One Monday last March, three CIA agents walked into a Yale classroom.
Professor Paul Kennedy introduced them to his class-"Studies
in Grand Strategy"-and they took their seats at the back
of the classroom. The students gave the visit little thought;
high-profile guests often visited the class. Besides, the professors
are pretty impressive in their own right: John Lewis Gaddis,
Charles Hill, Paul Bracken, and Kennedy. The discussion went
on as usual; the representatives from the cia remained quiet.
Kennedy later joked that "the Yalies kind of intimidated
According to Kennedy, the agents had come to the class not to
recruit, but to learn. "They had been asked by their bosses,
‘What’s the nature of international affairs going to be?’"
They sought the answer from "those eggheads in the university,"
and they looked to find those eggheads in the seminar.
This December marks the end of the first grand strategy seminar
at Yale. Although the term "grand strategy" has military
connotations, the mISSion statement of the class defines it more
broadly, as "a comprehensive plan of action, based on calculated
relations of means to large ends." Using history as a guide,
the year-long course seeks to teach its students how to make
decisions from positions of power. The first semester, in the
spring, looks for examples of grand strategy in authors as varied
as Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Karl Marx, and Ronald Reagan. The fall
semester, the "strategist’s workshop," analyzes contemporary
grand strategies. The course also requires a summer project,
either an internship or research paper, to be presented to the
class during the fall. Modeled after a class at the Naval College,
its founders claim that it is the only class of its kind at a
civilian institution in the United States. It has received praise
not only from Yale students and faculty, but also from academics
across the nation, and many institutions are considering implementing
their own version of the class.
But what makes the class unique is not so much its curriculum
as its aspirations. The Grand Strategy Project, which includes
a lecture series as well as the seminar, boasts "long-term
reward" as one of its primary benefits. "We aim not
merely to shape current decision making," reads the mISSion
statement, "but, above all, to prepare future decision-makers.
By exposing our students to the best of what has been thought,
written, and remembered about grand strategy . . . we seek to
provide them with the analytical skills they will need in whatever
leadership positions they may occupy and whatever contingencies
they confront." That is, the Grand Strategy Project aims
to train the future leaders of the world. The statement concludes,
"We see the revival of grand strategy as the best long-term
investment we can make in the future."
In the first half of the twentieth century, Yale had a strong
voice in national foreign policy discussions through the Yale
Institute of International Affairs. But in the 1950s, Yale President
A. Whitney Griswold sought to make Yale more of a commentator
on than a participant in foreign affairs, and scrapped the Institute
and the grand strategy classes.
Over the last two decades, however, Yale has reasserted its role
as a player in international affairs. In the early 1980s, a group
of professors founded a think tank on arms control, but it quickly
became irrelevant with the advent of persestroika and the subsequent
decrease of Cold War tensions. In 1988, professors such as Bruce
Russett, Paul Bracken, Gaddis Smith, and H. Bradford Westerfield
looked to start anew. After presenting their ideas to then Provost
Frank Turner, they founded International Security Studies (ISS),
and Kennedy became director a year later. With the reemergence
of Yale onto the international scene, it was not long before
ISS professors began thinking about a return to grand strategy
and the training of future leaders.
ISS is located on the second and third floors of 31 Hillhouse
Avenue, a simple pale-yellow Georgian house with green shutters.
Kennedy’s corner office is relatively spare, dominated by a large
military poster, mounted, unframed, and set on the floor. Dressed
in a red polo shirt and khakis, he leans back in his chair, puts
his feet up, and speaks plainly about the success of ISS, which
has an annual budget of over $800,000. "When I talk to
my buddies in the med school, going biking or running, they talk
about grants of millions. We look like small beans compared to
them. But for somebody in the humanities, like Mideast studies,
ISS looks like a 150-pound gorilla." Kennedy speaks enthusiastically
and openly, and it is not hard to see why so many want him to
stay in charge.
Kennedy is well aware of the academic trends that lie behind
the rapid growth of ISS. "It means that when people worried
that everyone was switching to gender studies or black studies,
we can say that there are exceptions. We are one of the only
places in the country that does this, and I think the foundations
[that fund research] know this." It was this frustration
with the current state of academics that led to the idea for
the Grand Strategy Project. About three years ago, Kennedy began
speaking with his neighbor and friend John Gaddis who was giving
a series of talks about globalization at the time. "We were
both thinking that specialization in the academy had become horribly
entrenched," explains Kennedy. "There were very few
attempts to look at the thing as a whole." At an ISS sponsored
weekend retreat attended by Kennedy, Hill, Bracken, Donald Kagan,
and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the idea for a
diplomatic and military history seminar emerged. The class would
differ from the standard seminar in one key aspect: Its goal
was not simply to teach what had happened, but to train students
for what could happen. More than a class about ideas on international
security, ISS became a class on leadership, and its instructors,
who ask for a resume along with applications, acknowledge that
they look to accept potential leaders into it.
Leadership is both stressed by and embodied in Charles Hill,
one of the instructors of "Studies in Grand Strategy."
A Distinguished Fellow at ISS, Hill has served as Chief of Staff
of the Department of State and worked as Assistant Secretary
General and Special Policy Advisor to the United Nations. While
Kennedy speaks of grand strategy as one of many aspects of the
study of history, Hill suggests that it is the most important
because it is the one that defines leadership. "This [has
long been] part of the education of those who were expected to
become leaders. If you’re going to be in a position of leadership,
you need to attend to every aspect from the budget to personalities
to power to external limitations; you’re going to need a comprehensive
view of all aspects if you’re going to make the institution work
Hill envisions the grand strategy course teaching its students
a certain way to think. "In general, the understanding of
how you approach things in a grand strategic way has eroded,"
he says. "Life has been more fragmented." Hill argues
that there has been a decline in the use of grand strategy in
diplomacy and business, and that this endangers world stability.
Hill sees a direct connection between the changes in academia
in the 1960s-departments and specialization becoming standard
features of the university and its faculty-and the lack of vision
of many of today’s leaders, especially in terms of foreign policy.
In order to improve the world of tomorrow, one must improve the
world’s leaders, and in order to improve the world’s leaders,
one must change the way they are trained.
It is the idea that an institution like Yale exists to train
leaders that attracts so much attention to ISS and the Grand
Strategy Project. In his recent book, The Lexus and the Olive
Tree, a "guidebook on how to follow the drama [of globalization],"
Thomas Friedman writes, "The Yale International Relations
historians Paul Kennedy and John Lewis Gaddis see one of their
jobs as training the next generation of American strategists.
To their great credit, they have been exploring how to broaden
the curriculum in order to produce a new generation of strategists
who can think as globalists and not just particularists."
But more importantly, ISS takes active steps to help its students
reach positions of leadership. The Grand Strategy Network, as
the ISS Annual Report explains, "has begun to build a network
of individuals and institutions trained to think about and implement
grand strategies in imaginative and effective ways." This
networking often takes the form of dinner conversations, sometimes
held at Mory’s, between guest lecturers and the students of the
class. While acknowledging the possibility that a student may
get a job offer from the people he or she meets at such social
functions, Kennedy states that, "It’s much less professional
networking than intellectual networking."
To an observer of the seminar, it becomes immediately clear that
such a network has already formed. The class is much livelier
than the typical Yale seminar, and the students know each other
well. "We’ve become more of a group than a class,"
says senior Aneta Binienda. But all the undergraduates with whom
I spoke shy away from the ideas of networks and leadership. Binienda
does not consider herself "a future world leader,"
although she does want to be in "some sort of position
of leadership eventually." Senior David Slifka says, "I’ve
never been a very good networker." He adds, "I’m sure
the professors would like to see us become world leaders, but
I think you need more than taking ‘Grand Strategy’ to become
Although they have no influence over what is taught in the
class, the foundations supporting ISS strongly approve of the
Grand Strategy Project. The two largest donors are the John M.
Olin and Smith Richardson Foundations, and even though most of
the funds for the Grand Strategy Project come from Smith Richardson,
both foundations’ philosophies of leadership echo that of the
Project. In "Buying A Movement: Right-Wing Foundations in
American Politics," a report by the liberal People for
the American Way organization, James Piereson, Executive Director
of the Olin Foundation, is quoted as saying, "We invested
at the top of society, in Washington think tanks and the best
universities, and the idea is [that] this would have a much larger
impact because they were influential places."
The report suggests that this impact reflects the bias of the
donors: "One Chronicle of Higher Education writer notes
that critics charge Olin with spending ‘millions of dollars to
support activities that directly challenge the spread of diversity
and multiculturalism on campus. Far from promoting objective,
dispassionate scholarship, as it claims, the Olin Foundation
has an explicit political agenda, with ties to officials in the
Republican party.’" The report suggests that the Olin Foundation
is interested not merely in training leaders, but in training
leaders to act according to Olin’s conservative philosophy.
To a casual observer of ISS, the link to the broader conservative
movement, while well documented financially, seems tenuous ideologically.
After all, international security is an issue that transcends
political distinctions. Even though the instructors of "Studies
in Grand Strategy" are relatively conservative, none of
the students with whom I spoke thought that a particular ideology
drove the class.
So why then have two conservative foundations taken up ISS as
their cause? One answer lies in the nature of the study of history.
"Every generation redefines what sort of history it is in,"
explains Kennedy. "It’s not surprising that the generation
that was born between the wars wanted to understand war, because
they just went through two of the biggest wars in history. [Today],
some people think diplomatic history is the study of power, and
since power is bad and made of old white males, they replace
military history with something like environmental history."
But does the study of power in the form of grand strategy necessarily
lead to conservative conclusions? The answer may lie in how one
defines grand strategy. Some students in the class, such as Ranjan
Goswani, doubt if grand strategy even exists. Hill is contented
with a means-to-an-end definition. But Theodore Bromund, Associate
Director of ISS, has a more specific concept of grand strategy.
"In the business context," he says, "grand strategy
is profit maximization by obeying legal and ethical norms. In
the government context, it is wealth distributed in a certain
way." While he doesn’t define these ethical norms, Bromund
suggests that ethics are a necessary element of grand strategy.
A poster of Winston Churchill behind his desk reflects this ideal:
Churchill is drawn with his finger raised, saying "Deserve
Victory." Bromund says that he likes the morality implied.
One student in the class, Ram Fish of the School of Management,
says, "Tactics is about how to win battles. Strategy is
about how to win the war. And grand strategy is about what wars
But grand strategy, in its essence, is not about ends. Grand
strategy is the study of means, a strategy of how to achieve
one’s desired ends. Grand strategy seeks to teach the powerful
how to get what they want, whatever that may be. Many of the
students in the grand strategy seminar simply hope to learn from
an interesting class, and are humble about the idea of leadership.
But despite their feelings, one thing is clear: Taught by some
of the world’s most influential professors, treated to dinners
with corporate CEOs, observed by the CIA, and networked with
one another, the handpicked students of the Grand Strategy Project
are not only supposed to learn about the world’s leaders, but
to become them.
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