Center for a New American Security

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Center for a New American Security
Abbreviation CNAS
Formation 2007
Type Public policy think tank
Headquarters 1152 15th St., Ste. 950
President Richard Fontaine
GEN David Petraeus delivers the keynote address at CNAS's annual conference.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank established in 2007 by co-founders Michèle Flournoy and Kurt M. Campbell which specializes in U.S. national security issues. CNAS's stated mission is to "develop strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies that promote and protect American interests and values."[1] CNAS focuses on terrorism and irregular warfare, the future of the U.S. military, the emergence of Asia as a global power center, and the national security implications of natural resource consumption. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has called CNAS "an indispensable feature on the Washington landscape."[2] Speaking at the CNAS annual conference in June 2009, U.S. Central Command Commander GEN David Petraeus observed that "CNAS has, in a few years, established itself as a true force in think tank and policy-making circles"[3]

The Obama administration has hired several CNAS employees for key jobs.[4] Founders Michèle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell formerly served as the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, respectively. In June 2009 The Washington Post suggested, "In the era of Obama...the Center for a New American Security may emerge as Washington's go-to think tank on military affairs."[4] CNAS scholars have included John Nagl,[5] David Kilcullen, Andrew Exum, Thomas E. Ricks, Robert D. Kaplan,[6] and Marc Lynch. CNAS is led by CEO Michèle Flournoy.

CNAS is relatively small, with around 30 employees and a budget under $6 million.[7]

In a speech to the United States Military Academy at West Point on February 25, 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quoted CNAS President John Nagl and Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.) for their recommendations on improving promotion policies in the military.[8]

CNAS experts have been quoted in numerous national media outlets, including but not limited to Foreign Policy,[9] The New York Times,[10] The Washington Post,[11] The Wall Street Journal,[12] The National Interest,[13] The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,[14] C-SPAN,[15] NBC,[16] NPR,[17] CNN,[18] and PBS.[19]


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at CNAS's rollout event, June 2007

CNAS has released extensive reports on terrorism, irregular warfare, and regional security challenges.

Before joining CNAS, John Nagl served as an active duty officer in both the first Gulf War and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He then was part of the team that wrote FM 3-24, the Army’s counter-insurgency field manual that transformed the way the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were conducted. Since joining CNAS first as a Senior Fellow and then as President, Nagl has continued to delve into counterinsurgency while also publishing papers on other topics, including the need for a permanent corps of Army advisers[20] and strategies for confronting Islamic extremism.[21]

CNAS has also staked out terrain in studying the emergence of Asia as a center of global power, particularly with regards to China. One of the main stated goals of CNAS’s Asia-Pacific Security program is to “devise a future path for America’s engagement of China that can expand bilateral cooperation in areas of shared strategic interest and encourage increasing accountability from the Chinese regime”.[22]

The CNAS U.S.-India Initiative is co-chaired by CNAS Board of Directors members Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State, and Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The stated goal of the Initiative is to help advance growing bilateral ties in areas of mutual interest, including security, economics, energy and climate change, democracy and human rights.[23] On October 27, 2010 at the White House Press Gaggle on the President's Upcoming Trip to India, the CNAS report Natural Allies: A Blueprint for the Future of U.S.-India Relations was referenced in a reporter's question to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.[24]

In 2010, the Center developed its Cyber Security project, which is co-chaired by Bob Kahn, the co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocols used to transmit information over the Internet; Vice Admiral John Michael McConnell, USN (Ret.), former Director of National Intelligence; Joseph Nye, Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University; and Peter Schwartz, a futurist and business strategist and member of the CNAS Board of Directors.[25] In February 2011, CNAS Vice President and Director of Studies Kristin Lord and Research Associate Travis Sharp argued in The Hill that "increased federal attention to cyber security makes good sense," but "lawmakers must ensure that the U.S. government does not spend aimlessly on cyber security."[26]

CNAS has suggested that one way to contain future military costs would be to fold heavy army units into the National guard and reserves, but military officials have responded that the governors would rather have light units, that are better suited to their emergency needs.[27]

Natural security program[edit]

Sharon Burke, a CNAS researcher who originated the concept at the Center, described natural security as follows:

In the 21st century, the security of nations will increasingly depend on the security of natural resources, or “natural security.” The modern global economy depends on access to energy, minerals, potable water, and arable land to meet the rising expectations of a growing world population, and that access is by no means assured. At the same time, increasing consumption of these resources has consequences, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, which will challenge the security of the United States and nations all over the world. Natural security ultimately means sufficient, reliable, affordable, and sustainable supplies of natural resources for the modern global economy. This will require the United States to both shape and respond to emerging natural resources challenges in a changing strategic environment.[28]

CNAS launched its Natural Security Program[29] to study this set of issues in 2009, in addition to the Natural Security Blog.[30] The natural security concept is closely related to a body of study described as "environmental security,[31]" which dates back to the late 1970s. A February 2008 book, Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World,[32] used the term in a different context, profiling the way in which fabricated defense systems echo or can draw lessons from defense systems found in natural organisms, systems and processes. The University of Arizona[33] also has an academic program based on the biological concept of natural security. As part of a series titled "Why We Might Fight," New York Times reporter Thom Shanker wrote a 2011 article called "A Need for Natural Security,[34]" which profiled the link between natural resources and security challenges in China, the Horn of Africa, Yemen, the Niger Delta, the Arctic, and the Amazon rainforest.

Previous to the launch of the CNAS program, Hal Harvey, founder of ClimateWorks, authored a 1988 piece called "Natural Security" in the journal Nuclear Times.[35]

Sharon Burke is now Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs.[36] She was sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs on June 25, 2010. She is now the principal advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense on operational energy security and reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.


  1. ^ Center for a New American Security, About CNAS
  2. ^
  3. ^ Center for a New American Security, 'About the Center for a New American Security, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Carlos Lozada -- Setting Priorities for the Afghan War". The Washington Post. June 7, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  5. ^ Ricks, Thomas E. (January 16, 2008). "High-Profile Officer Nagl to Leave Army, Join Think Tank". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ Center for a New American Security, Robert Kaplan.
  7. ^ Yochi J. Dreazen, Obama dips into think tank for talent, Wall Street Journal, 18 November 2008
  8. ^ U.S. Department of Defense, "Speech: As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, West Point, NY, 25 February 2011.
  9. ^ See, for example, Robert Kaplan 'Oman's Renaissance Man', Foreign Policy, 1 March 2011.
  10. ^ "Room for Debate: A Logical, but Difficult, Step". The New York Times. March 22, 2011. 
  11. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (February 27, 2011). "Arab democracy and the return of the Mediterranean world". The Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (March 26, 2011). "The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun". The Wall Street Journal. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ The Daily Show, Thomas Ricks, 10 February 2009.
  15. ^ C-SPAN, U.S. Military Intervention in Libya, 23 March 2011.
  16. ^ MSNBC, Meet the Press transcripts, 27 March 2011.
  17. ^ Tom Gjelten, In Libyan Conflict, is Endgame a Stalemate?, NPR, 24 March 2011.
  18. ^ "". CNN. 
  19. ^ Center for a New American Security, United States, Arab Leaders Walk Fine Line as Egypt's Power Center Remains Uncertain, 4 February 2011.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Center for a New American Security, Asia-Pacific Security
  23. ^ Center for a New American Security India Initiative
  24. ^ The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Press Gaggle on the President's Upcoming Trip to India, 27 October 2010.
  25. ^ Center for a New American Security Cyber Security
  26. ^ Kristin M. Lord and Travis Sharp, Cyber sanity, The Hill, 25 February 2011.
  27. ^ Clark, Colin. "Romney Pledges Defense Boost; Analyst Predicts $1 Trillion in DoD Cuts." AOL Defense, 7 October 2011.
  28. ^ See Sharon Burke, "Natural Security," (Washington, D.C., Center for a New American Security, 2009), available at
  29. ^
  30. ^ See the Natural Security Blog at
  31. ^ Environmental security
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Why We Might Fight, 2011 Edition". The New York Times. 11 December 2010. 
  35. ^ View commentary on Harvey's original article, and a copy of the piece, at Also view the ClimateWorks website at
  36. ^ Department of Defense, Sharon Burke

External links[edit]