Student Project Burgeons Into US Grand Strategy Conference

By Kaitlin Nelson ’13 | College of Liberal Arts

December 5, 2014

Norwich University was founded on the educational philosophies of Capt. Alden Partridge, who was a strong proponent of experiential learning. Nearly two centuries later, Norwich students are still “learning by doing,” as demonstrated by the creation of the US Grand Strategy Conference this fall.

Sponsored by the Norwich University Center for Studies in War and Peace, the inaugural conference was born out of a yearlong independent research project led by Preston Huntington ’14 and William Cuervo ’14 on the basis and future of US Grand Strategy. Once started, the project took on a life of its own, as the two researchers soon found out. “When Will and I first began the research for our Independent Study,” Huntington said, “I don’t believe either of us really expected it to amount to what it eventually became as our senior year went on.” The project became fully immersive, allowing Cuervo and Huntington to engage in high level analysis as well as speak to experts in the field, including personnel from the Department of Defense, the various military branches, and the service academies.

Inspired by their research, the US Grand Strategy Conference was conceived, and a group of students in Professor Sarwar Kashmeri’s independent study class were tasked with helping bring this dream into fruition. Many highly specialized delegates were invited to attend, allowing Norwich students the opportunity to learn from the people who hold positions that many Norwich students would like to have in the future; it also allowed the students to gain experience in operating in professional environments.

Several of the invited delegates were professors from other military schools, including the US Military Academy, US Air Force Academy, US Army War College and US Naval War College. Military College professors were not the only academic representative present: there were also representatives from the University of Nebraska, Wayne State College, and Drew University. In addition to the scholars invited, there were representatives from the US Army, National Defense Industrial Association, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and several authors and columnists. Regardless of their diverse career choices, they all shared a common interest: Grand Strategy studies in the US. This group engaged in very intense debate on issues concerning US Political Influence and Military Power, as well as US Foreign Policy Priorities. A conference note was developed and publicized on the topics. The participants universally praised the event and Norwich, with the only criticism being that the timeframe (1½ days) was too short!

Reflecting on the conference, one of Prof. Kashmeri’s students, 2LT Julio Ceasar Basso ’16, USAR, said, “The Center for Studies in War and Peace here at Norwich University was able to bring in some brilliant minds, each with their own expertise. There was no delay in regard to conducting the dialogue, and there were plenty of opportunities to reflect on this dialogue to provide a consensus of thought regardless of background or ideological differences.” Another of Prof. Kashmeri’s students, Matthew McKenzie ’16, agreed. “I felt that overall the conference was a success. The delegates were extremely well qualified, and the diversity of [their] backgrounds allowed for insight into a multitude of areas.”

One of the invited delegates-William Goodman, the Vice President for Policy at the National Defense Industrial Association-gushed about the conference’s attendees and topic choice. “The conference was everything a practitioner could hope for-theoretical enough to step away from the day-to-day concerns of official Washington, but also practical enough to have real meaning for the problems I face every day pertaining to defense budgets and military capabilities.” He added, “Although it is difficult to address a concept like grand strategy and make it fresh, that was exactly what the delegates managed to do, and I was grateful to learn from them and their insights.”

Another invited delegate, Wolfe Schmidt, an International Affairs Consultant and Foreign Policy Association Board Member, struggled with the time constraint, but found the US Grand Strategy Conference to be an enlightening experience overall. Schmidt said, “The agenda was almost too ambitious for the weighty subject; however, the questionnaire was useful in guiding the discourse and the way the plenary sessions were moderated was very productive as well.”

To learn more about the conference, visit the Norwich University US Grand Strategy Conference web site.