The SU/Pentagon Connection

by Nick Cavanaugh

In the past few years, military presence at Syracuse University has increased, both ideologically and materially. The campus saw the introduction in fall 2003 of a new program, the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), run jointly by the Law and Maxwell Schools. This institute mostly offers graduate level courses, but has also run a conference on governmental information sharing at which John Poindexter, of Iran/Contra infamy, was an esteemed panelist. In 2003 Mitchell Wallerstein, a former Department of Defense official, was hired as a Maxwell dean.

National Security Studies
The campus has also seen the growth of the National Security Studies (NSS) program in Maxwell, perhaps the most overt military connection. A look into NSS and what it does should demonstrate just how involved Syracuse University is with the US military. The NSS trains high level Department of Defense officials and their civilian equivalents, and is the only program of its kind. It is run jointly by Maxwell and the John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, though classes take place almost exclusively at SU. The two schools won a bid to administer the program in 1996, beating out Harvard, which had run the program for the past 15 years. The 1996 contract included a grant of $8.1 million to the two schools, and runs for five years.

The NSS is mainly used to advance the careers of military officers; it also invites civilians from intelligence agencies, weapons manufacturing corporations, and other areas. It includes a six-week National Security Management Course at SU in the spring for colonels and lieutenant colonels and civilian equivalents; a two-week National Security Leadership Course at SU in the spring for colonels and lieutenant colonels and civilian equivalents; a two-week National Security Leadership Course at SU in the fall, designed for recently promoted admirals and generals and civilian equivalents; and a three-day seminar at various times and places for senior Department of Defense officials.

The content of the courses varies from the nuances of administering US foreign policy to “Cross-Cultural Complexities of Peacekeeping.” For example, one of the case studies that participants examine concerns the legality of using the predator drone for targeted assassinations in warfare. The predator drone has been used in places such as Afghanistan. In another case study a leftist president wants to direct money away from military spending toward social programs. In this exercise, participants simulate responses they can make to what they see as dangerous national security policy.

Unwelcome Critiques
The NSS argues that people from all different political perspectives should want the military to receive training in diverse university settings. In order to back up this argument, presentations by decidedly anti-war professors are incorporated into the program. However, the limits of acceptance of criticism have been tested. To diffuse his opposition, one of the most vocal faculty critics of the program was asked to talk on a panel. He spoke of his abhorrence for what he described as the US military’s imperial ambitions abroad and explained that the military will inevitably confront people who share views just like his in its foreign interventions. After these remarks, the director of the program was “as mad as [the presenter] had ever seen anyone”; it’s likely that he will not be invited again. It seems that institutional critiques have little place in this program; it isn’t easy to hold a mirror up to the military-industrial complex.

The NSS’ influence on the Maxwell School is seen in the continually expanding space that the program occupies in the building and in the seeming trend toward attracting military people to the school (such as Dean Wallerstein). There are, of course, other ways that the military has a stake in SU, such as through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program and various Department of Defense research grants. The NSS has remained the most visible symbol of the connections that exist, and has thus been the focus of student, faculty and staff opposition groups. These include the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Student Peace Action Network (SPAN). Those who oppose NSS are working hard to make sure the current contract isn’t renewed when it expires in 2006.

Nick is a Syracuse University student and member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition. He can be reached at 475-9526 or <nmcavana@syr.edu>.