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Editorial: Security Institute has huge potential for UNM and U.S.

It isn’t every day that a university has the opportunity to roll out a program that would be incredibly valuable to current and future students, enhance its reputation and serve the national interest.

But that rare confluence is where the University of New Mexico stands as it moves to establish a Global and National Security Policy Institute at UNM.

The program would offer a master’s-level degree through the institute, which director and faculty research professor Emile Nakhleh, a retired CIA intelligence officer, says would focus on the broad definition of national security. “It ranges from cyber to terrorism to unemployment in Africa. Food security, energy security, water security,” he said. “They all affect us.” Working in cooperation with Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, students also would have the option of courses in subjects like nuclear proliferation and directed energy weapons.

It’s a curriculum intended to equip this new generation of UNM graduates with the broad skills and knowledge base they need in a complicated and dangerous world should they choose to enter the field.

UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah, whose own background includes coming to the U.S. to escape the civil war in his native Lebanon, is a strong supporter.

“The institute is designed to equip its graduates with a blending of concepts from technology, history, policy and culture,” he said. “The skills learned within the institute and similar ones will become ever-more critical in dealing with and adapting to an increasingly changing and uncertain future.”

The good news is that many of the courses needed already exist, but as Nakhleh says, those are “stovepiped” in various departments. And the knowledge and technology at the labs is immense. Their participation would seem to be an easy decision, as their own core mission is to serve the national interest.

The regents have signed off in principle on the proposal, and the institute has assembled impressive advisory boards from within the university and from the outside. The curriculum is being reviewed by the faculty, with a decision expected by summer.

The payoff to students will be a gold-standard degree in an area that will give them a competitive edge in going to work for government agencies or private concerns focusing on national security issues – with a better understanding of complex issues like the root causes of terrorism. And it’s an opportunity for UNM to define itself as a leader in this critical and under-served field.

Nakhleh, a former college professor who was recruited by the CIA in the 1990s to advance the agency’s understanding of “political Islam” and awarded the Director’s Medal for his work, understands the importance of being able to fight an enemy in whatever venue is necessary – whether the anti-terrorism efforts are in Afghanistan or the United States.

He also believes the U.S. will be better equipped to defend itself if policymakers and national security professionals have the tools to better understand our enemies. There is much more to effective security than having a “bigger button.”

UNM appears to be on the cusp of having a cutting-edge institute with an important national mission that dovetails nicely with others already in the state. Anyone who cares about the security of this nation should be pulling for them to get across the finish line.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.