Oct 1st 2013

HKS211.1x: Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy and the Press: An Introduction (edX)

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In this course, students analyze some of the hardest national security challenges the United States will face in the decade ahead.

This course will be offered in an experimental format. You may apply to be among 500 participants in the Harvard Online Classroom or you may enroll in the course (no application required) as an auditor by clicking the blue "Register for HKS211.1x" button on this page. Those admitted to the Harvard Online Classroom will watch the videos, read approximately 75 pages a week, complete ALL assignments including three Strategic Options Memos by the deadlines set in the course, participate in sections led by Harvard Teaching Fellows, and contribute to moderated discussion forums with students online and in the Harvard campus classroom. At the conclusion of the course, those students who have satisfied all the requirements will receive a HarvardX certificate. You may view a copy of the syllabus here.

A link to the application will be available on this page from September 11 through 6:00 p.m., EST on September 20. Applicants will be required to submit a written practice assignment.

Those who choose to audit the course can watch the videos, read the assigned course materials at their own pace, think about the assignments, and engage with their classmates in the discussion forum. Auditors are not eligible for a certificate at the conclusion of the course.


Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the slaughter in Syria’s civil war, WikiLeaks and the publication of classified information — these are among the challenges American national security students in 211x will wrestle with this year. This introduction is based on one of the most popular, and dynamic, courses taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In each case, students are cast as a trusted NSC staffer to President Obama, or to another principal in the policy-making process. Each case requires not only reexamining current U.S. strategy, but also identifying alternative strategies for protecting and advancing national interests.

In each of these cases, which include a special two-week segment on the disclosures surrounding NSA surveillance and the trove of WikiLeaks documents of previously-secret American policymaking, participants have to operate in the rough-and-tumble of a government whose deliberations are discombobulated by leaks, reports about internal differences among policymakers, and press analyses.

Weekly assignments require strategic thinking: analyzing dynamics of challenges and developing strategies for addressing them. Students learn to summarize their analyses in a succinct “Strategic Options Memo” that combines careful analysis and strategic imagination, on the one hand, with the necessity to communicate to major constituencies in order to sustain public support, on the other. They also examine how policymaking is affected by constant, public analysis of government deliberations.

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