NEWPORT, R.I. - The Naval War College is focused on building strategic leaders, and an important part of leadership is the ability to operate in the interagency environment. One of NWC’s newest faculty members, David Jonas, represents the college’s ongoing aim to build relationships among the armed forces and civilian agencies.
Representing the 10-year-old National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, Jonas specializes in nuclear non-proliferation and law and policy. He joined NNSA in 2001 as the deputy general counsel and became the general counsel and a member of the Senior Executive Service in 2005.
NNSA’s responsibilities include designing, producing, and maintaining safe and reliable nuclear weapons for the U.S. military, providing safe and militarily effective nuclear propulsion for U.S. Navy ships and submarines, and promoting international nuclear safety and non-proliferation. The agency has a budget of about $12 billion and staffs 20 active duty officers to facilitate relations with the military.
His appointment is temporary, lasting about four months. Jonas explained the NNSA is in a discovery period to explore what mutual benefits a NNSA – Naval War College relationship could yield. Other government agencies have full-time representatives at NWC, like the departments of State and Homeland Security and CIA, among others. The NNSA is considering one of their own.
“We need to figure out the appropriate extent of support,” he said. “The military uses intelligence every day, but they don’t use nuclear weapons every day. Nuclear non-proliferation, however, is of increasing importance and is at the top of the President’s agenda.”
While in Newport, Jonas will be serving as a distinguished research fellow.
“Clearly, [the NNSA] are very much a part of the national security community, and we have a national security focus,” Jonas said. “When we think about what we could do here, one thing we’re looking at is the role of science in national security, and how it can influence national security policy.”
While in its infancy compared to the Navy and other armed forces, NNSA has quickly become a critical piece of the American national security arena. Particularly since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the proliferation of nuclear technology has become a mounting concern for the country’s top leaders.
When he began working as a planner on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in the later ‘90s, nuclear non-proliferation was a fairly sleepy topic. But when India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, the topic received renewed interest. The 9/11 attacks imposed focus even more.
“Nuclear non-proliferation has been center stage since then,” he said, explaining that the U.S. is concerned about rogue states and terrorist groups obtaining nuclear weapons. “What we’re really worried about today is nuclear terrorism.”
Jonas started working for NNSA following four years as a nuclear non-proliferation planner at the Pentagon during a 21-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps, primarily as a lawyer. The diverse assignments of a military career sent him from criminal law to nuclear non-proliferation. He served in numerous legal and some command billets while he was a Marine.
He served as a prosecutor and defense counsel, supervisory defense counsel, legislative counsel, supervisory appellate defense counsel, and served as the Staff Judge Advocate of the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, an afloat command. He also commanded Headquarters Company, 5th Marine Regiment and Support Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
Jonas’ extensive legal experience even sent him to Washington—Jonas was the first judge advocate in the history of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, revolving around an NCIS interrogation of a defendant who made a very ambiguous request for a lawyer, was argued before the High Court in 1994.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Jonas said of the experience. “Clearly, it was the pinnacle of my career, and it’s the pinnacle of any lawyer’s career to argue a case before the Supreme Court.”
According to court procedure, lawyers must apply to have their case heard by the nation’s highest court, and the Supreme Court accepts about 1.5 percent of the roughly 6,000 applications they get every year. “The victory in my mind was just getting it there,” Jonas said. The court subsequently ruled that a request for counsel must be specific and clear.
He earned his undergraduate degree in political science at Denison University in Ohio, and went to law school at Wake Forrest University, where he earned his Juris Doctor in 1981.
He also earned two master’s of law degrees: one from the Army’s Judge Advocate General School, and the other from Georgetown University Law Center (GULC), with distinction. Jonas now teaches as an adjunct faculty member at GULC and also at George Washington University Law School.
By Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs