Skip to main content
Mara Karlin, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, The Brookings Institution

Mara Karlin

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Security and Strategy - Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence

Mara Karlin, Ph.D., is a nonresident senior fellow with the Security and Strategy team at the Brookings Institution. She is also the Director of Strategic Studies and an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Karlin has served in national security roles for five U.S. secretaries of defense, advising on policies spanning strategic planning, defense budgeting, future wars and the evolving security environment, and regional affairs involving the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. She is currently a Commissioner for the congressionally-mandated Syria Study Group and previously worked on the congressionally-mandated National Defense Strategy Commission.

Most recently, Karlin served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development. In that role, she developed and executed the overarching defense policy and strategy to shape the $550 billion+ Defense Department budget. She was a key architect of several mission-critical strategies, including the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the president’s 2015 National Security Strategy, the counter-ISIL strategy, two classified and ground-breaking secretary of defense-signed strategies on long-term global challenges, and three Defense Planning Guidance documents, including the earliest one in Pentagon history. Her work included overseeing the analytic agenda on the size and shape of the future U.S. military, revising criteria for building and evaluating the military in alignment with the changing character of warfare, guiding $20 billion in investments for a number of strategic portfolio reviews on power projection, and leading a groundbreaking study assessing the current policy toward and implications of lethal autonomous weapons. She oversaw the first formal efforts to actively assess the national defense strategy with key offices from across the Defense Department and with close U.S. allies. She inaugurated the first departmental effort to shape close allies’ defense strategies and led efforts to fundamentally change how the department collaborates with its closest allies on defense planning.

Previously, she served in a variety of policy positions in the Department of Defense. As special assistant to the under secretary of defense for policy, she advised the under secretary’s work on hundreds of national security-related actions with an emphasis on Middle East security affairs. As Levant director, she formulated U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs. This included inaugurating a program to build the Lebanese military, coordinating nascent defense relations between the United States and Lebanon, deepening defense cooperation with Jordan, expanding security sector reform in the Palestinian arena, and a wide range of efforts involving Syria and Iran. As South Asia country director, she formulated U.S. policy on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, focusing on terrorism, governability, security sector reform, and nonproliferation.

Karlin has been awarded Department of Defense Medals for Meritorious and Outstanding Public Service, among others. She is the author of Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press; 2018).

Affiliations:
Center for a New American Security, Future Force Advisory Council
Council on Foreign Relations, term member
Gerson Lehrman Group
War on the Rocks, columnist

Mara Karlin, Ph.D., is a nonresident senior fellow with the Security and Strategy team at the Brookings Institution. She is also the Director of Strategic Studies and an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Karlin has served in national security roles for five U.S. secretaries of defense, advising on policies spanning strategic planning, defense budgeting, future wars and the evolving security environment, and regional affairs involving the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. She is currently a Commissioner for the congressionally-mandated Syria Study Group and previously worked on the congressionally-mandated National Defense Strategy Commission.

Most recently, Karlin served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development. In that role, she developed and executed the overarching defense policy and strategy to shape the $550 billion+ Defense Department budget. She was a key architect of several mission-critical strategies, including the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the president’s 2015 National Security Strategy, the counter-ISIL strategy, two classified and ground-breaking secretary of defense-signed strategies on long-term global challenges, and three Defense Planning Guidance documents, including the earliest one in Pentagon history. Her work included overseeing the analytic agenda on the size and shape of the future U.S. military, revising criteria for building and evaluating the military in alignment with the changing character of warfare, guiding $20 billion in investments for a number of strategic portfolio reviews on power projection, and leading a groundbreaking study assessing the current policy toward and implications of lethal autonomous weapons. She oversaw the first formal efforts to actively assess the national defense strategy with key offices from across the Defense Department and with close U.S. allies. She inaugurated the first departmental effort to shape close allies’ defense strategies and led efforts to fundamentally change how the department collaborates with its closest allies on defense planning.

Previously, she served in a variety of policy positions in the Department of Defense. As special assistant to the under secretary of defense for policy, she advised the under secretary’s work on hundreds of national security-related actions with an emphasis on Middle East security affairs. As Levant director, she formulated U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs. This included inaugurating a program to build the Lebanese military, coordinating nascent defense relations between the United States and Lebanon, deepening defense cooperation with Jordan, expanding security sector reform in the Palestinian arena, and a wide range of efforts involving Syria and Iran. As South Asia country director, she formulated U.S. policy on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, focusing on terrorism, governability, security sector reform, and nonproliferation.

Karlin has been awarded Department of Defense Medals for Meritorious and Outstanding Public Service, among others. She is the author of Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press; 2018).

Affiliations:
Center for a New American Security, Future Force Advisory Council
Council on Foreign Relations, term member
Gerson Lehrman Group
War on the Rocks, columnist

building-militaries-karlin

University of Pennsylvania Press

Get daily updates from Brookings