Strategic Studies

Quantico Leadership Venture
International Staff Ride 2018
Fall Staff Ride 2018
Spring Staff Ride 2018
International Staff Ride 2016

Students participate in the Quantico Leadership Venture

In March 2018, students and faculty visited South Korea to study the Korean War

Students studied the Seven Days Battles in Richmond, VA

Students examined the Siege of Yorktown in 1781

Dr. Mara Karlin, Acting Director of Strategic Studies, in a briefing during the international staff ride to South Korea

Eliot Cohen, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies

In March of 2016, students and faculty traveled to Poland to study the 1939 German and Soviet invasions of the country.
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Program Activities
Events Calendar
Our Alumni
External Resources

The Strategic Studies Program explores the relationship between politics and the many kinds of military power—from the use of terror by small, non-state groups to the threatened use of nuclear weapons. Building on core concepts taught in the course Strategy and Policy, the program allows students to pursue interests in diverse aspects of security while developing a variety of analytic and practical skills.

The study of national security issues at Johns Hopkins SAIS dates back to the founding of the school in 1943, but gained its greatest impetus under the direction of Professor Robert Osgood, who established a formal program in the field in 1980. Since 1990, the program has been led by Professor Eliot A. Cohen, who founded the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. Currently, Professor Mara Karlin is Director of Strategic Studies as well as Executive Director of the Phillip Merrill Center.

For additional information, follow the links:

Strategic Studies students and faculty at the Blue House during the international staff ride in 2018
Professor Keaney explains the different types and uses of Civil War artillery during the Battle of Gettysburg
Professor McLaughlin chats with Madeleine Albright during the Defense Against the Dark Arts Speaker Series
Strategic Studies students on patrol during the Ethical Decision Making Field Exercise
Professor McLaughlin discussing his experiences in Washington through the Defense Against the Dark Arts Speaker Series
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Program Activities



The program’s Seminar in Crisis Simulation explores the literature and concepts surrounding simulated crisis enactments, leading to a voluntary school-wide exercise. The seminar seeks to develop scenarios and use them to uncover the dynamics of national decision-making and policy response. The one-semester-credit course meets across both semesters, and students design and manage the simulation in early March. Non-seminar students from all programs may participate in the spring crisis simulation exercise.


Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities such as film seminars, speaker series, Defense Against the Dark Arts, You Were There Series and field trips to military installations are an important supplement to the program.


Staff Rides

The Strategic Studies program has planned and executed a large number of trips and staff rides since 2000. Our many excursions allow on-site views of military operations, historical events, and museums that offer perspectives a classroom may not deliver.

The staff ride tradition stretches back to the 19th century Prussian General Staff, and concentrates on more than just operational history; rather a staff ride will focus on important issues of leadership and decision-making that have applications well beyond the field of strategic studies. Students, faculty, and distinguished guests examine battles, campaigns, and occasionally entire wars in order to actively engage in a dialogue with history.

Click here for more information on staff rides and to see what campaigns we have studied in the past, and watch this video of Dr. Cohen discussing what a Staff Ride is all about:


Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies

The Phillip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies conducts workshops and seminars for scholars, teachers and practitioners in the security studies field.



STRATEGIC STUDIES | MA Requirements (Entering Class 2018-2019)

Learning Goals and Objectives
MA students must complete 64 credits and all degree requirements in order to graduate.

Students who are approved for a Dual Degree program or with Advanced Standing only need to complete 48 credits or 56 credits as determined by Academic Affairs, but still must fulfill all degree requirements.


Strategic Studies Concentration

MA Students concentrating in Strategic Studies must complete 20 credits of applicable coursework and a program capstone.  One of these courses must be Strategy and Policy (SA.660.740) and this course must be taken in the first semester and completed with a grade of B- or above. Students who do not meet this standard must repeat the course or leave the Strategic Studies concentration.

Students concentrating in Strategic Studies may not pursue an additional policy or regional concentration.

Strategic Studies concentrators must complete one of the following capstones:

  • Successful completion of the Strategic Studies Research Seminar (SA.660.751)
  • Leading or directing research for the international staff ride, or leading one of the domestic staff rides
  • An oral exam conducted by two Strategic Studies faculty members at the end of the final semester
  • MA Oral Exam (to compete for honors—if eligible)

International Economics Concentration

MA students must complete a concentration in International Economics (16 credits). The four required courses are:

  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics (pre-requisite or concurrent: Microeconomics)
  • International Trade Theory (pre-requisite: Microeconomics)
  • International Monetary Theory (pre-requisite: Macroeconomics)

If a student is waived from a required course(s), the student must take a replacement International Economics course(s) to fulfill the concentration requirement.

Students who pass the non-credit Microeconomics course in Pre-Term will have this concentration reduced to 12 credits, but still must complete the remaining required International Economics courses (or a replacement course(s) if waiver exam(s) passed).

International Economics GPA Requirement
Students must achieve an International Economics concentration GPA of at least 2.67.

In the standard case, the concentration GPA is the average of the grades in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, International Trade Theory, and International Monetary Theory.  If a student completed the non-credit Microeconomics course in Pre-Term, the concentration GPA is calculated based on the grades in the remaining required International Economics courses. If one or more of the required courses is waived, the highest grade(s) from any eligible replacement International Economics course(s) is used.

Students who do not meet the minimum International Economics concentration GPA must re-take required courses (or take additional replacement courses if any required course(s) are waived) until the minimum is achieved. The highest grade from any attempt at a required course is used in this calculation.


Quantitative Reasoning Requirement

MA students must fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement (4 credits). Eligible courses include:

  • Statistical Methods for Business & Economics 
  • Econometrics (pre-requisite: Statistical Methods for Business & Economics)
  • Applied Econometrics (pre-requisite: Econometrics)
  • Macro Econometrics (pre-requisite: Econometrics)
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Risk Analysis and Modeling
  • Quantitative Global Economics (pre-requisite: International Monetary Theory)
  • Credit Markets & Credit Risk (pre-requisite: Corporate Finance)

Students may not double-count the same course toward the Quantitative Reasoning requirement and as a replacement International Economics concentration course and vice-versa.

If a student is waived from a Quantitative Reasoning course, the student must take a different course from the list above to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning requirement.

Students who pass the non-credit Statistical Methods for Business & Economics course in Pre-Term will have fulfilled the Quantitative Reasoning requirement.


Core Requirements

MA students must fulfill two Core requirements from the subjects below. Students may fulfill a Core requirement by passing a for-credit Core course or by passing a non-credit Core exam.

  • American Foreign Policy Since WWII
  • Comparative Politics
  • Evolution of the International System
  • Theories of International Relations

Students may not take a Core exam in the semester in which they plan to graduate. If Core requirements are not completed before the start of a student’s final semester, the student no longer has the option of completing the exam and must enroll in the Core course(s) for credit.


Language Proficiency

MA students must pass exams to demonstrate proficiency in a non-native language taught at SAIS. Students enroll in non-credit language courses to prepare for the proficiency exam.

Students whose native language is not English may use English as their proficiency language. All non-native English speakers are required to pass an English placement exam upon entering the school, even if not using English for proficiency, and may be required to take additional English language coursework.


Electives, Minors, and Specializations

Beyond the requirements, MA students may have room in their degree for electives, a minor, and/or a specialization(s).

Students may pursue an optional minor in any policy/regional area other than General International Relations.

Students may pursue an optional specialization(s) in five areas International Economics or Emerging Markets.


Program Requirements by Academic Year

Entering Class 2017-2018
Entering Class 2016-2017
Entering Class 2015-2016
Entering Class 2014-2015
Entering Class 2013-2014
Entering Class 2012-2013
Entering Class 2011-2012
Entering Class 2010-2011


Strategic Studies Minor Requirements: 

  • 3 Strategic Studies courses (12 credits) including:
    • SA.660.740 Strategy and Policy (DC students attend the spring offering)*
    • 2 additional Strategic Studies (or cross-listed) courses (8 credits)

*Students must receive a B- or better in Strategy and Policy in order to meet the minor requirement.

General Minor Requirements:

  • MA students may pursue an optional minor in a policy or regional program. A student cannot pursue a minor in General IR or International Economics, but can pursue a Specialization in International Economics
  • A student can have only one minor and can declare a minor at any time prior to graduation.
  • Students do not receive bidding priority for a minor.
  • All minors require three courses. Some minors require a specific course(s) and/or language proficiency.
  • A student may use a maximum of one applicable cross-listed course (4 credits) toward both a minor AND concentration requirements. In the IR or Asia concentrations, the cross-listed course must be from the primary concentration area and not from the 2 additional required courses in the other IR or Asia areas.
  • General IR concentrators can minor in an IR area or policy area (Conflict Management, Global Theory and History, International Law and Organizations, International Political Economy, Energy, Resources, and Environment, or Strategic Studies) by completing 2 additional area/policy courses (8 credits) beyond the 1 used toward the concentration.


Our Alumni


Alumni Facebook Group - "Johns Hopkins SAIS Strategic Studies Alumni"

Join the group by visiting the new Strategic Studies Alumni page and "Request to join".  You will need to have a Facebook account to login and join. 
The group is focused on connecting Strategic Studies Alumni - and friends - and updating them on all lectures, programs, and fund raising events hosted by the Strategic Studies Department.


Alumni List Serve and Newsletter

To join the Strategic Studies alumni listserve, please e-mail and provide your name and year of graduation.

For bi-annual updates on the Strategic Studies department, please check out our recent newsletters:


Volume 9 Issue 2: July 2017
Volume 9 Issue 1: January 2017
Volume 8 Issue 1: January 2016
Volume 6 Issue 2: July 2014
Volume 5 Issue 2: December2013
Volume 5 Issue 1: July 2013
Volume 4 Issue 1: December 2012
Volume 3 Issue 2: December 2011
Volume 3 Issue 1: June 2011
Volume 2 Issue 2: December 2010
Volume 2 Issue 1: June 2010
Volume 1 Issue 2: November 2009
Volume 1 Issue 1: May 2009


Alumni Literary Forum

The Strategic Studies Alumni Literary Forum is currently suspended. Future dates will be announced as guest authors are scheduled.
Previous Discussions:

External Resources


Gateways and Portals for Strategic Studies Research

The Federation of American Scientists has good collections on military subjects. It is a good place to start learning about military nuts and bolts. More up to date material can be found at the GlobalSecurity website created by John Pike, who built the FAS site.

Defenselink is the Defense Department’s main website, but it's easier to go directly to other places in the .mil domain. The Foreign Military Studies Office of the United States Army has excellent publications and external links. Note too, the Military Domain Search engine at Fort Leavenworth – a big help in searching the vast American military web. The Defense Technical Information Center (US) has links to lots of useful sites. Library of Congress Country Studies usually have lots of background material on armed forces and politico/military history. But remember that students also have access to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s country surveys from the Johns Hopkins SAIS library.

For bibliographies go to the Air University Library, the Marine Corps Research Center (one of the best), the Army Heritage and Education Center is a great way into a variety of Army sources, the Naval War College Library, the National Defense University library or the Dudley Knox Library at the Naval Postgraduate School, which has links to other bibliographies. In general, the military library sites can be extremely valuable, as is the Military Education Research Library Network, or MERLN, best accessed through the NDU. Start at these locations for most of your research.

The World Wide Web Virtual Library historical section is useful; so, more broadly, is the International Relations and Security Network out of Switzerland. Facts on International Relations and Security Trends is a combined effort of the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute and the International Relations and Security Network. It is very useful for basic data. The
Social Sciences Information Gateway (SOSIG) project in the UK is a bit quirky, but not a bad place to go.

If you want a directory the Scout Report archives is a great way to roam through a decade of the Scout Report, which is the best review service of Internet sites. Librarians' Index to the Internet is a big help too, though less comprehensive.

You cannot understand wars without maps. Three great resources are the Perry Castaneda library at the University of Texas, the Department of History at the US Military Academy (West Point) and the American Memory site at the Library of Congress.

Three professors have particularly useful websites to work from: Marc Trachtenberg of UCLA (especially helpful on how to do historical work); Charles Lipson of University of Chicago (see his contemporary international relations material); Richard Jensen of University of Illinois with his Scholars’ Guide to the WWW; see also his Web Sources for Military History.

The New York Times’ Cybertimes Navigator has many great resources – it was designed for their correspondents, but it can help you with searching, as well as some very odd but interesting corners of the Net.

Contact Us

Eliot Cohen

Mara Karlin
Associate Director

Thayer McKell
Program Administrator

Address & Phone

Strategic Studies
1619 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington DC, 20036