February 08, 2021

CNAS Launches Indo-Pacific Security Program, Names Lisa Curtis as Director

Washington, February 8, 2021—The Center for a New American Security today launched its new Indo-Pacific Security Program, one of seven core research programs within CNAS. Lisa Curtis, former NSC Senior Director for South and Central Asia, will direct the program, which expands on the Center’s previous Asia-Pacific work. Also joining the program as adjunct senior fellows are Rich Verma, former U.S. Ambassador to India; David Feith, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and John Park, Director of the Korea Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

“The Indo-Pacific has emerged as the world’s economic and geopolitical center of gravity,” said CNAS CEO Richard Fontaine. “Under Lisa’s direction, and with insights from Rich, David, John and others, the Indo-Pacific Security Program will be instrumental in shaping America’s approach to the region.”

The CNAS Indo-Pacific Security Program will address opportunities and challenges for the United States in the region, with a focus on issues that originate in the Indo-Pacific but have global implications. It will draw on a team with deep government and nongovernment expertise, focusing on four main priorities:

  1. The China Challenge will investigate how the United States can sharpen its strategic edge in the competition with China. Areas of focus in 2021 will include examining Chinese technological, economic and geopolitical influence across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
  2. Regional Alliances and Partnerships will examine how the United States can strengthen existing relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, and India. Areas of focus in 2021 will include operationalizing the Quad, strengthening cooperation among Indo-Pacific partners to address post-pandemic economic challenges, and enhancing collective resilience against foreign interference.
  3. The India Opportunity will explore ways to strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership, with particular emphasis on defense and security ties, technology cooperation, health security, and climate change.
  4. The North Korea Threat will explore innovative U.S. policy options for encouraging North Korean denuclearization as well as alternative policies for addressing a potential expansion of the North Korean nuclear arsenal.

On Wednesday, February 10 at 1:00pm ET, the Indo-Pacific Security Program will host a moderated discussion between Lisa Curtis and Demetri Sevastopulo, U.S.-China Correspondent for the Financial Times, on the future of the U.S. strategy in the region. Click here to register.

Prior to joining CNAS, Ms. Curtis served as Deputy Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for South and Central Asia from 2017-2021. During her tenure at the NSC, she coordinated U.S. policy development and implementation of the South Asia Strategy, contributed to the execution of the Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework, and coordinated policies designed to strengthen the U.S.-India partnership. From 2006 – 2017, Ms. Curtis was Senior Fellow on South Asia at The Heritage Foundation and from 2003–2006, she served as a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Before that, she worked as a Senior Advisor in the South Asia Bureau at the State Department, where she developed and coordinated U.S. policy on India-Pakistan relations.

Amb. Verma is the Executive Vice President for Global Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Mastercard. He previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to India, where he led one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions and championed historic progress in bilateral cooperation on defense, trade, and clean energy. Amb. Verma is a former Assistant Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to the Senate Majority Leader. He was also a member of the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Commission led by former Senators Graham and Talent and a co-author of their landmark report "World at Risk." Amb. Verma was a partner at Steptoe & Johnson for many years, and is the former Vice Chairman of The Asia Group, a leading global consulting firm. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and the recipient of a number of awards and decorations, including the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal and the State Department’s Distinguished Service Award.

Mr. Feith served at the U.S. Department of State from 2017 to 2021, where he helped create the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and reorient U.S. policy toward China and Asia generally. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mr. Feith oversaw the Offices of Multilateral Affairs and Regional and Security Policy, with responsibility for South China Sea policy, relations with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), security cooperation, foreign assistance programming, and budgeting. From 2017 to 2019, Mr. Feith served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, advising on relations with China and countries across the Indo-Pacific region, for which he received a Superior Honor Award. As an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Feith was based in Hong Kong from 2013 to 2017, writing editorials on Asian economic and political affairs, and was earlier an op-ed editor for three years in New York. He also worked as an assistant editor at Foreign Affairs magazine.

Dr. Park is the Director of the Korea Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. He is also an Associated Faculty Member of Harvard University’s Korea Institute, Faculty Member of the Committee on Regional Studies East Asia, and a Faculty Affiliate with the Project on Managing the Atom. He was the 2012-13 Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow at MIT’s Security Studies Program. Earlier, Dr. Park worked at Goldman Sachs and the Boston Consulting Group. He also directed Northeast Asia Track 1.5 dialogues at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.

For more information or to schedule an interview with a CNAS expert, please contact Cole Stevens at cstevens@cnas.org.


  • Cole Stevens

    Former Communications Officer

    Cole Stevens is a former Communications Officer at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). In this role, he led the Center's press and public affairs strategy to advanc...