Belfer Center Home > Publications > Articles and Op-Eds > Op-Eds > Academic Stovepipes Undermine U.S. Security

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Academic Stovepipes Undermine U.S. Security"

U.S. Navy Captain James W. Kilby in the control room of the Guided Missile Carrier USS Monterey, docked in Antwerp, Belgium, on Mar. 31, 2011. It is the first ship to become a part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach of the missile defense mission.
AP Photo

"Academic Stovepipes Undermine U.S. Security"

Op-Ed, World Politics Review

April 14, 2011

Authors: Joan Johnson-Freese, Thomas M. Nichols, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2008–2011

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


"The United States faces a serious but silent intellectual crisis: U.S. national security elites have separated into two tribes of specialists, technical and nontechnical, who are incapable of communicating with each other. The implications of the divide between experts in science and technology on one hand and experts in politics on the other are dangerous and far-reaching. If the United States policymaking community cannot bridge the gap between these communities, we risk making mistakes with repercussions running all the way from wasting scarce resources to war.

While hardly a golden age of national security policy decision-making, the Cold War set boundaries on science and politics, both of which served the overall goal of avoiding — or winning — a war with the Soviet Union. For better or for worse, the scientists, engineers, military officers and civilian strategists of the national security establishment were all yoked together toward this common purpose.

With the Cold War over, the natural bureaucratic tendency of "stovepiping" has taken over. Stovepipes are the institutional and cultural barriers that prevent different groups of experts from understanding or cooperating with each other on everything from terminology to budgets and, ultimately, goals.  Fed into stovepipes, national security problems get broken into ever smaller but less relevant pieces by experts working in parallel with, but in isolation from, each other.

This insularity begins in graduate school or during professional preparation, where young specialists are taught to revere the norms and knowledge of their own field or institution above all others...."

Continue reading:


For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Johnson-Freese, Joan and Thomas M. Nichols. "Academic Stovepipes Undermine U.S. Security." World Politics Review, April 14, 2011.

Bookmark and Share

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.