Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy and the Press: An Introduction

In this course, students analyze some of the hardest national security challenges the United States will face in the decade ahead.

About The Course

*Note - This is an Archived course*

This is a past/archived course. At this time, you can only explore this course in a self-paced fashion. Certain features of this course may not be active, but many people enjoy watching the videos and working with the materials. Make sure to check for reruns of this course.

This course was offered in an experimental format. The application period to be among 500 participants in the Harvard Online Classroom has closed. The class concluded on November 15, 2013.

Those admitted to the Harvard Online Classroom watch the videos, read approximately 75 pages a week, complete assignments including three Strategic Options Memos by the deadlines set in the syllabus, participate in sections led by Harvard Teaching Fellows, and contribute to moderated discussion forums with students online and in the Harvard campus classroom. At the conclusion of the course, those students who have satisfied all the requirements receive a certificate.

Those who choose to audit the course can watch the videos, read the assigned course materials at their own pace, think about the assignments, and engage with their classmates in the discussion forum. Auditors are not eligible to earn certificates in the course.

You may view a copy of the syllabus here.


Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the slaughter in Syria’s civil war, WikiLeaks and the publication of classified information — these are among the challenges American national security students in 211x will wrestle with this year.  This introduction is based on one of the most popular, and dynamic, courses taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In each case, students are cast as a trusted NSC staffer to President Obama, or to another principal in the policy-making process.  Each case requires not only reexamining current U.S. strategy, but also identifying alternative strategies for protecting and advancing national interests.

In each of these cases, which include a special two-week segment on the disclosures surrounding NSA surveillance and the trove of WikiLeaks documents of previously-secret American policymaking, participants have to operate in the rough-and-tumble of a government whose deliberations are discombobulated by leaks, reports about internal differences among policymakers, and press analyses.

Weekly assignments require strategic thinking: analyzing dynamics of challenges and developing strategies for addressing them.  Students learn to summarize their analyses in a succinct “Strategic Options Memo” that combines careful analysis and strategic imagination, on the one hand, with the necessity to communicate to major constituencies in order to sustain public support, on the other. They also examine how policymaking is affected by constant, public analysis of government deliberations.

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