Johns Hopkins University
At the turn of the millennium, in Fall 1999, Mara Karlin sailed around the world on Semester at Sea. Disoriented and dazzled, she returned to her hometown in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a few days, did laundry, and headed to the Middle East to continue her study abroad year. And after that year exploring the world, she committed to studying international relations, leading to a career as a U.S. policymaker and a professor.
Currently, Mara Karlin serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Secretary of Defense’s Strategy & Force Development. Her office assesses the future of international security and crafts the Department’s strategies for navigating that future– including through the analysis of future war fights – as a means to guiding the development of a prepared, capable, and effective future U.S. military. She helped formulate the 2015 National Security Strategy and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, led the development of a number of classified long-term competitive strategies, force planning scenarios, and defense planning guidance documents to direct the Department’s $550B+ budget.
She has been an Adjunct Scholar at the RAND Corporation and currently is an Adjunct Professor in Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (JHU-SAIS), among other universities. Her focus is on Middle East and Strategic Studies, and her Ph.D. dissertation assessed U.S. programs to build partner militaries in fragile states.
Previously, she served in a variety of policy positions in the Defense Department, including Principal Director of the Strategy office, South Asia Specialist, Levant Director, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. As Special Assistant, she coordinated the Under Secretary’s workload and facilitated his efforts on hundreds of national security-related actions. As Levant Director, she was deeply involved in formulating U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs. This involved inaugurating a program to build the Lebanese Armed Forces, coordinating nascent defense relations between the United States and Lebanon, deepening U.S.-Jordanian defense cooperation, expanding security sector reform in the Palestinian arena, and a wide range of efforts involving Syria. As South Asia Specialist, she helped formulate U.S. policy on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, focusing on terrorism, governability, security sector reform, and nonproliferation. In connection with her work, she received the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, among other honors.
She has published widely on defense and regional affairs and has delivered numerous briefings and testimony to audiences including senior U.S. officials in the White House and Congress, the intelligence community, and academic and think tank audiences. She led or participated in delegations to conduct research in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, UAE, Qatar, Israel, the West Bank, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Canada, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
Mara Karlin received her B.A. summa cum laude in Political Science from Newcomb College, Tulane University, M.A. with distinction in Strategic Studies, Middle East Studies, and Economics from JHU-SAIS, and Ph.D. in International Affairs from JHU-SAIS.