Stephen Watts

Photo of Stephen Watts
Senior Political Scientist
Washington Office


Ph.D. in government, Cornell University; M.A. in European Studies, Georgetown University; B.A. in government, College of William & Mary


Stephen Watts is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. His research has focused on irregular warfare (insurgency and counter-insurgency, stability and peace operations), security sector assistance, coalition diplomacy, political development in the wake of civil wars, and long-term conflict trends.

Watts received his Ph.D. in government from Cornell University, where he was awarded the Esman Prize for best dissertation in government, and has held research fellowships at Harvard University's Belfer Center and the Brookings Institution. He is the lead author of nearly a dozen RAND studies and has published or has articles forthcoming in such journals as The Washington Quarterly, Parameters, and Joint Force Quarterly.

Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he served as a foreign affairs officer responsible for peacekeeping planning for the Balkans in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where he was twice awarded a Superior Honor Award for his work. He has held short-term assignments at the State Department's Office of Policy Planning, U.S. Embassy Sarajevo, and Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan.

Concurrent Non-RAND Positions

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

Recent Projects

  • Social Science for Stability Operations
  • Specialized and Multipurpose Forces
  • Army Force Mix
  • Managing Transitions from Stability Operations
  • Analytic Support to AFRICOM

Honors & Awards

  • Elihu Root Prize (second place), Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
  • Esman Prize, Cornell University
  • Research Fellowship, Brookings Institution


  • Philippine and U.S. marine soldiers in a joint military exercise in Ulugan bay, Philippines

    The Foreign Policy Essay: The Limits of Small Footprints

    The history of “small-footprint approaches” should be sobering. It suggests that such approaches are good at preventing allied governments from losing against rebels, but are not very good at actually winning wars.

    Mar 31, 2014 Lawfare