GOVT 745
International Security

An introduction to the field of international security

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Course Overview

This course has three related purposes. First, it introduces students to the major theoretical and analytical frameworks used by scholars and analysts of national and international security. Second, it provides a review of the modern debates on a range of timely issues in international security. Finally, it aims to help students improve their analytical tradecraft.

After this course you will be able to


The substantive debates in the field of international security


The leading theories and frameworks used to investigate international security affairs


The leading teories and policies relating to the use of military force


Better analytical frameworks of your own for studying international security

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Course Information

  1. Course Materials

All of the books are at the GMU bookstore as well as online stores. All other materials will be available on Blackboard.


Required Books

  • Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate, 3rd ed. ISBN 978-0393920109
  • Micah Zenko, Between Threats and War, ISBN:978-0804771917
  • Robert Art and Kelly Greenhill, eds., The Use of Force, 8th ISBN 978-1442233058
  • Joshua Goldstein, Winning the War on War. ISBN 978-0452298590


  1. Course Format and Process

This is a seminar, not a lecture. The course will go as well as the conversation. Come with an open mind and be prepared to learn through close interrogation of the material and the co-construction of knowledge through debate with each other.


  1. Course Requirements

Note: I do not expect students to have an extensive background in security studies but I do expect everyone to read the material before class and to share their thoughts and insights with the class. I especially encourage those students who have professional experience with these subjects to share their knowledge.


  1. Enthusiastic seminar participation (20%)

Seminars depend on people showing up ready to rumble. Do the readings, caffeinate as necessary, and do your part to keep things interesting.


  1. Team briefings and memos (45% = 3 x 15%).

All students will be assigned to a three-person team. Teams are free to determine the workload in any manner they choose. All will receive a single team grade for each


  1. Weekly briefing. Each team will prepare a five-page review memo of the week’s readings and lead discussion once during the term. Weekly assignments will be handed out the first day of class. Instructions available via the course Blackboard site.


  1. Coercion and deterrence briefing (20%) Each team will prepare a memo analyzing a case of attempted deterrence or coercion and present their findings to the class on Feb 26. Instructions available via the course Blackboard site.
  2. Emerging threat briefing. Each team will prepare a memo providing a forecast of an emerging threat and present their findings to the class on Apr 1. Instructions available via the course Blackboard site.


  1. Policy Memo (35%)

Students will write a fairly meaty policy memo for the UN Security Council on a current issue of international security of their choice. Due Sunday May 10 by midnight, uploaded to Blackboard. Instructions available via the course Blackboard site.

Course Schedule


Jan 29

Causes of War


Analyst’s Toolkit: Dimensions, categories, and matrices


Why do states go to war?


–       Levy, “The Causes of War and the Conditions for Peace,”

–       Van Evera, “Offense, Defense, and the Causes of War,”

–       Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War,”



Feb 5

Disorder and Anarchy

Analyst’s Toolkit: Identifying and creating variables



What is the liberal international order? What does it mean for U.S. grand strategy?


–       Porter, “A World Imagined,”

–       Selections TBA from What Was the Liberal Order?

–       Posen, “Step Back,”

–       Brooks and Wohlforth, “Lean Forward,”’




Readings & Questions


Feb 12

Strategy & Security


Analyst’s Toolkit: Writing memos

What is the role of strategy in international security?


–       Art and Greenhill, The Use of Force, Chs. 1-4, 7-11, and 18

–       Thrall, “Five Steps to Writing Killer Memos,”


Threats and Challenges to International Security


Feb 19

 Threat Assessment


Assessing how states and leaders perceive threats


Analyst’s Toolkit: Operationalizing variables

How do states and leaders perceive threats?


–       Snyder, “Imperial Temptations,”

–       Booth and Wheeler, “Rethinking the Security Dilemma,”

–       Stein, “Threat Perception in International Relations,”


Feb 26

Case Studies in Deterrence and Coercion


Memo #1 Due Today:


When do deterrence and coercion work and fail?


Teams will present their case study analyses today


Mar 4

Nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation


Analyst’s Toolkit: Creating analytical frameworks


How do nuclear weapons influence international affairs and conflict?


–       Sagan and Waltz, Nuclear Weapons, An Enduring Debate (all)

Mar 11

Spring break

No readings or lectures this week




Readings & Questions


Mar 18

Civil wars, failed states, and humanitarian disasters


Analyst’s Toolkit: Forecasting the future

Do failed states represent a threat or a duty for the international community? Who decides and on what basis?


–       Evans and Sahnoun, “The Responsibility to Protect”

–       Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”

–       David, “Why the Third World Still Matters,”

–       Van Evera, “Why Europe Matters, Why the Third Doesn’t,”

–       Pape, “When Duty Calls,”



Mar 25

Renewed Great Power Competition

Analyst’s Toolkit:

Writing op-eds


Is the world witnessing renewed great power competition? What are the implications?


–       Brands, “The Chinese Century?”

–       Shifrinson, “Should the United States Fear China’s Rise?”

–       Daalder, “Responding to Russia’s Resurgence,”

–       Graham, “Let Russia Be Russia,”



Apr 1

Emerging Threats


Memo #2 Due Today

What should we fear next? How likely are emerging threats to actually emerge?


Students will present their emerging threat analyses today.


Preventing War, Promoting Stability??


Apr 8

International Institutions


Analyst’s Toolkit:

Generating policy recommendations

Does the United Nations help promote a more peaceful world?


–       Goldstein, Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (all)




Readings & Questions


Apr 15

U.S. Military Intervention


Analyst’s Toolkit:


Do American (or other) military interventions enhance regional stability and international security?


–       Zenko, Between Threats and War (all)



Apr 22

Democracy Promotion and Nation Building


Analyst’s Toolkit:


Does democracy promotion work? Does nation-building work?


–       Downes and Monten, “Forced to be Free?”

–       Dobbins, et al., America’s Role in Nation Building (Read Executive Summary, Introduction, Lessons Learned; one case chapter to be assigned in class)

–       Afghanistan Papers, selections TBD


Parting Thoughts about the Politics of National Security in the United States


Apr 29

Domestic Politics and International Security


Analyst’s Toolkit:

How to interpret public opinion polls

How do people think about war and foreign policy?


–       Kertzer et al, “Moral Support: How Moral Values Shape Foreign Policy Attitudes,”

–       Jentleson, “Still Pretty Prudent: Post-Cold War American public opinion on the use of military force,”

–       Thrall et al, “Clash of Generations?”


May 6 Final policy memo due via Blackboard by midnight

Questions about the course?