Colin Kahl

Colin Kahl

Colin Kahl is the Sydney Stein, Jr. Scholar in Residence within the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology at the Brookings Institution. He is also the Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; the faculty director of CISAC’s Program on Geopolitics, Technology, and Governance; and a professor of political science (by courtesy) at Stanford.

Current research projects include: an examination of the role of emerging technologies (including cyber, space, and artificial intelligence and autonomy) in “integrated deterrence” vis-à-vis the People’s Republic of China (PRC); an assessment of the role of U.S.-Russia nuclear deterrence and Russian nuclear coercion in the Ukraine war; and an analysis of the utility of the concept of the “free world” for U.S. foreign policy.

From April 2021-July 2023, Kahl served as the under secretary of defense for policy at the U.S. Department of Defense. In that role, he was the principal adviser to the secretary of defense for all matters related to national security and defense policy and represented the department as a standing member of the National Security Council Deputies’ Committee. He oversaw the writing of the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which focused the Pentagon’s efforts on the “pacing challenge” posed by the PRC, and he led the department’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and numerous other international crises. He also led several other major defense diplomacy initiatives, including: an unprecedented strengthening of the NATO alliance; the negotiation of the AUKUS agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom; historic defense force posture enhancements in Australia, Japan, and the Philippines; and deepening defense and strategic ties with India. In June 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III awarded Kahl the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian award presented by the secretary of defense.

During the Obama administration, Kahl served as deputy assistant to President Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Biden from October 2014 to January 2017. He also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from February 2009 to December 2011, for which he received the Outstanding Public Service Medal in July 2011.

Kahl is the co-author (along with Thomas Wright) of “Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021) and the author “States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). He has also published numerous article on U.S. national security and defense policy in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Policy, the National Interest, the New Republic, the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post, and the Washington Quarterly, as well as several reports for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

Kahl previously taught at Georgetown University and the University of Minnesota, and he has held fellowship positions at Harvard University, the Council on Foreign Relations, CNAS, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and International Engagement.

He received his bachelor’s in political science from the University of Michigan (1993) and his doctorate in political science from Columbia University (2000).


  • Council on Foreign Relations, member
  • Foreign Policy for America, member, advisory board
  • Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Diller von Furstenberg Senior Fellow
  • Macro Advisory Partners, senior advisor
  • NobleReach Foundation, leadership fellow
  • Current Positions

    • Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
    • Professor of Political Science (by courtesy), Stanford University
    • Diller von Furstenberg Senior Fellow, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Past Positions

    • Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, U.S. Department of Defense
    • Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, U.S. Department of Defense
  • Education

    • Ph.D., Columbia University, 2000
    • B.A., University of Michigan, 1993
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