David A. Shlapak

Photo of David Shlapak
Senior Defense Researcher
Washington Office


B.A. in political science, Northwestern University

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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David A. Shlapak (he/him) is a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation. Since joining RAND in 1982, he has led research and published on topics ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear strategy.

His areas of research focus on the return of great power competititon in the global security environment. His current work includes wargaming scenarios of U.S. conflict with China or Russia, the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, and the U.S.-China technology competition. 

From 2014 to 2018, Shlapak was a founding codirector of the RAND Center for Gaming, one of six Methods Centers under the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He is a former acting director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program in Project AIR FORCE.

Shlapak holds a B.A. in political science from Northwestern University and did his graduate work at UCLA.

Selected Publications

David A. Shlapak, The Russian Challenge, RAND Corporation (PE-250-A), 2018

David A. Shlapak, Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States What it Takes to Win, RAND Corporation (CT-467), 2017

David A. Shlapak, Michael W. Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO's Eastern Flank, RAND Corporation (RR-1253), 2016

David A. Shlapak, "Towards a More Modest American Strategy," Survival, 57(2), 2015

Igor Mikolic-Torreira, Don Snyder, Michelle Price, David A. Shlapak, Sina Beaghley, Megan Bishop, Sarah Harting, Jenny Oberholtzer, Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Cortney Weinbaum, Emma Westerman, Exploring Cyber Security Options in Australia, RAND Corporation (RR-2008), 2017

Ryan Henry, Steven Berner, David A. Shlapak, Serious Analytical Gaming The 360° Game for Multidimensional Analysis of Complex Problems, RAND Corporation (RR-1764), 2017

Terrence Kelly, James Dobbins, David Shlapak, David Gompert, Eric Heginbotham, Peter Chlak, Llolyd Thrall, The U.S. Army in Asia 2030-2040, RAND Corporation (RR-474), 2014

David Shlapak, How Not to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb A Realistic Approach for Dealing with North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons, RAND Corporation (PE-A1495-1), 2021

Honors & Awards

  • 2016 Gold Medal Award, RAND

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Australian Broadcasting Corporation; BBC Radio; CBS News Online; KCRW, To The Point; Lietuvos Radijas; PBS NewsHour Online; Press Play, KCRW; Sinclair Broadcast Group; WhoWhatWhy; WNYC, New York Public Radio; Wprost.pl

Commentary: Newsweek; United Press International; U.S. News & World Report; War on the Rocks


  • German troops cross the Neris River during the 2017 Iron Wolf exercise in Stasenai, Lithuania, June 20, 2017

    A 'Glass Half-Full': Next Steps for Enhancing Deterrence on NATO's Eastern Flank

    The United States and key allies have taken steps toward redressing the imbalance in military power between NATO and Russia in Northeastern Europe. But NATO's defense planners must be clear-eyed about what remains to be done.

    Feb 12, 2018 The RAND Blog

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance with Ri Hong Sop (2nd L) and Hong Sung Mu (2nd R) on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea

    Rethinking the Unthinkable: Recovering from a Nuclear Attack on a U.S. City

    Responding after a nuclear attack will require having planned and prepared for problems that are very different than those encountered after hurricanes and earthquakes. U.S. cities are inadequately prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

    Nov 7, 2017 Dallas Morning News

  • World map with global communication lines.

    The Made-in-America Global Security and Economic System Still Serves U.S. Interests

    The next U.S. president will have many willing partners and an opportunity to expand the global system of security and economic institutions in a way that will help the United States and the world for decades.

    Oct 26, 2016 The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin watches honor guards during a wreath-laying ceremony near the Kremlin in Moscow, May 9, 2016

    The West Must Do Far More to Keep Putin at Bay

    Russia is more willing than the West to use military power, even though it has less of it. The West should reconsider whether its efforts to deter Russian military interference are enough.

    Aug 27, 2016 Newsweek

  • David Shlapak

    Gaming and Public Policy: Q&A with David Shlapak

    David Shlapak discusses how using games in research can help improve decisionmaking across a wide range of areas, including national security, health care, and climate change.

    Aug 11, 2016

  • 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

  • Russian paratroopers wait to board a helicopter during a military exercise outside the southern city of Stavropol, Russia, October 27, 2015

    Outnumbered, Outranged, and Outgunned: How Russia Defeats NATO

    Today NATO is outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned by Russia in Europe and beset by a number of compounding factors that make the situation worse. But it is possible to begin restoring a more robust deterrent posture and to do so at a price tag that appears affordable.

    Apr 21, 2016 War on the Rocks

  • Naval officers from the Colombian, Brazilian, and U.S. Navy work together as a control group at U.S. Naval War College during the 2013 Inter-American War Game

    Gaming the System: Obstacles to Reinvigorating Defense Wargaming

    Reinvigorating wargaming in the defense community offers great potential value given the complex strategic situation that the U.S. faces today. DoD should educate sponsors and consumers about the appropriate use of wargames, set realistic expectations, and build the right amount of risk acceptance into its gaming enterprise.

    Feb 18, 2016 War on the Rocks

  • Tank silhouette at sunset

    Destroy ISIL's Heavy Weapons and Vehicles: Level the Playing Field

    More than any other option, employing air power decisively to deny ISIL the ability to use its armor and artillery has the potential to immediately and dramatically shift the battlefield balance against it.

    Oct 20, 2014 War on the Rocks

  • A Pro-Russian separatist stands near the damaged war memorial at Savur-Mohyla, east of the city of Donetsk, Ukraine

    A Dispatch from the Ukrainian Front

    If Putin sought advice about what NATO is thinking, his Russian Western Front Military commander might say that given its current political indecisiveness and lack of military readiness, NATO lacks the capability to launch a credible intervention, but they should watch for changes in the alliance posture.

    Sep 5, 2014 U.S. News & World Report

  • Joint Multinational Training Command

    Russia Is Outmanned and Outgunned

    Despite the smaller number of U.S. troops in Europe, the military balance there is far more favorable to NATO today than it was when nearly 10 times as many American soldiers, sailors and airmen were stationed on the continent.

    Apr 10, 2014 U.S. News & World Report

  • A Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessel passes by Uotsuri, the largest island in the Senkaku/Diaoyu chain

    America's Delicate Dance in the Pacific

    Even if Japan and China ease the tensions in their dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyus islands, the United States should gird itself for further uncomfortable contingencies in the coming years, writes David Shlapak.

    Mar 28, 2013 U.S. News & World Report

  • America's Long Wars

    Published commentary by RAND staff: America's Long Wars, in United Press International.

    Feb 1, 2007 United Press International