Signature security course goes online for global audience


International Security in a Changing World has been CISAC’s signature course since its inception in 1970. Thousands of Stanford students have taken the popular class, which has changed over time from a course focused on U.S.-Soviet arms control to one that analyzes an array of international security challenges and includes a two-day simulation of an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. 

Now, with support from the Vice Provost of Online Learning and the Flora Family Foundation, CISAC co-director and intelligence expert, Amy Zegart, and terrorism authority and CISAC Senior Fellow Martha Crenshaw have teamed up to bring the course online.

In a series of videotaped lectures packaged on a new YouTube channel, Security Matters, some of Stanford’s leading professors, former government officials and other scholars from around the world lecture on everything from cybersecurity to lessons learned from the Cold War.

The 30 classroom and office lectures – broken into 157 shorter clips – are free and are for curious minds of all ages and professions. The lectures come almost entirely from the 2014 winter term of International Security (PS114S), co-taught by Zegart and Crenshaw.

“This series is the first in what we hope will be a continuing experiment of new modes and methods to enhance our education mission,” said Zegart. “We have two goals in mind: The first is to expand CISAC's reach in educating the world about international security issues. The second is to innovate inside our Stanford classrooms.”

The lectures survey the most pressing security issues facing the world today. Topics include cybersecurity, nuclear proliferation, insurgency and intervention, terrorism, biosecurity, lessons learned from the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis – as well as the future of U.S. leadership in the world.

Guest speakers include former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry; former FBI Director Robert Mueller gives us an Inside-the-Beltway look at the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Other lectures are by notable Stanford professors such as plutonium science expert Siegfried Hecker, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, nuclear historians and political scientists David Holloway and Scott Sagan. Abbas Milani explains Iran’s nuclear ambitions; Eikenberry lectures on the Afghanistan War and the future of Central Asia; and former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute talks about the importance of building the nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

Zegart, the author of “Spying Blind,” argues in one lecture that the CIA and the FBI missed the signals of the impending attacks on 9/11 due to outdated bureaucratic norms and organizational structures. Crenshaw, who established the Mapping Militant Organizations project at CISAC, goes over the key questions regarding terrorism today and how responses have changed since the 9/11 attacks.

CISAC co-director David Relman, a Stanford professor of microbiology and immunology, co-chaired a widely cited study by the National Academy of Sciences on globalization, biosecurity and the future of the life sciences. In his lecture, “Doomsday Viruses,” Relman talks about the dark side of the life sciences revolution and his concerns that biological knowledge in the wrong hands could threaten human life on a large scale.

The video modules are part of a new living-lecture library that would enable future Stanford students to learn from lectures that came before them.

“Imagine comparing what Martha Crenshaw had to say about terrorism in 2005 to 2015,” Zegart said, “or assigning an online module from one speaker as homework and hearing a contending perspective from an in-person lecture the following class. These modules make it possible for us to capture analysis of pressing international security issues at key moments in time and harness them for future learning.” 

Zegart, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that all the lecturers involved in the Security Matters series volunteered their time so that not only Stanford students could learn from them, but viewers from around the world.

“Whether you’re a policymaker or an interested citizen, an avid follower of politics or a curious newcomer … this series is intended for you,” she tells prospective online students in this lecture overview:


Each lecture is introduced with a brief overview of the key points and a bit of background about the speaker.

The Security Matters videos have been packaged under these five themes:

Into the Future: Emerging Insecurities

Insurgency, Asymmetrical Conflict and Military Intervention

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

The Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

International Security and State Power

Crenshaw, who has been teaching for more than four decades, said this is her first foray into the world of online education.

“We hope that you’ll find these discussions as stimulating as we do and as generations of Stanford students have done over the years,” she tells prospective online students in the series overview. “But unlike our Stanford students – you won’t have to take a final exam.”

Follow the Twitter hashtag #SecurityMatters for updates on the @StanfordCISAC Twitter feed as we roll out the lectures. Or dip into the entire lecture series here on our YouTube channel, Security Matters, and then check the playlist for topics.