The Security Studies Program at MIT is a graduate-level research and educational program based at the Center for International Studies at MIT. The senior research and teaching staff includes social scientists and policy analysts. A special feature of the program is the integration of technical and political analysis of national and international security problems. Security Studies is a recognized field of study in the MIT Political Science Department. Courses emphasize grand strategy, the causes and prevention of conflict, military operations and technology, and defense policy.
The program began as the Defense and Arms Control Studies Program in 1976, with Professor Jack Ruina as its first Director. Earlier, he had been director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and president of the Institute for Defense Analyses. Professor Ruina taught in MIT’s Electrical Engineering Department, and, during the late 1960s, was vice president of the MIT defense laboratories.
DACS traced its origins to three initiatives. One was the teaching on security topics that Professor William Kaufmann began in the 1960s in the MIT Political Science Department. Another was the institution-wide seminars on nuclear weapons and arms control policy that Prof. Ruina and Professor George Rathjens created in the mid -1970s. The third was the decision by the then director of the Ford Foundation, McGeorge Bundy, to endow a series of research centers in academia to ensure that what we now call security studies would have an independent institutional home.
Many first-generation faculty members in security studies at CIS had worked at the State Department, the White House and the Department of Defense, and brought with them hands-on experience in national security and intelligence matters. Most of the faculty hired in the ensuing years were academics whose research dealt with both Cold War and post-Soviet concerns. A third generation expanded the purview of security studies still further, to include ethnic politics and international relations theory.
Harvey Sapolsky became director in 1989, shifting over from the Political Science Department where he taught public policy and organization theory subjects. The end of the Cold War lead to a continued widening of the Program’s interests. The name of the Program changed in 1996 to the MIT Security Studies Program.
The Program also began hosting in the 1990s U.S. military officers earning war college credit as visiting fellows. Each academic year SSP welcomes one member of each of the four services to participate in classes, and offer their unique expertise to our students. Their input is invaluable in seminars and classrooms alike. The Fellows also are instrumental in planning a yearly field trip to visit military installations for the SSP students.
Prof. Barry Posen, an international relations specialist, assumed Directorship of SSP in 2006. Under Prof. Posen’s leadership the program has maintained a steady course. It now welcomes two or three Stanton Nuclear Fellows each year, with funding provided by the Stanton Foundation. These scholars add immensely to the discussion of nuclear issues that have once again become an important part of the program.
The program has also begun outreach to those behind the decision makers in Washington, DC. With the support of the Frankel Foundation, every other year the program plays host to Hill staffers, who visit MIT for two and a half days to hear lectures from our faculty and alums on areas concerning national and international security.
Today, SSP is particularly strong in four related areas: understanding the vast geo-political shifts now underway in Asia; controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; designing strategies to deal with fragile states and the volatile politics they often generate; and assessing how U.S. national security policy can best address all these challenges. The program's current director Taylor Fravel, studying international relations with a focus on international security, China, and East Asia, took over in 2019. Since its inception the program has graduated nearly 80 MS students and 123 PhDs. They have pursued careers in think tanks, government, academia and the private sector.