Keir Lieber Brings Expertise in International Security and Strategy to Helm at Center for Security Studies

December 12, 2017
by Aislinn McNiece

Beginning in January of 2018, Dr. Keir Lieber will assume leadership as the newest Director of the Center for Security Studies and Security Studies Program (SSP). Lieber has spent his academic career pursuing research in international security theory and strategy, and at CSS, Lieber plans to bring new opportunities in research and scholarship to the program and to the University.

Lieber contributes his expertise in studying the causes of war, nuclear weapons, deterrence and strategy to the position, as Bruce Hoffman, who has led the Center for the past seven years, steps down. Lieber came to SFS in 2009 after teaching at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s and Ph.D from the University of Chicago. Lieber’s scholarship includes War and Engineers: The Primacy of Politics over Technology, published by Cornell University Press. He was also named to the inaugural class of the prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program in 2015 to study the impact of technology on nuclear deterrence.

In addition to his long and distinguished academic history in the field, Lieber’s relationship with political science goes back to the dinner table in his childhood home.

“Both of my parents have doctoral degrees in political science, so the path into academia was clear to me early on in my life. Our family dinner table conversations – or, rather, arguments – also prepared me well! But the main reason I ended up studying international security surely stems from the fact that I was in college during a particularly turbulent time in world politics. For example, I was taking courses in Chinese history and political thought when the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred; and courses in international relations and political theory when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. This triggered my curiosity, and eventually led me to the University of Chicago, where I was fortunate to study under one of the greatest international security theorists of all time, John Mearsheimer,” says Lieber.

Security Studies is Largest SFS Graduate Program and Among the World’s Best

Lieber’s passion for researching and teaching international security eventually brought him to Georgetown, where he holds a joint appointment in the SFS in the Center for Security Studies and the Department of Government. The Center, established in 2000 by former Director Michael E. Brown as the expansion of the National Security Studies Program, began in 1977 as a “defense MBA.” The first students met in the Pentagon until 1984, when the Master of Arts in Security Studies degree was created and the Security Studies Program, the academic pillar of the CSS, moved to the main campus on the Hilltop.

Now, the Security Studies Program is the largest graduate program in the SFS and considered one of, if not the best, graduate programs in security studies in the world.

The Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program are juggernauts in SFS and Georgetown. We are the largest SFS graduate program, and we are close to the biggest one on our main campus. Our core faculty are well integrated into other parts of the university – for example, with joint appointments in Government and administrative roles in BSFS and the College. In terms of our role in the wider academic and policy world, SSP is routinely ranked as the world’s best graduate program in security studies.

“Several of our faculty members are considered the preeminent experts in their fields, we publish our work frequently in the best academic journals and book presses, and many of our students go on to hugely successful careers in government, particularly in the national security and intelligence fields. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into prominent civilian and military officials, both in the U.S. and abroad, who are SSP alums!”

With such a deep reach into the networks of international security, the Center for Security Studies plays an important role in educating generations of leaders. Lieber’s goals for the Center include maintaining this relevance in academics, politics, and the broader national discussion on issues of security.

“CSS and SSP are more relevant now than ever, for two main reasons. First, although some parts of academia have fallen under the sway of substantive over-specialization and methodology – resulting in a worrisome ‘cult of irrelevance’ – the scholars at CSS/SSP understand that we have a social obligation to conduct research on relevant national and international security policy problems and to disseminate our findings in clear and simple terms to a wide audience of colleagues, students, analysts, policymakers, and everyday citizens. Second, although we seem to have hit a nadir in terms of our politicians’ respect for science, knowledge, and objective social inquiry, we at CSS/SSP remain an institution committed to critical thinking and free and open debate. Now more than ever, the Hilltop is a sanctuary in this regard,” says Lieber.

For his part, Lieber’s own social inquiry and research have focused on the causes of war; nuclear weapons, deterrence, and strategy; American foreign policy; and international relations theory. In addition to the work he’s published on the subjects, Lieber has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses such as “Introduction to International Relations.”

“My classes are like my children: I could never pick a favorite, even if I can identify favorite characteristics. I love teaching Introduction to International Relations to SFS undergrads, not only because doing so is fun and interesting, but also because I then get to see lots of familiar faces across campus even after the semester is over. (Say hello; I see you!) I also love teaching M.A. students in the Security Studies Program, since they are wickedly smart and many of them are currently working or heading into careers in which the theories we discuss in class can actually help guide analysis and shape policy-making,” says Lieber.

Lieber’s Plans for CSS/SSP

As he takes the helm of the Center for Security Studies, Lieber hopes to maintain this academic rigor of the program. He plans to bring new opportunities to the Center in the form of new programs for enhanced research and increased collaboration with practitioners in the field.

“My primary goal is to keep CSS/SSP at the top of world’s rankings of graduate security studies programs. I have big shoes to fill – not only those of Bruce Hoffman, but also those of our predecessors – but I believe I am up to the task. I also would like to seize new opportunities to bolster research activities at the Center, involving faculty, master’s students, and SFS undergraduate students. I plan to hire new faculty, create a bigger postdoctoral fellows program, encourage undergraduate research on security studies topics, and pursue new forms of collaboration with like-minded partners in government, business, and elsewhere,” says Lieber.

This focus on research, apart from being one of Lieber’s objectives for the Center, is also what brought him to Georgetown in the first place. As a native of the District of Columbia and self-proclaimed “proud product of D.C. public schools,” Lieber was also joining his father, Professor Robert Lieber, when he came to Georgetown.

“I wanted to join a faculty and university that valued rigorous scholarship on real-world international policy problems. I had that with my previous employer, the University of Notre Dame, but Georgetown’s reputation and location in Washington, D.C., made for an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Plus, I was ready to come home. I grew up here, and all of my and my wife’s extended family members live in or near D.C.”

And Lieber is a fan of Georgetown for more than its academics alone. He’s been a Hoya basketball fan since he was young, so Patrick Ewing’s return to campus has been exciting for Lieber. Ewing led the Hoya basketball team to three NCAA championship games in 1981-1985 prior to his NBA career and eventual induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and he began coaching the Hoyas in the summer of 2017.

“I attended [Ewing’s] first home game when he was a freshman at McDonough Arena back in 1981. I asked him for an autograph that night as he was coming off the gym floor, but the big guy – Coach Thompson – wouldn’t let freshmen sign autographs or talk to the media back then. Still, I’ve worn ‘33’ on every sports jersey I’ve ever owned, and I am going to carry pen and paper around campus until the day Coach Ewing hooks me up,” says Lieber.

While he’s still  waiting for that autograph, Lieber is looking forward to meeting all of the people who make up the Center for Security Studies and SSP.

“The most exciting part of taking over as Director of SSP is the prospect of getting to know better the interests, expertise, and personalities of over 400 students, close to 100 faculty, and almost a dozen staff. We tend to forget that all organizations, institutions, and programs are made up of living, breathing people. Yet, it is the character of these individuals and the synergies created by their collaboration that are most important and interesting – and which explain why CSS/SSP is an extraordinary place to study and work.”