Academic journal article Defense Horizons

From Sputnik to Minerva: Education and American National Security

Academic journal article Defense Horizons

From Sputnik to Minerva: Education and American National Security

Article excerpt


This paper examines how external challenges have prompted national investments in education to enhance American national security. Rather than focusing primarily on traditional professional military education, this analysis examines how education has been used as a tool of American power. Four major moments of transformation in the international system are surveyed to illustrate a link between strategic educational capacity, defined as the application of attained knowledge and skills, and national power. The study then assesses how education is used as a power asset in the contemporary security environment. Today, an important educational capacity is emerging in the new Minerva program in the Department of Defense and other transformational educational concepts with security applications. Education is gaining an increasing interest among American decisionmakers as a strategic component of American power and an essential asset for successful military operations in the new global security environment.

Systems Transformation

The United States has experienced four unique periods of systemic transformation of the external security environment that focused attention on the need to enhance educational components of national power. The first of these periods involved internal investment to provide educational opportunities for returning Soldiers after World War II. This period was driven by concern to ensure that veterans would not go unemployed and, cause economic and social instability, but it also produced long-term strategic benefits. The second period was in response to a major international threat--the Soviet attainment of strategic missile capabilities as evidenced by the launch of Sputnik. Sputnik produced a national response that emphasized educational capacity in science, technology, and languages. The benefits of these two periods of investment in education were clear to a new generation of strategic thinkers at the end of the Cold War, who recognized systemic change and produced a third initiative that demonstrated high ambition, but also reflected declining American capacity at the end of the Cold War. A fourth period was brought on by the risk of terrorism and other emerging security challenges that now confront the United States. Combined, these cases show a clear relationship between major change in the international system and a role for education as an element of national response, with varying degrees of sustained investment.

The "G.I. Bill" and Shifting Power Assets

The United States accepted the relationship between education and national security following World War II with the approval by Congress of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, also known as the G.I. Bill. This legislation provided for educational benefits for decommissioned Servicemembers. The immediate intent was to ensure social and economic stability by providing education and training (along with a living stipend), loan guarantees for homes, farms, and businesses, and unemployment pay for returning Servicemembers. Decisionmakers recalled that unemployed World War I veterans had become a substantial source of political protest and potential instability. Having hundreds of thousands of decommissioned troops return home after World War II made it important that society find a mechanism to ensure their eventual employment, and education investments became the primary tool. By 1947, veterans made up 49 percent of college admissions. By 1956, some 7.8 million out of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in education and training programs. A sizeable percentage of the American population benefited from attaining useful skills. (1) Before World War II, a total of 160,000 people in the United States had earned a college degree. By 1950, this number had risen to nearly 500,000. By the time World War II veterans ended their eligibility, the United States had gained 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, and 67,000 doctors. …

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