Q&A with Prof. Paul Miller, co-Chair of Global Politics & Security

by Jessica Kosmider, MSFS '19

Dr. Paul Miller is the newest member of the MSFS Leadership Team, joining Georgetown as MSFS Co-Chair for Global Politics and Security in the summer of 2018. Professor Miller is a distinguished academic, most recently serving as the Associate Director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, and previously with the RAND Corporation, and the National Defense University. Dr. Miller also brings practioner experience to his position at MSFS with previous work at the White House National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Army.  A double Hoya, Professor Miller earned a Ph.D. in International Relations and a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University. He also earned a Master in Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. 

The Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program sat down with Dr. Miller to discuss his career trajectory, different opportunities working in international affairs, and pressing security policy challenges.

Welcome back to Georgetown! How does it feel to return to the Hilltop? What is your favorite memory from your previous time at Georgetown?

I first stepped onto the Georgetown University campus when I was 17 years old, arriving before freshman orientation. I had never visited campus previously. Coming from a different sort of background on the West Coast, I was in awe of Dahlgren Quadrangle. It has such a strong sense of place-a unique place designed for community, beauty, and contemplation, in the shadow of Healy Hall's Gothic Revival style. That moment has always stuck with me.

Georgetown has been such a formative part of my life. As an undergraduate I sang in choir, debated in the Philodemic, participated in Model UN and the International Relations Club, and helped found the Georgetown Independent. Later, I was an intelligence analyst at the CIA by day and a PhD student here at night, jetting across town after work to attend class. During one season I was driving to work at 3am to prep the President's Daily Briefing, working until noon, heading home in the afternoon to catch up on assignments, and then attending class until late at night.

Are there any specific activities that you hope to bring to the MSFS program? For example, we know you've organized student trips to France - is this something you'd like to continue at Georgetown (and why)?

In my previous capacity with the Clements Center for National Security at UT-Austin I had the privilege of being a faculty guide on an undergraduate study abroad program, part of which included an excursion to the beaches, cemeteries, and museums of Normandy, France. That was the single most enjoyable and educational thing I got to do at UT. It helped teach students not just the facts of the Overlord Operation and the Normandy Campaign, but a new way of imagining and experiencing history. I would love to bring something like this to Georgetown, though we might start with history closer to home unless and until we find resources to fund more ambitious programs.

Do you have any particular issues or regions of interest that you hope to continue working on at Georgetown?

I spent ten years working on the war in Afghanistan. Much of my research and writing focuses on Afghanistan, Pakistan, the broader South Asian region, and the field of reconstruction and stabilization operations. I also hope to continue pursuing some questions that arose in the course of my book on grand strategy. Thirdly, I'd like to explore the roots and implications of American nationalism and how it shapes different conceptions of America's role in the world.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the classes that you plan to teach at Georgetown?

I'll be teaching a course on "International Security" this fall. In the spring, I'll teach two sections of the newly-redesigned core course for the GPS concentration, tentatively titled "Navigating the Global Landscape." In future years I hope to develop electives on grand strategy, the intelligence community, stability operations, South Asian security affairs, and national security decision making.

Georgetown MSFS prioritizes diversity of thought, in its classrooms, and in its students body. What do you think is the best strategy to promote an environment where MSFS students with differing opinions can feel welcome to express their ideas?

The classroom is the one place where quite literally every single perspective, opinion, and viewpoint should be welcome and treated with dignity-and also where every perspective, opinion, and viewpoint is challenged, examined, and tested. In my classroom I strive to ensure that every student feels safe, but also that every student will be asked to explain and defend his or her judgments. Often I do this by presenting students with provocative questions and taking the opposite side to whatever view they express. I find this sort of staged debate to be tremendously effective in stimulating discussion, eliciting a wide range of views, modeling how to disagree respectfully, and helping students to hold their views critically.

As you know, the GPS concentration is by-far the largest. What do you plan to do to get to know everyone and make sure everyone feels welcome coming to you?

Professor Bibbins Sedaca and I are committed to providing the academic counseling and vocational mentorship that GPS students need. We are in discussion now about how best to approach the privilege and challenge of getting to know all of our students. I expect I'll set aside much of the week for office hours and look forward to hosting some social events as well, though look for more details once I get settled.

Going back a little further, what made you decide to join a political administration and become a foreign policy practitioner?

I concentrated in political theory as an undergraduate and got my masters in public policy. I did not focus on international relations until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. At the time I was in the Army Reserve, training to be a military intelligence analyst. I had joined about a year and a half previously not from any intent to make a profession of national security affairs but simply from a desire to serve my country and expand my horizons. After 9/11, I was deployed to Afghanistan, which was effectively my first job out of college. Each step subsequently deepened my focus on international and national security affairs, though I retain an interest in political theory and hope its influence on my work helps give it some unique insights.  

What is an important lesson you learned as a practitioner that you think is important for today's MSFS student?

Clausewitz talked about the "fog" and "friction" of war. I'd apply that insight more broadly, not just to war but to policymaking generally. There is a fog and friction inherent to bureaucracy-which, by the way, is the preeminent tool by which we implement anything we want to accomplish in the world. Implementation is where strategy goes to die. Sustaining strategic coherence and intellectual integrity while translating plans into specific operational tasks assigned to particular offices is maddeningly hard. Too often the bureaucracy takes over, co-opts plans, and redefines them not in terms of policy goals or national strategy, but bureaucratic capabilities, outputs, and budget goals. Policy leadership often takes the form of battling bureaucratic inertia.

What do you think are the most pressing global challenges facing current and aspiring policymakers?

As I describe in my book, American Power and Liberal Order, I think of threats in the contemporary security environment in three buckets or categories. First, we have traditional state-centric threats, today most clearly from the nuclear autocracies of Russia, China, North Korea, and probably Iran. Second, we have threats from a whole menageries of non-state actors, including pirates, slavers, cartels, and more. Third, we have the threat from the transnational jihadist movements, which includes state, quasi-state, and non-state actors loosely united by a common ideology that is hostile to the international liberal order. This is an incredibly complex environment, made even more so by emerging challenges in the realms of cybersecurity, AI, environmental threats, and more.

You bring experience from the military, academia, and the policymaking arm of government. What do you wish foreign policy practitioners knew or could learn from the military to improve their work in academia or policymaking?

I wish they understood the "fog" and "friction" that I talked about just a bit ago. I also would love for scholars and practitioners to understand something more of the personal experiences of soldiers. Policy is made by human beings, and it is also implemented by human beings, often at great personal cost. Historians and political scientists usually focus on policymaking and rightly delve into the biographies of policy leaders. Only military historians have focused on the human face of policy implementation by the armed forces, and the gap between military history and mainstream history is a detriment to our overall understanding of the past.

We are all eager to get to know you and welcome you to MSFS. What do you like to do in your free time when you can get away from work?

My wife and I have been married 14 years and have three children, aged 9, 8, and 5. My free time is spent with them, helping with homework, reading to them, exploring the city, hiking and biking, taking advantage of DC's amazing museums, or hosting friends from church and school.