns are being fought in the areas of terrorism, organized crime, human rights violations, and cyber-crime. The course will cover both the systemic/structural and targeted/tactical levels of the fight. At the systemic level, governments are working to lift the tide for all boats, and enhance global anti-money laundering and combating terrorist financing (AML/CFT) standards and implementation. In the targeted arena, law enforcement, intelligence, and private sector compliance officers are tracking and targeting financial flows as a means to unravel plots, uncover conspirators, and disrupt networks. At the same time, illicit actors have become more sophisticated and more resourceful in hiding and moving money. Students will learn not just what is being done but how to critically assess tools and policy efforts in the field.



Cybersecurity is one of the 21st century’s top security challenges. The internet, and our ubiquitous devices, are altering intelligence collection, sabotage, subversion, crime, and statecraft in general.

This class starts by covering basics: the workings of the internet, encryption, digital forensics, and industrial control systems. We then progressively move up and cover intelligence, military, political, and legal aspects of computer network operations and passive collection, both from a defensive and an offensive point of view. The goal of this class is to enable students to act as translators to bridge the gap between engineers and policy makers, between software developers and non-technical experts.


The Human Face of Battle

This course examines the experience of war from the viewpoint of the frontline soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine.

Students will seek to understand what makes young men and women both fight and protect their comrades in the face of grave risks to personal survival, and look at how policy decisions made safely in national capitals translate into deadly combat tasks for young men and women in combat under fire. Understanding what our societies ask of soldiers in battle is essential for future policymakers to make responsible decisions on how and when to use military force.


Defense Analysis

This course explores the connection between quantitative analysis and policy formulation in areas such as strategy development, wartime operations, force structure design, budget tradeoffs, and weapon system acquisition.

Students will examine the many different types of analysis, not only the classic kinds of cost-effectiveness and combat models but also manpower, investment, and cost. Although geared toward students going into national security positions, the methods and approaches apply broadly. The overall goal is to make students intelligent consumers of analytic products, not quantitative analysts.

Learn From the Best

Study with world-class experts who are renowned for their scholarship, influence, and networks.

Mara Karlin

Associate Professor of the Practice, Director, Strategic Studies Program, Executive Director, The Merrill Center for Strategic Studies

Thomas Rid

Professor of Strategic Studies

Nora Bensahel

Visiting Professor of Strategic Studies and Senior Fellow of the Merrill Center for Strategic Studies

Adam Szubin

Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence

In the News

Future strategy forum: COVID-19 and the military.

Mara Karlin participated in Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion, 6/17

“Beyond the beltway”—what’s the civil-military crisis?”

Paula Thornhill wrote in War on the Rocks, 6/17

The case for rethinking the politicization of the military.

Mara Karlin wrote in Task & Purpose, 6/12

After photo op debacle, Pentagon leaders try to regroup.

Mara Karlin and Nora Bensahel quoted in Politico, 6/11

Advance Your Career

Gain the intellectual framework and analytic skills necessary to enter a variety of roles across the public, private, multilateral, and nonprofit sectors.

Recent Internships

  • Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • The German Marshall Fund of the United States
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  • US Department of Defense
  • US Department of Homeland Security



Recent Employers

  • Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Deloitte
  • Intelligence Community
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
  • Siemens Corporation
  • UK Ministry of Defence
  • US Department of Defense

Build Your Network

Join a diverse, accomplished, influential community of scholars, practitioners, alumni, and students working across sectors in 140 countries around the world.

Johns Hopkins SAIS class

Robert O. Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Johns Hopkins SAIS alumnus shares careers insights with Strategic Studies students during Professor John McLaughlin's Defense Against the Dark Arts lecture series.

Johns Hopkins SAIS students

Strategic Studies students attended the Nato Engages summit, a one-day gathering of alliance officials, foreign ministers, members of Congress, national security leaders, and more.

Johns Hopkins SAIS students

Director of Strategic Studies, Dr. Mara Karlin, and Professor Dr. Thomas Mankhen spoke on a Senate Armed Services Committee panel, where they crossed paths with Strategic Studies alumni working on Capitol Hill.

Gaining Deeper Insights into European Security and Defense

"I appreciate that the school requires its students to take classes in economics and pass a proficiency in a foreign language, which is indispensable for foreign service careers."

View Story

Building Expertise to Address Future National Security Challenges

"I've really enjoyed the Strategic Studies Program's Staff Rides, which has put me in the shoes of the actors of past battles and conflicts and provided me important lessons that will shape my decisions and analysis in my future career."

View Story


Jul 7 11:00 am - 12:00 pm Online SAIS Event

Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Peril of America's Alliances | An Interview with Author Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper

Join Merrill Center Executive Director Professor Mara Karlin as she interviews Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper on her new book, Shields of the Republic: The Triumph and Perils of America's Alliances.


Beyond the Classroom

Make the most of your graduate experience in strategy and security through staff rides, study treks, networking, and unmatched internship opportunities.

Staff Ride

A staple of advanced military education, staff rides are role play-driven case studies in strategy, leadership, and decision-making. Organized by students, these visits to battlefields occur three times a year. Recent treks have taken students to Colombia, France, Scotland, Poland, and Vietnam.

Crisis Simulation

Crisis simulations put theory to practice as participants assume key diplomatic and military roles and work against the clock to deescalate the crisis. Past simulations have addressed shifting global security order, destabilization in the Middle East, and violent non-state actors.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

Professor John McLaughlin's signature series brings senior public leaders to share practical knowledge about how to succeed in Washington. All comments are off the record, allowing attendees to hear the unguarded truth and receive essential career advice.

Strategic Studies Speaker Series

This series provides an off the record forum for practitioners and experts of foreign policy to interact with students to discuss salient national security issues of the day.

Defense and Intelligence Career Club

Connect with alumni and professionals working in the defense and intelligence communities. Explore career pathways in the field and help organize student-led activities on defense and intelligence issues.

You Were There

This lecture series invites former policymakers to discuss a critical national security decision in which they played a leading role.

Film Series

The program actively utilizes film as a learning tool to explore issues that have applications within and beyond the field of Strategic Studies. Film series topics in the past have included leadership, combat in war, and civil-military relations.

Ethics Series

This seminar series enables small groups of students and faculty to explore historic and contemporary ethical dilemmas in national security affairs.

Program Updates