Bridging the Gap in National Security Studies

Given this forum’s focus as an outlet helping bridge the
gap, this post discusses ways that academics working on national
security-related topics can make themselves and their work more accessible to
potential end-users, as seen and experienced from the author’s perspective as a
national-security practitioner. A Wide Variety of
Vital Contributions Previous articles on this topic (e.g., see here
and here ) have pointed out a
variety of contributions that scholars can make to applied work, including: Theory ,
which provides an idea of how to view an emerging event or string of events,
helping users “see the forest for the trees.” 
From an analytical perspective, being able to point to a solid body of
social-science literature backing up a framework — especially a literature with
fairly settled empirical findings — increases the credibility of that
framework for application to real-world problems. Data ,
which may be quantitative or qualitative. 
Publically accessible social science datasets often find their way into analytical
usage in national-security settings as the best available data on a topic of
interest.  Similarly, the perspective of area
specialists, also known as subject matter experts (or “smees”), on a given
country or set of countries can provide highly valued information. Forecasts ,
which can be as simple as a most-likely-outcome statement.  Bonus points for willingness to take a stab
at a probability point-estimate for that statement, and more points for being
explicit about uncertainty. Advice
about what to do in a given real-world situation.  Since most empirical scholars focus on
establishing ceteris-paribus relationships across a large number of cases, practicing
applying that work to a specific case usually requires a bit of a mindset shift,
but adopting that mindset is necessary for any applied work. Analytical
methodology , which finds its way into applied work through a variety of
means. Some of these means include PhD students being hired into federal
government, ongoing professionalization for current civil-servant analysts, and
academics working as government contractors or other forms of participation on
a per-project basis. Practical Advice for
Outreach How do scholars put themselves in a position to be able to
make these kinds of contributions?  The
most crucial route is through networking
in national security circles . When in need, policymakers tend to turn to experts
they know by face and name rather than turn to sources those experts may have
written. Think tank events, such as hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research ,
by university institutes like those residing at
National Defense University , or by the US military, such as the Strategic Multilayer Assessment ,
Military Operations
Symposium , and USSTRATCOM Academic
Alliance teleconferences and annual meetings, all provide rich
opportunities to establish these connections in person. These events also
provide an excellent forum for scholars to share insights directly: most
feature university professors as panelists and presenters. Making existing research accessible to a general audience is
another route. Beside this forum, blogs such as Political Violence at a Glance ,
War on the Rocks , Lawfare , Monkey Cage , and The Upshot regularly feature
examples of researchers summarizing the findings from their existing work and
policy-related insights stemming from those findings.  Publishing commentaries in widely-read magazines
like Foreign
Policy , Foreign Affairs , The Atlantic , or The National Interest can be even more
effective, especially for an older and therefore higher-grade but less
web-savvy audience. Last, a shout-out: the political science forum Bridging the Gap Project has been
working for years to provide training to academics for how to apply their work
to the real world, help making connections to policymakers, and resources such
as fellowships, workshops, and job-boards. Every scholar interested enough in
bridging the gap to have made it through this blog post should join BTG’s
scholar network and attend their conference receptions as very easy first steps
toward contributing to real-world national-security policy and practice.

2020-05-02 | Academia, Security, US Foreign Policy | English |