Karl P. Mueller

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Senior Political Scientist; Faculty Member, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Washington Office


Ph.D. in politics, Princeton University; B.A. in political science, University of Chicago

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email media@rand.org.

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Karl P. Mueller is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He specializes in research related to military and national security strategy, particularly coercion and deterrence.

Mueller has written and lectured on a wide variety of subjects, including airpower theory, grand strategy, economic sanctions, nuclear proliferation, counterterrorism policy, space weapons, and wargaming. Among his recent unclassified RAND publications are Innovation in the United States Air Force: Evidence from Six Cases (2016), Precision and Purpose: Airpower in the Libyan Civil War (2015), Denying Flight: Strategic Options for Employing No-Fly Zones (2013), Dangerous Thresholds: Managing Escalation in the 21st Century (Forrest E. Morgan et al., 2008), and Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy (2006).

His current projects focus on strategic competition with Russia and China, the use of airpower in the war against the Islamic State, military options for defending the Baltic States, and developing expert-adjudicated wargames for examining future conflict scenarios in Europe and Asia.

Before joining RAND in 2001, Mueller was a professor of comparative military studies at the U.S. Air Force's School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). He is currently an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He earned his Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.

Concurrent Non-RAND Positions

Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University

Previous Positions

Professor of Comparative Military Studies, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS); Adjunct Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University

Recent Projects

  • Alternative U.S. Grand Strategies
  • Deterrence, Escalation, and Crisis Stability
  • Wargaming Future Conflicts
  • Air War Against the Islamic State
  • Defense of the Baltic States

Selected Publications

Becca Wasser et al., The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Role of Airpower in Operation Inherent Resolve, RAND (RR-A388-1), 2021

Karl P. Mueller, “Conventional Deterrence Redux: Avoiding Great Power Conflict in the 21st Century”, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Winter, 2018

Karl P. Mueller, "Paper Wargames and Policymaking: Filling the Baltic Gap", Battles magazine No. 11 (EP-66660), 2016

Adam Grissom, Caitlin Lee, and Karl P. Mueller, Innovation in the United States Air Force: Evidence from Six Cases, RAND (RR-1207), 2016

Karl P. Mueller, ed., Precision and Purpose: Airpower in the Libyan Civil War, RAND (RR-676), 2015

Karl P. Mueller, Denying Flight: Strategic Options for Employing No-Fly Zones, RAND (RR-423), 2013

Karl P. Mueller "The Nature of Escalation," in Forrest E. Morgan et al., Dangerous Thresholds: Managing Escalation in the 21st Century, RAND (MG-614), 2008

Karl P. Mueller et al., Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy, RAND (MG-403), 2006

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Aftenposten (Oslo); Atlantic Monthly; Boston Globe; Houston Chronicle; Issues in Science and Technology; Kansas City Star; Los Angeles Times; Newsweek; New York Times; NPR; Pacifica Radio Network; Washington Times

Commentary: CNN; Defense One; U.S. News & World Report


  • A Ukrainian serviceman lights a candle at the spot where a child was killed by a Russian cruise missile strike in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, July 15, 2022, photo by Maxym Marusenko/Reuters

    Might Russia Turn to Terror Bombing Civilians in Ukraine?

    Recent Russian missile attacks against civilian targets in cities far away from the front lines have killed scores of Ukrainians, leading to widespread outrage. These events raise the question of whether the war in Ukraine is entering a new phase in which terror attacks might become common.

    Jul 29, 2022 The RAND Blog

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) and North Korean official Kim Yong Chol (left) meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, May 26, 2018

    North Korea Is Not Like Libya

    The prospect of a U.S.-North Korea summit has led to analogies between the present case and that of Libya, which abandoned its longstanding quest to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. But a better precedent would be the 2015 deal that froze Iran's nuclear weapons program.

    Jun 1, 2018 Reuters

  • Lithuanian Land Forces fire a smoke screen from an M113A1 Armored Personnel Carrier during a joint exercise with their American partners in Rukla, Lithuania, May 22, 2015

    In Defense of a Wargame: Bolstering Deterrence on NATO's Eastern Flank

    A series of wargames examined the potential results of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states. While such an invasion appears unlikely, its consequences would be so dangerous that not taking steps to deter it more robustly would be imprudent.

    Jun 14, 2016 War on the Rocks

  • Men search for survivors at a site hit by shelling in Damascus, Syria, June 16, 2015

    A No-Fly Zone Over Syria: Q&A with Karl Mueller

    Some are advocating a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians from both ISIS and forces loyal to Assad. What constraints complicate establishing a no-fly zone and realizing its expected benefits? And how might Assad supporters, such as Russia, respond?

    Oct 15, 2015

  • An explosion following an air strike in central Kobani, Syria, November 9, 2014

    NATO's Campaign in Libya Offers Salient Lessons for the Air War Against ISIL

    The NATO air campaign that helped defeat Qaddafi's regime in Libya has received relatively little mention in public discussion of the ongoing air strikes against ISIS. But the campaign in Libya offers at least five lessons that deserve greater attention today.

    Nov 25, 2014 Defense One

  • Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from the Islamic State, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, August 11, 2014

    What's Going on in Iraq?

    While the United States could embark on a much wider war in Iraq, there's little reason to think it will rush to do so or that using airpower to help defend the Kurds will make such an escalation inevitable.

    Aug 14, 2014 U.S. News & World Report

  • Northrop Grumman test pilots with arm-mounted controllers after successfully launching a drone combat aircraft on the USS George H. W. Bush, May 14, 2013

    Would U.S. Air Power Work in Iraq?

    With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) making significant gains over the past week, including advancing closer to Baghdad, U.S. President Barack Obama is reportedly considering whether to deploy U.S. air power to assist Iraq's armed forces. But what would such an intervention mean in practical terms? And how effective an option would it be?

    Jun 18, 2014 CNN