The History of International Security Studies at Fletcher:

1971 to the Present

The International Security Studies (ISS) field and the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) became a part of The Fletcher School over 50 years ago in 1971. Since then, ISS has served as one of Fletcher’s leading fields of study offering a wide variety of courses and seminars on a broad range of conflict, defense, and strategic issues, while ISSP has each year convened innovative “outside the classroom” educational activities for Fletcher students such as lectures by senior-level civilian and military officials, simulations, workshops, and conferences.  

The focus of ISS and ISSP now, as it was then, is to equip students to understand how to think rather than what to think about the challenging and complex global political-military security setting.  Fletcher’s ISS curriculum is based on the recognition of that.  While the nature of conflict and war as a clash of wills, interests, values, and capabilities is unchanging, the means by which conflict and war are conducted, as well as the types and numbers of actors involved, transform from one era to the next.  New technologies provide new capabilities and establish the basis for new strategies. And new actors emerge to employ those capabilities for a range of different reasons.

The history of ISS and ISSP at Fletcher spanned the last generation of the Cold War (1971-1991) and now has extended well into the second Post-Cold War generation.  During the Cold War, ISS students studied such topics as armed conflict between states and non-state armed groups, along with the transfer and proliferation of conventional and nuclear weapons, civil-military relations, crisis management, international terrorism, arms control, and the role of information and intelligence in international relations.  Anticipating the 21st Century multinuclear setting, ISS student and faculty research, as well as courses, encompassed not only superpower nuclear capabilities and strategies but also smaller nuclear states as well as non-state armed groups seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, with respect to non-state armed groups, major attention was focused on their emergence as key actors in the proliferation of irregular conflicts, including insurgency and terrorism, that burgeoned in the aftermath of the Cold War and in the years following 9/11. 

The ISS curriculum not only enables students to delve deeply into the prevailing global political-military landscape, but also to identify and learn about new trends, issues, and forces shaping the emerging security setting.  ISS adapts and innovates to meet and anticipate the security challenges arising from such emerging disruptive technologies in the cyber domain as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous systems.  The ISS curriculum cuts across and covers the spectrum of armed conflict that extends from Great Power confrontation to non-state actors including civil resistance movements and various armed groups. In sum, Fletcher’s multidisciplinary curricular structure is ideally suited both to benefit from and contribute to the study of international security.  

There has always been a high level of intellectual synergism between ISS and other fields that facilitates the study of the nature and origins, as well as the political, historical, cultural, economic, and legal dimensions of conflict and war.  ISS furnishes a substantive, conceptual, and methodical basis for the analysis of international security in an academic setting, while also preparing future public and private sector professionals to deal with the political-military dimension of foreign policy and international relations.  In doing so, the ISSP links the academic and policy communities together through its “outside the classroom” activities and educates our students to think about security not only in its academic and theoretical dimensions but also in the real-world policy arena.  

For those new students admitted each year to The Fletcher School, International Security Studies is always one of the top two or three fields of study selected as their major area of concentration.  International Security Studies remains among the most popular fields as well as one of the largest fields in terms of student enrollment. Additionally, ISS faculty have the largest number of Ph.D. students (over 50%), even though ISS constitutes only one of six Ph.D. fields of study offered at Fletcher. Between 1971 and 2021 a total of 231 dissertations in International Security were completed and the Ph.D. awarded

The International Security Studies Program operates on the premise that understanding political-military security depends on a continuing dialogue between the civilian and military communities.  ISSP contributes to this goal each year by sponsoring a broad range of “outside the classroom” educational activities such as lectures by senior-level civilian and military officials, simulations, workshops, field trips and conferences.  

ISSP also maintains a Military Fellows Program that each academic year hosts from the U.S. Armed Services eight distinguished field grade officers who attend Fletcher in lieu of a war college or other senior-level educational institution. These officers hold the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, or their service’s equivalent. They audit ISS and other Fletcher courses and seminars, attend ISSP lectures, as well as participate in all other ISSP “outside the classroom” educational activities. The military fellows also organize their own series of workshops for Fletcher’s students focused on each of their individual services. Finally, and most importantly, the Military Fellows Program provides Fletcher students with access to an understanding of how the military is organized, its command structure, and roles and missions. The rich and unique perspectives, expertise, and experience of the Military Fellows are indispensable to the security studies education of Fletcher students.