Colin Kahl

Colin Kahl
Associate Professor

Associate Professor

Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

From October 2014 to January 2017, he was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President. In that position, he served as a senior advisor to President Obama and Vice President Biden on all matters related to U.S. foreign policy and national security affairs, and represented the Office of the Vice President as a standing member of the National Security Council Deputies’ Committee. From February 2009 to December 2011, Prof. Kahl was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East at the Pentagon. In this capacity, he served as the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and six other countries in the Levant and Persian Gulf region. In June 2011, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Secretary Robert Gates. In 2007-2009 and 2012-2014, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a nonpartisan Washington, DC-based think tank.

Current research projects include a book analyzing American grand strategy in the Middle East in the post-9/11 era. A second research project focuses on the challenges to nuclear strategic stability posed by technological developments in non-nuclear domains.

He has published numerous articles on U.S. foreign and defense policy in the Middle East in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Policy, the National Interest, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Quarterly, as well as several reports for CNAS.

His previous research analyzed the causes and consequences of violent civil and ethnic conflict in developing countries, focusing particular attention on the demographic and natural resource dimensions of these conflicts. His book on the subject, States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World, was published by Princeton University Press in 2006, and related articles and chapters have appeared in International Security, the Journal of International Affairs, and various edited volumes.

From 2000 to 2007, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. In 2005-2006, Prof. Kahl was a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he worked on issues related to counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and responses to failed states. In 1997-1998, he was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

Prof. Kahl received his B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan (1993) and his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University (2000).

Areas of Expertise: International security, Middle East policy, non-proliferation, defense policy, sub-state and transnational violence, insurgency/counterinsurgency, environmental security.

  • Ph.D. (2000) Columbia University, Political Science
  • B.A. (1993) University of Michigan, Political Science



States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006)

Articles, Book Chapters, and Reports:

“Iran’s Highly Enriched Bargaining Chip,” Foreign Policy, July 17, 2014

“Risky Business: Why Iran’s Nuclear Demands Could Backfire,” Foreign Affairs, June 9, 2014

“How Worried Should Policymakers Be About Nuclear Blackmail?” Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog, July 9, 2014 

“No, Obama Didn’t Lose Iraq,” Politico Magazine, June 15, 2014, .

“Still Not Time to Attack Iran,” Foreign Affairs, January 7, 2014

“The Danger of New Iran Sanctions,” The National Interest, December 31, 2013

“Why New Iran Sanctions Won’t Work,” Politico, December 10, 2013

“A Good Deal in Geneva,” Foreign Policy (online), November 25, 2013

“Inflection Point: Requirements for an Enduring Diplomatic Solution to the Iranian Nuclear Challenge,” Policy Brief, Center for a New American Security, November 2013 

“Overcoming the Gulf in the Gulf” (with Jacob Stokes), Defense One, October 31, 2013

“Zero-Sum Enrichment” (with Alireza Nader), Foreign Policy (online), October 14, 2013

“The Great Unwinding: Iranian Nuclear Negotiations and Principles for Sanctions Relief” (with Elizabeth Rosenberg), Policy Brief, Center for a New American Security, October 2013

“Hard Choices for the New Middle East,” Defense One, July 15, 2013, .

“Before Piling on More Sanctions, Give Rouhani a Chance” (with Alizeza Nader), Al-Monitor, June 26, 2013

If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran (with Raj Pattani and Jacob Stokes), Center for a New American Security, May 2013

“U.S. Strategy After the Arab Uprisings: Toward Progressive Engagement in the Middle East” (with Marc Lynch), Washington Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Spring 2013)

“Revising U.S. Strategy in Light of the Arab Uprisings,” in Nicholas Burns and Jonathon Price, eds., The Arab Revolutions and American Policy (The Aspen Institute, 2013)

Atomic Kingdom: If Iran Builds the Bomb, Will Saudi Arabia Be Next? (with Matthew Irvine and Melissa G. Dalton), Center for a New American Security, February 2013

“One Step Too Far,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2012.

“Romney’s Empty Foreign Policy Agenda” (with Michèle A. Flournoy and Marc Lynch),, October 2, 2012

“Obama Has Been Great for Israel,” Foreign Policy (online), August 16, 2012 

“Red, Red Lines” (with Matthew Irvine and Melissa G. Dalton), Foreign Policy (online), June 7, 2012

Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel, and the Bomb (with Matthew Irvine and Melissa G. Dalton), Center for a New American Security, June 2012

“Not Time to Attack Iran,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2012.

“Before Attacking Iran, Israel Should Learn from Its 1981 Strike on Iraq,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012

“The Iran Containment Fallacy,” The Hill, February 22, 2012 

“Supremely Irrelevant: Iran Tried to Take Advantage of the Arab Spring. It Failed, Miserably,” Foreign Policy (online), January 25, 2012

“Breaking Dawn: Building a Long-Term Strategic Partnership with Iraq,” Foreign Policy (online), August 31, 2010 

“Bridge on the River Euphrates,” The National Interest, September/October 2008.

“How to Exit Iraq” (with John Nagl and Shawn Brimley), New York Times, September 5, 2008.

“Baghdad’s Misguided Crackdown on the Sons of Iraq” (with Shawn Brimley), Los Angeles Times, August 26, 2008.

“Cancel Iraq’s Blank Check” (with John Nagl and Shawn Brimley), Foreign Policy (online), August 2008

“Walk Before Running,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008

Shaping the Iraq Inheritance (with Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley), Center for a New American Security, June 2008

“Turning Point or Tactical Pause? Prospects for Stability and Political Accommodation in Iraq,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 15, No 1 (Spring 2008), pp. 83-91

“The Case for Conditional Engagement” (with Shawn Brimley), Center for a New American Security Policy Brief, March 2008

“COIN of the Realm,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 6 (November/December 2007)

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (with Shawn Brimley), Foreign Policy (online), September 2007

“Measuring Progress in Iraq,” Center for a New American Security Policy Brief, August 30, 2007.

“In the Crossfire or the Crosshairs? Norms, Civilian Casualties, and U.S. Conduct in Iraq,” International Security, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Summer 2007), pp. 7-46.

“Time for a National Debate on Plan B: If the Surge Fails, What Next?” Foreign Policy (online), February 2007 

“How We Fight,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 6 (November/December 2006), pp. 83-101.

“Demography, Environment, and Civil Strife,” in Lael Brainard and Derek Chollet, eds., “Too Poor for Peace? Global Poverty, Conflict and Security in the 21st Century  (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2007), pp. 60-72.

“Population, Development, and Revolution,” in Encyclopedia of Modern Revolutions (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006).

“The Nature of Warfare: Natural Resources and Civil War,” in Peter Dombrowski, ed., Guns and Butter: The Political Economy of International Security (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reinner, 2005).

“Review Essay on The Conflict Trap,” Woodrow Wilson Center, Population, Environmental Change, and Security Newsletter, Environmental Change and Security Project (Spring 2004), p. 6-9.

Contributor, State Failure Task Force Report: Phase III Findings (McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation, 2003 [2000]).

“The Political Ecology of Violence: Lessons for the Mediterranean,” in Hans Günter Brauch, et al., eds., Security and Environment in the Mediterranean: Conceptualizing Security and Environmental Conflicts (Berlin: Springer 2003), pp. 465-76.

“Demographic Change, Natural Resources, and Violence: The Current Debate,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Fall 2002), pp. 257-82.

“Constructing a Separate Peace: Constructivism, Collective Liberal Identity, and Democratic Peace,” Security Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Winter 1998/99-Spring 1999), pp. 94-144. (Also appears in Glenn Chafetz, Michael Spirtas, and Benjamin Frankel, eds., The Origins of National Interest, London: Frank Cass, 1999.)

“Population Growth, Environmental Degradation, and State-Sponsored Violence: The Case of Kenya, 1991-93,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 80-119.