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Online courses offer foreign policy training for military leaders

June 1, 2012 By Stacy Forster

A series of online courses geared for members of the military to learn more about foreign policy and international relations is testing the geographic limits of one of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s guiding principles.

In this case, the boundaries of the university have extended to a student stationed on an aircraft carrier at sea, as well as to students who are deployed to the Middle East and Europe or stationed across the country.

Photo: Scott Mobley


“It’s the Wisconsin Idea writ large,” says Scott Mobley, the course coordinator and military liaison, who is also working to complete a doctorate in history at UW–Madison.

The university is offering a trio of online graduate-level classes this summer, all taught by leading UW–Madison experts in foreign policy and international studies for current and future U.S. military leaders.

Those serving in the modern military need a solid grounding in U.S. foreign policy and international economics, and as officers progress through military careers, they need to acquire a strategic mindset to inform their real-world experience, says Mobley, a retired U.S. Navy captain.

“You have to think big picture, you have to have a better understanding of how military affairs link with other areas of study — political, economic, cultural, social — all those aspects,” Mobley says. “You get some experience, with everything going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, but you need to go back to school to get some context for that.”

It’s the fourth year the university has offered such resources to members of the military. In the summer of 2009, the university first offered an online class in the successes and failures of America’s foreign policy “grand strategy” during the last century, taught by Jeremi Suri, a UW–Madison history professor who has now moved on to the University of Texas at Austin.

Photo: Jon Pevehouse


Political science professor Jon Pevehouse, who is teaching a class in American foreign policy for the third time, says the courses support what U.S. military leaders have been asking of service members in recent years.

“So much of what the military has been doing the last decade has been equal parts fighting wars and rebuilding societies in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Pevehouse says. “They’re not taught about government and civil society.”

While nearly three-quarters of students in past offerings have been in the military, foreign policy professionals, educators, international business people and graduate students have also enrolled. In addition, the courses are offered to undergraduates, who receive separate instruction but interact with the graduate students.

The courses have a broader reach this summer, focusing more on political science and economics. Three courses will run from June 18 to Aug. 10 in a flexible, online format that allows students to work at their own pace:

  • Problems in American Foreign Policy: Taught by Pevehouse, this course will explore the political institutions and processes that guide the formulation of American foreign policy, and analyze the most pressing foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. today.
  • International Political Economy: Political science professor Mark Copelovitch will focus on the ways domestic and international politics affect national economic policymaking and changes in the world economy, including the current global financial crisis.
  • Nuclear Weapons in World Politics: Political science professor Andrew Kydd will look at the origins of nuclear weapons and why nations seek them, as well as the consequences of their development and efforts to control their spread.

The courses are sponsored by the College of Letters and Science with support from the Division of Continuing Studies. Students earn three credits for each course, which can be applied to graduate degree requirements at UW–Madison and other institutions. The Naval War College lists UW–Madison courses among its electives in master’s degree programs, Mobley says.

To learn more or to enroll, contact UW–Madison International Relations and Strategic Studies at or 608-265-0484, or click here.