February 04, 2010

Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps

The U.S. military officer corps, the professional body entrusted with preparing and training the armed forces for war and peace, is at the forefront of an ever-increasing array of challenges. Indeed, America arguably relies on its armed forces to perform a wider variety of functions than any other nation in history. To respond effectively to a rapidly changing strategic environment, the U.S. military must develop and maintain a high degree of adaptability within the officer corps. Twenty-first-century military officers must learn and embody enduring principles of warfare and leadership, but the teaching and training of officers must change to meet the contemporary demands and opportunities they are likely to face. In addition to demonstrating a high degree of proficiency in conventional state-on-state warfare, officers must also develop a broader skill set in politics, economics, and the use of information in modern warfare to cope with a more complicated and rapidly evolving international environment. Determining the proper balance between conventional competencies and emerging requirements – and the best means to train and educate a corps of adaptive leaders – remains a contentious issue with no obvious consensus solution.

This report is based on a series of working group meetings and collaborations with military officers and outside experts to gain a variety of perspectives on the nature of officership in a new strategic environment. Its chapters provide an analysis of these issues from several informed perspectives, while the concluding chapter provides both a summary and a series of recommendations for how the United States can keep its edge in military officership. As a whole, the report highlights the necessity to provide a broader range of educational and professional experiences to military officers – essential components of training agile minds how to think rather than what to think – and cultivating new skill sets that are more relevant to 21st-century challenges.


  • Brian Burton

  • John A. Nagl

    Member, CNAS Board of Advisors, Associate Professor of Warfighting Studies at U.S. Army War College

    Dr. John Nagl is the ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania and a member of the Board of Advisors at the Center for a New American Security. He wa...