Stephen Watts

Photo of Stephen Watts
Associate Program Director, Arroyo Center, Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program; Senior Political Scientist
Washington Office

Education

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

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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Overview

Stephen Watts is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and associate program director of the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program in the RAND Arroyo Center. His research has focused on security strategy, great power competition, irregular warfare, security sector assistance, and long-term conflict trends.

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. 

Watts is the lead author of more than a dozen RAND studies and has published articles in such journals as The Washington Quarterly, Parameters, and Joint Force Quarterly. He 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.

Concurrent Non-RAND Positions

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

Honors & Awards

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

Commentary

  • U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 13, 2018

    Is America Ready for a Peace Deal in Afghanistan?

    The Trump administration appears to be following its predecessor in imagining a political endgame in Afghanistan. It is focused on military efforts to try to turn the tide of the conflict, in hopes of negotiating from a stronger position. But if all sides continue to seek military advantage, negotiations will never commence.

    Apr 27, 2018 The National Interest

  • A team of U.S. Army soldiers from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa lead counter-IED training with the Kenyan Army

    A Competing Risks Approach to Security Sector Assistance for Fragile States

    How should the U.S. balance the risks of cooperating with troubling governments against the risk that ISIS or similar groups could gain strength in these fragile states?

    May 2, 2016 Lawfare

  • Afghan National Army soldiers, advised and assisted by NATO Train, Advise, Assist Command, conduct a fire support mission in Zabul province, Afghanistan

    In Afghanistan, the Glass Is Still Better Seen as Half Full: A Response to Gary Owen

    While things are certainly not “great” in Afghanistan, there are more reasons for hope than many had expected to see by this point in the transition from a large U.S. presence to a greatly reduced one.

    Aug 24, 2015 Lawfare

  • A checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on March 10, 2012

    Afghanistan After the Drawdown

    If neither victory nor a political settlement are likely in the short term, and if complete withdrawal is unpalatable, then the United States must ensure that its support of Afghanistan remains politically sustainable.

    Jul 6, 2015 Lawfare

  • 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

Publications