Mara Karlin

Mara Karlin, PhD

Associate Director, Strategic Studies Program
Executive Director, The Merrill Center for Strategic Studies
Associate Professor of the Practice
Strategic Studies
Middle East Studies

1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW | Office 711
Washington, DC 20036


  • Middle East
  • American Defense Policy
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Crisis Management
  • International Security
  • Strategic and Security Issues
  • Terrorism
  • Counterterrorism
  • International Relations

Background and Education

Dr. Mara Karlin joined the Johns Hopkins SAIS faculty as Associate Professor of the Practice of Strategic Studies in June 2017. She also serves as associate director of the school’s Strategic Studies Program and executive director of The Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. Karlin has served in national security roles for five U.S. Secretaries of Defense, advising on policies spanning strategic planning, defense budgeting, future wars and the evolving security environment, and regional affairs involving the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. 
Most recently, she served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy &force development. In that role, her office crafted strategies for navigating the future of international security—including through the analysis of future wars— as a means to guiding the development of a prepared, capable, and effective U.S. military. She oversaw and implemented the overarching policy and strategy guidance that shapes the Department's more than $550 billion budget. Karlin was a key architect of several mission-critical strategies, including the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the president’s 2015 National Security Strategy, the counter-ISIL strategy, two classified secretary of defense-signed strategies on long-term global challenges, and three Defense Planning Guidance. She led three reviews on strategic portfolios focused on power projection, which guided more than $20 billion in investments and directed a groundbreaking study assessing the current policy and implications of lethal autonomous weapons. She inaugurated the first three initiatives to shape close allies’ defense strategies and budgets, and oversaw the first formal efforts to actively assess the defense strategy.

Previously, Karlin served in a variety of policy positions in the Department of Defense. As special assistant to the under secretary of defense for policy, she facilitated the under secretary’s efforts on hundreds of national security-related actions with an emphasis on Middle East security affairs. As Levant director, she formulated U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs. This included inaugurating a program to build the Lebanese military, coordinating nascent defense relations between the United States and Lebanon, deepening defense cooperation with Jordan, expanding security sector reform in the Palestinian arena, and a wide range of efforts involving Syria and Iran. As South Asia country director, she formulated U.S. policy on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, focusing on terrorism, governability, security sector reform, and nonproliferation. 
Over the last decade, she has taught courses in Strategic Studies, Middle East Affairs, and U.S. Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University and on Semester at Sea (through Colorado State University). Her first book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, will be published by University of Pennsylvania Press in 2017.
She received her BA summa cum laude in Political Science from Newcomb College, Tulane University; MA with distinction in Strategic Studies, Middle East Studies, and Economics from Johns Hopkins SAIS; and PhD in International Relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS.  Karlin has been awarded Department of Defense Medals for Meritorious and Outstanding Public Service, among others.

2017-07-06 00:00:00 
Spring 2015