The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization’s (AHI) highly acclaimed two-week Washington Program on National Security (WAPONS) has successfully concluded.

WAPONS Participants at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

A one-of-a-kind learning experience since 2015, the Washington Program on National Security (WAPONS) held its sixth session from June 15-29. This year, the program was made possible by a generous fund from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation (DDS), a donor devoted to education, leadership training, American history and civics, and national security. We are deeply grateful to Diana Davis Spencer, DDS Chairman and President, and CEO Abby Moffat.

This highly popular program aims to prepare promising and motivated college students from throughout the United States for the challenges of a rapidly changing global environment by offering them an opportunity to engage with some of the best thinkers on and practitioners in the field of national security. In 2022, over a dozen participants from nine universities, joined for a few sessions by three Hungarian college students in Washington on fellowships, were afforded a rare inside glimpse of national security policymaking. It was an unforgettable experience.

A few impressions. One from Kentucky: “The WAPONS program is hands down the greatest academic experience I have had to date! It was run beautifully and I would recommend it to anyone interested not only in National Security but in potential career routes that have stake in the future of our nation. I loved the program.” Another from Virginia: “I think AHI is doing a great service by having undergraduates understand national security by talking to the experts directly…. Because all the speakers were so diverse and experts in their own specific fields, I had a hard time deciding who was my favorite.”  And from New York: “WAPONS offers a unique experience that I do not believe exists in the same form anywhere else. It gave me incredibly insight into the national security apparatus of the United States, and I learned a great deal of truly invaluable knowledge with regards to both theories of governance and defense from individuals who are directly involved with the development of policies related to those subjects.”

Since its inception, WAPONS has been directed by AHI Senior Fellow Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon, author of several books, including The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World, which was used as background material in addition to a lengthy reading list, mostly by authors whom the students subsequently meet during the program. Endorsed by Generals H. R. McMaster and Jim Mattis, the book’s preface was written by Michael R. Eastman, now a retired Brigadier General and Executive Director of the ETS Sponsorship Program, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit corporation dedicated to assisting active duty service members of all branches in their transition from military to civilian life.

A regular WAPONS speaker, Gen. Eastman is a hands-down favorite. And small wonder; for his warmth, candor, and genuine interest in the students, his experience is astonishing. Before retiring in 2021, he was Commanding General of Train, Advise, and Assist Command (South) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Commanding General, 10th Mountain Division, Director of Joint Force Development and Design on the Joint Staff, and Director of the National Military Command Center. Prior positions included: Director of the Army Futures Command Development Team, Chief of Staff of the Army Senior Fellow, and Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army. Serving simultaneously as Deputy Brigade Commander for Civil Capacity, he coordinating all military participation in economic, political, and civil reconstruction operations across 4 southern Iraqi provinces, while as Commander of an 1800-Soldier Field Artillery Brigade deployed in support of Operation Spartan Shield, he was responsible for all aspects of training, operations, logistics, and leader development while providing command and control over multiple elements deployed across the Middle East. His many awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star.

Over a dozen participants from nine universities, joined for a few sessions by three Hungarian college students in Washington on fellowships, were afforded a rare inside glimpse of national security policymaking from the perspective of the practitioners themselves. Most are world-renowned. Among them:

  • Jian Li Yang, who became disenchanted with the corruption and duplicity he experienced in his native China, and left to pursue a career in Mathematics at University of California in 1986 when he was 23 years old. In 1989, he returned to Beijing in support of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. He returned to the U.S. unscathed, and received a PhD in Mathematics and then pursued a PhD in Political Economy at Harvard. But after once again returning to China in 2002, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. Following an international outcry for his release, including a UN Resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the United States Congress, Dr. Yang was freed in April of 2007, and returned again to the U.S. Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a pro-democracy movement committed to a peaceful transition to democracy in China.
  • Stephen Bryen, Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, who has 50 years of experience in government and industry, having served as a senior staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Trade Security Policy, founder and first Director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, President of Finmeccanica North America, and a Commissioner of the U.S. China Security Review Commission.
  • John J. Dziak, who served almost five decades as a senior intelligence officer. He was a Senior Executive in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and in private consulting, with long experience in counter proliferation, counterintelligence, counter deception, strategic intelligence, and intelligence education.
  • COL David Maxwell, a 30-year veteran of the US Army, after 20 years in Asia, primarily in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, leading organizations from the A-Team to the Joint Special Operations Task Force level. A fellow at the Institute of Corean-American Studies (ICAS), he serves on the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the International Council of Korean Studies, the Special Operations Research Association, and the Small Wars Journal, which he edits. He graciously invited the students to submit articles – and one student has already published in SWJ since!
  • Seth Cropsey, senior fellow and director of the Center for American Seapower at Hudson Institute for the past fifteen years, is currently President of the Yorktown Institute, which he founded in 2022. Former assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, he has also headed Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau. He has hosted WAPONS alumni as interns in past years. He is the author of Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy and Seablindness: How Political Neglect Is Choking American Seapower and What to Do About It.
  • Josh Carter, the Military Legislative Assistant to Senator John Hoeven. Previously he was the Minority Staff Director, Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He also served as National Security Advisor/Legislative Assistant and later Legislative Director to then-Senator Sam Brownback.
  • John Fonte, a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at Hudson Institute. His book Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?, winner of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Paolucci-Bagehot book award for 2012, is a number-one rated Amazon best-seller in international law.
  • Roger Pilon, who holds the Cato Institute’s B. Kenneth Simon Chair in Constitutional Studies, which he has held since it was established in 1998. He joined Cato as a senior fellow in October 1988 and, until 2019, served as director of Cato’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, which he founded in 1989. He has also served as vice president for legal affairs, which he was named in 1999, and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review, which he founded in 2001. Prior to joining Cato, Pilon held five senior posts in the Reagan administration, including at the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice, and was a national fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
  • Matthew Boyse, Deputy Assistant Secretary overseeing policy Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.
  • Charles “Cully” Stimson is a widely recognized policy expert in crime control, national security, immigration, homeland security, and drug policy at The Heritage Foundation. Stimson is Deputy Director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Manager of the National Security Law Program, Senior Legal Fellow, and Senior Advisor to the President.
  • Thomas W. Merrill, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Government and Associate Director of the Political Theory Institute, all in the School of Public Affairs at American University  He is the author of Hume and the Politics of Enlightenment (Cambridge, 2015), which won the Delba Winthrop Prize for Best Recent Work in Political Philosophy.
  • Matthew Spalding, the Kirby Professor in Constitutional Government at Hillsdale College and the Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College’s Washington, D.C., campus. He is the best-selling author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future. Prior to joining Hillsdale, Dr. Spalding was vice president of American Studies at The Heritage Foundation and founding director of its B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.
  • Charles “Cully” Stimson, a widely recognized policy expert in crime control, national security, immigration, homeland security, and drug policy, Deputy Director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Manager of the National Security Law Program, Senior Legal Fellow, and Senior Advisor to the President. Prior to 2007, Stimson served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs.
  • J. Michael Waller, Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy. For 13 years he was the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC. A former instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School, he is an instructor/lecturer at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg.
  • Herman Pirchner, Jr. since 1982 the founding President of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), which has hosted Washington events for hundreds of foreign officials; conducted hundreds of briefings for Members of Congress and their staffs, and organized dozens of fact-finding missions abroad for current and former senior American officials. His publications include the prescient 2004 monograph, Reviving Greater Russia: The Future of Russia’s Borders with Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine, and Post Putin: Succession, Stability, and Russia’s Future(2019), also available in Ukrainian and Russian editions. The AFPC has hosted several WAPONS alumni as researchers – experiences they felt were invaluable.
  • Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2005. He served as a strategic analyst for the Commandant of the Marine Corps and, later, while assigned to the Office of Net Assessment, the Secretary of Defense’s internal “think tank.”
  • Piotr Trabinsky, Alternate Executive Director for the Swiss-Polish Constituency at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), responsible for co-representing Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Poland, Serbia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, charged with reviewing the IMF’s policies and member states’ economic developments.
  • Marion Smith, President and Founder of the Common Sense Society, an international foundation that promotes civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and leadership among young professionals in the United States and Europe. From 2014 till 2021, he was the Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
  • Greg Scarlatoiu, the Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, having coordinated 28 HRNK publications exposing North Korean realities. He is a visiting professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, instructor and coordinator of the Korean Peninsula and Japan class at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI), vice president of the executive board of the International Council on Korean Studies (ICKS), and a member of the advisory board for The Korea and World Politics Institute.
  • Gina Pack, Executive Producer of Manifold Productions, a film and educational company whose documentaries, most featured on PBS, including most recently the enormously popular Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.

The Washington-based program was supplemented by zoom webinars with remarkable speakers who were unable to join us in person.  For example, Zebu Jilani joined us from… Pakistan.  A social entrepreneur and nutritionist, she is the founder, Chair and President of the foundation the Swat Relief Initiative (SRI), which strives to improve the lives of women and children in Pakistan through healthcare, education, economic empowerment, and self-government.

  • Paul Lieber spoke with the students from Florida. The Information Professionals Association’s Chief Scientist, he served as the Command Writer for two USSOCOM Commanders, and Strategic Communication Advisor to the Commander of Special Operations Command-Australia. He was also a full-time member of the Graduate faculty at Joint Special Operations University, Emerson College, University of South Carolina, and the University of Canberra.
  • Julie J.C.H. Ryan, who lives in Maryland, is the CEO of Wyndrose Technical Group, having retired from academia in 2017 as Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance at the U.S. National Defense University.  Prior to that, she was tenured faculty at the George Washington University and a visiting scholar at the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Calling from Virginia,
  • Dorothy Taft is currently Executive Director of The Market Project, has more than three decades of experience in US and international policy to advance human rights protection, democratic governance and civil society program development, as well as issues related to trauma healing. Before that, she was Director of USAID’s Office of Democracy and Governance; Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff for the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Professional Staff for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere; and Foreign Policy Legislative Assistant for a Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
  • Eric Hannis, a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. He is the Director of Legislative Affairs for Textron, Inc.  He was formerly the Director of Government Relations at Raytheon Technologies, and the principal defense advisor and Military Legislative Assistant to Rep. Randy Forbes. Hannis was also the Senior Military Legislative Assistant to Rep. Dave Weldon.
  • And finally, Rand Waltzman, till recently Senior Information Scientist at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA, where he was the acting chief technology officer of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute called from California. Prior to his stint at RAND (quite a coincidence, we concede), he completed a five-year tour as a Program Manager in the Information Innovation Office of DARPA, where he created and managed the Social Media in Strategic Communications (SMISC) program and the Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales (ADAMS) insider threat detection program.

What added enormously to the program’s success, however, was the conversations that students had among themselves – which has been invariably the case in previous years as well. A student from Georgia exclaimed: “I loved the other students! We all became a pretty close group towards the end.” And another, from the Big Apple: “I learned a great deal from the different experiences other students shared with regards to concepts such as college campus censorship. It was also interesting to learn what specifically interested the other students regarding national security and what they wanted to study in particular.”

This time, they also had a WAPONS alumnus to lead discussions in the evening, on cyber security and related topics.  Mason Goad, a graduate student at George Mason University, is also a full-time researcher with the National Association of Scholars, investigating the rise of Critical Theories in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine (STEMM) under the guise of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE). His articles have appeared in The Cipher Brief, Foundation for Economic Education, American Greatness, Newsweek, and Minding the Campus, among other publications.

In brief, the program was a resounding success, despite a few snags such as the air conditioning in our conference room breaking down, the occasional soggy sandwich (otherwise delicious), one expert contracting COVID while another’s home was flooded, and metro delays. One participant assessed the relative advantages of WAPONS over the competition: “I loved the program and if it continues and I find myself in DC I would be happy to continue to be a part of it.”  We all intend to stay in touch – and indeed many alumni still do.  The WAPONS family is unique – as is the AHI.  Thank you again, Diana Davis Spencer, DDS Chairman and President, and CEO Abby Moffat.