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Thomas G. Mahnken, Ph.D.

Thomas G. Mahnken, Ph.D.

Professor of Strategy
Jerome Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security
Strategy & Policy
(401) 841-7760
(401) 841-6418


Thomas G. Mahnken is currently Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and a Visiting Scholar at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at The Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Dr. Mahnken served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning from 2006-2009. In that capacity, he was responsible for the Department’s major strategic planning functions, including the preparation of guidance for war plans and the development of the defense planning scenarios.   He was the primary author of the 2008 National Defense Strategy and contributing author of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. He spearheaded the Secretary of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, which will provide $100 million in grants to universities to conduct basic research in the social sciences, and led an interagency effort to establish, for the first time in five decades, a National Security Council-run interagency policy planning body

Prior to joining the Defense Department, he served as a Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. From 2004 to 2006 he was a Visiting Fellow at the Merrill Center at SAIS. During the 2003-04 academic year he served as the Acting Director of the SAIS Strategic Studies Program. His areas of primary expertise are strategy, intelligence, and special operations forces.

Dr. Mahnken has held positions in both the government and the private sector. He served as Staff Director of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel’s Force Structure and Personnel Sub-Panel. He served on the staff of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He served in the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment, where he conducted research into the emerging revolution in military affairs. He also served as a member of the Gulf War Air Power Survey, commissioned by the Secretary of the Air Force to examine the performance of U.S. forces during the war with Iraq. Prior to that, he served as an analyst in the Non-Proliferation Directorate of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), where he was responsible for enforcing U.S. missile proliferation policy. 

Dr. Mahnken is the author of Technology and the American Way of War Since 1945 (Columbia University Press, 2008), Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941 (Cornell University Press, 2002), and (with James R. FitzSimonds) of The Limits of Transformation: Officer Attitudes toward the Revolution in Military Affairs (Naval War College Press, 2003). He is editor (with Thomas A. Keaney) of U.S. Military Operations In Iraq: Planning, Combat, and Occupation (Routledge, 2007), (with Joseph A. Maiolo) of Strategic Studies: A Reader (Routledge, 2007), (with Emily O. Goldman) of The Information Revolution in Military Affairs in Asia (Palgrave McMillan, 2004) and (with Richard K. Betts) of Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel (Frank Cass, 2003). He is the editor of The Journal of Strategic Studies.  He has appeared on Fox News, CNN, BBC, and CBC, among other networks.

An Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he served as the Intelligence Plans Officer for Naval Special Warfare Task Group CENTRAL in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. He served with British forces in Kosovo during Operation JOINT GUARDIAN/Operation AGRICOLA and in Bahrain during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. He is currently Deputy Chief Staff Officer of Navy Intelligence Reserve Region Washington, D.C.

Dr. Mahnken earned his master’s degree and doctorate in international affairs from SAIS and was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.  He was a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California with bachelor’s degrees in history and international relations (with highest honors) and a certificate in defense and strategic studies.
In 2009, Dr. Mahnken received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service.

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