Catherine McArdle Kelleher (PhD ’67) was a groundbreaking scholar-practitioner in the international relations field. The founding president of Women in International Security, she was one of the first three women in the United States to earn PhDs in Security Studies.
“Catherine started her career finding doors that would open to new and diverse generations of women — and then spent a career ensuring that the doors would remain open,” reads a memorial from the Women in International Security (WIIS).
A graduate of MIT with a PhD in Political Science in 1967, she died on February 15, 2023. Her dissertation on German nuclear issues, “German nuclear dilemmas, 1955-1965,” was supervised by William W. Kaufmann.
As a widely respected international security practitioner, she served her country as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and Defense Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton. She was also a staffer on President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council.
Her academic career included stints as a professor or fellow at the University of Denver, University of Maryland, Brown University, the Naval War College, and the National War College. She founded the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), and served as President of the Aspen Institute in Berlin.
She was the author of over 70 books, monographs, and articles. Her book, The Politics of German Nuclear Weapons, is still considered a classic.
Women in International Security
Throughout it all, she was a tireless advocate for women in higher education. Dr. Kelleher was the founding president of WIIS in 1988, and a mentor to a generation of women pursuing roles in national security.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” wrote Dr. Nancy Gallagher, a friend and colleague of Dr. Kelleher who benefitted from a 1995 fellowship at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland where Dr. Kelleher was “founding mother.”
“One of Catherine’s great frustrations was how much harder it was for women than men to make an impact on security policy,” she wrote.
WIIS was founded “to pry open” doors for women to pursue professional roles in the international security world, she added.
“Many of the women who currently hold top security-related positions in government, academia, and non-governmental organizations gained self-confidence, strategic skills, and practical tips for handling sticky professional situations through their association with Catherine and other formidable women in the WIIS network,” Dr. Gallagher wrote.
Today, WIIS remains active, and has grown membership in over 50 countries across six continents.
Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland
Dr. Kelleher was the founding director at CISSM in 1987, where she aimed to create a place where government officials could seek out independent advice on the security topics of the day. She hoped the center could create policy impact through these channels. She also invited active duty military leaders to spend a year at the center as fellows, to learn more about the academic world.
Both the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation had respect for the center’s initiatives on policy impact.
“Advice from Catherine and other members of this group convinced the Carnegie Corporation and the MacArthur Foundation to provide start-up funding for a network of academic centers where professors, researchers, and students would do rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of critical security challenges,” a memorial from the University of Maryland notes.
Dr. Kelleher also saw CISSM as a hub for interdisciplinary collaboration. She felt the United States was in need of a research center that could approach security issues from multiple angles, and reward collaborative thinking.
Early collaborative projects at CISSM included research on defense spending with economists, work on civil-military relations with sociologists, and a critical evaluation of nuclear deterrence with Frank Kerr (University of Maryland Astronomy and Astrophysics) and George Quester (University of Maryland Government and Politics).
Decorated for her public service by both the American and German governments, Dr. Kelleher received the Medal for Distinguished Public Service of the Department of Defense, the Director’s Medal from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Cross of Honor in Gold from the Federal Armed Forces of Germany.
Catherine is survived by her children, Michael Kelleher (Dayna Kalleres) and Diane Kelleher (David Attis), and four grandchildren.
The University of Maryland maintains the Catherine M. Kelleher Fellowship Fund for International Security Studies, which supports an exceptional graduate student pursuing their master’s or doctoral degree at the college’s School of Public Policy.
WIIS is collecting testimonials on Dr. Kelleher’s impact at the bottom of this page.