National Security and Defense

This program serves to raise student and public awareness of national and international security affairs. Our principal mission is to prepare SMU undergraduates to become leaders in government service, academia, and industry. We offer a rigorous and demanding set of courses on international relations, national security policy, strategy, American foreign policy, and the politics of military force. The Tower Center also gives students the opportunity to interact with policymakers, military officers, intelligence officials, and diplomats.  

The United States has become increasingly active in regional conflicts since the end of the Cold War, and it invests enormous resources into projecting American power abroad. The National Security and Defense Program encourages a vigorous debate on this investment. Along with the annual Tower Center National Security Conference, we organize regular forums and seminars that give the public the chance to converse with leading scholars about cutting edge research in security studies, as well as with government officials and defense industry executives. 

Charles Koch Foundation Research Grant in Grand Strategy: Now accepting applications!

Download Application>>

Grants are available to five students in spring, and research may be conducted at any time during calendar year 2017. The research grants will support travel and research on issues relating to national security and grand strategy. Students may explore contemporary issues or historical cases. Students are expected to use their research in support of a directed research project; a senior thesis; or an article for publication in Dialogue or other similar journals. The grant can also be used to support travel costs if the student presents his or her work at a professional conference.

The selection process will be based on merit and determined by an application and interview process. We encourage students from all disciplines to apply. 

The grant will cover up to $3000 in expenses relating to travel and research. Please submit applications to



The National Security and Defense Program is an undergraduate teaching and research program at the Tower Center for Political Studies, as well as a hub for public discussions about strategy and international security. The program combines insights from security studies, which deals with fundamental questions about how states try to make themselves safe; and strategic studies, which deals with the use of violence to achieve political goals. Undergraduates take a suite of courses that delve deeply into these issues. They read classical strategic theorists like Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Thucydides, as well as modern international relations scholars. Along the way they also read a great deal of history. Successful students will leave the program with a broad theoretical and historical foundation to inform their judgment about contemporary security affairs.

As with the all programs at the Tower Center, the National Security and Defense Program is animated by practical policy dilemmas. It addresses a range of current security issues, including everything from the grand strategy of great powers to the causes of militant violence in distant civil wars. Our faculty includes specialists on nuclear weapons, intelligence, and regional studies. Students learn from a combination of leading academics and faculty with vast diplomatic, military, and foreign policy experience. And because the program is problem driven, it is interdisciplinary by design. We encourage students to seek insights from political science, history, economics, engineering, and any other field that can help them develop ideas about important security problems.

While the principal mission of the program is undergraduate education, the National Security and Defense Program is also a center for public debates. It organizes the annual Tower Center National Security Conference each fall, which has become a signature in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The program hosts a steady stream of public events featuring leading scholars and practitioners, including policymakers, military leaders, diplomats, and intelligence officials from the United States and abroad. Finally, we support research and provide opportunities for SMU students and faculty to present their findings in regular seminars. 


The Seventh Annual Tower Center National Security Conference | The United States and China: Strategy, Competition, and Innovation | November 5-6, 2014

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The Sixth Annual Tower Center National Security Conference | Making Strategy under Budget Austerity: Regional Threats and Practical Responses | October 30-31, 2013

Conference details
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The Fifth Annual Tower Center National Security Conference | Strategy, Forces, and Budgets | November 14-15, 2012

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  • Tower Chair Joshua Rovner to speak alongside intelligence officials at major conference at UT
  • Former National Intelligence Chairman Thomas Fingar to keynote 2014 National Security Conference at SMU
  • SAS@SMU welcomes nuclear strategist Paul Avey to the Tower Center

Admiral Patrick Walsh, USN (ret.), Senior Fellow

Diana Newton, Senior Fellow

Patrick Mordente, Senior Fellow

Fred Chang, Senior Fellow and Director of the Deason Cybersecurity Institute

Ambassador Robert Jordan, Senior Fellow

Jeffrey Engel, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Presidential History

Lynne Novack, Senior Fellow



Physical Address:
2nd floor of Carr Collins Hall
3300 University Blvd
Southern Methodist University
Dallas TX 75205

Mailing Address:
(Deliveries should be sent to the physical address above)
Tower Center - SAS@SMU Program
Southern Methodist University
PO Box 750117
Dallas TX 75275

  • The United States and China: Strategy, Competition, and Innovation

    The Seventh Annual Tower Center National Security Conference explores the so-called “pivot to Asia.” For many years the focus of U.S. grand strategy has been on Europe and the Persian Gulf. Read More

  • Making Strategy under Budget Austerity: Regional Threats and Practical Responses

    The sixth annual Tower Center National Security Conference seeks to combine an objective assessment of emerging regional threats with a frank discussion of defense spending in a time of fiscal austerity. Read More

  • Strategy, Forces, and Budgets

    The fifth annual Tower Center Symposium on National Security and Defense, this year devoted to Strategy, Forces, and Budgets, will feature presentations by prominent defense policy experts and scholars, active and retired command-level military officers, and defense industry representatives. Read More