A Penn Professor’s Year at the Pentagon Informs His Teaching

facebook twitter google print email
Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | jposey@upenn.edu | 267-825-4084February 17, 2014

Michael C. Horowitz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, is back on campus after spending 2013 at the Department of Defense working as a government insider on national security issues that he had previously studied as an academic outsider.

A core part of his research focuses on military innovation or how countries incorporate new military technologies and new ideas about how to use those technologies.

Horowitz worked at the Pentagon on a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship. The program offers mid-career scholars and professionals an opportunity to advance their analytic capabilities and broaden their foreign policy experience through government service. 

Horowitz calls his time at the DOD humbling.

“It’s easy as an outsider,” he says, “to point the finger and say, Why can’t you guys be more creative? But it is hard to know the internal politics when you are outside. Most often, someone on the inside has had the ideas you’ve had. The ideas are just really hard to implement because of all the red tape and bureaucracy. Or, it turns out, they are not quite as smart as you thought for reasons you had not considered.”

In his position working in the Force Development Office, in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Horowitz worked on memos, “read-aheads” and presentations focused on the office’s mission to determine the kinds of tanks, planes, weapons and troops that the U.S. will need in the next generation. He worked on issues ranging from how defense budget cuts would affect U.S. military strategy in Asia to supporting the research and writing of the Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated review of U.S. defense strategy conducted every four years.

Horowitz also spent time reviewing aspects of U.S. policy regarding unmanned aerial systems, an activity that involved working with counterparts from the State Department, White House and Department of Commerce, among others.

Looking back, he says it was an incredibly challenging year for the Department of Defense due to the budgetary constraints of sequestration, marked by civilian furloughs and the subsequent government shutdown.

“In some ways it was a more turbulent year to be in the Defense Department than probably any year since Sept. 11,” says Horowitz.

He has tremendous respect for his colleagues, the uniformed military and civilians who work for Defense.

Horowitz says, “They have incredibly difficult jobs, work really hard and are doing a fantastic job serving our country. It was an honor and a privilege to work with so many talented and devoted people”

The political science professor who joined Penn’s faculty in 2007 has conducted extensive research on military innovation. His first book, “The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics published in 2010, a scholarly analysis of why some governments embrace military innovations and others don’t, won the Furniss Book Award from the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. The award is given annually to an author whose initial book makes an exceptional contribution to the study of national and international security. The volume also earned Horowitz the 2010 Best Book Award given by the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association.

But his scholarly pursuits provided only some preparation for Washington, D.C., political high jinks.

“Working in a bureaucracy as large as the Defense Department is just as complicated in reality as it seems when you read books about it,” he concedes. “In some ways, many of the things I saw, from the bureaucratic debates between the army and the navy to how different people responded to these budgetary pressures, were straight out of things that I’ve written and other people have written, but there’s a big difference between reading about it and seeing it firsthand.”

His experiences have informed both his research and his teaching.

Horowitz wrote an article about key military technologies and the future of war entitled “Coming Next in Military Tech” that was just published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a military/defense publication. He says that working in Washington has reinvigorated his interest in researching issues related to the future of war and has given him a much better sense of how, as an academic, he can make arguments and present evidence to try to influence the way that people are talking about various policy issues in Washington.

And after a year in the national security bureaucracy, he no longer has to exclusively fill his lectures with other people’s stories. He’s telling some of his own this semester in an introductory political science course on foreign policy.

He recalls one incident that happened very early in his Defense Department tenure.

“I was in a meeting once where I was talking about unmanned aerial systems and a particular line of investment that I, the academic, thought the U.S. should pursue and implied essentially, Why haven’t you guys thought about this yet? At which point someone cocked his head at me and said, ‘Really, you think we haven’t thought about that?’ and listed the reasons why we hadn’t done it. Now, even after listening, I still think I was right and he was wrong. But the point was well taken.”

He will share some of his insights at an April 15 Penn Lightbulb Café talk, “Who's Afraid of Killer Robots? How Robotics, 3-D Printing and Other Innovations Will Affect the Future of War" at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia from 6 to 7 p.m. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by Penn’s Office of University Communications and School of Arts and Sciences.