Faculty Interview Series: An Interview with R. Nick Palarino, SSP Visiting Professor of the Practice

By: John P. Woog, Reporter

Professor R. Nick Palarino joined the Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in 2008 as an Adjunct Professor and was shortly thereafter invited to join the Core Faculty as a Visiting Professor of the Practice. His areas of expertise are terrorism and counterterrorism, international relations, the US military, and the congressional role in national security.

Professor Palarino holds a B.A. in Political Science and History from Western Kentucky University, a M.M.A.S in International Relations from Command and General Staff College, a M.A. in International Affairs, and a Ph.D. in World Politics from The Catholic University of America. Prior to coming to Georgetown, he served in the military for over 20 years before working in both the civilian government and private sectors. To date, he has authored 17 publications focusing on issues relating to United States national security.

Professor Palarino recently sat down with the GSSR to share his story of how he came to Georgetown as well as some advice for current SSP students.

You have had remarkably diverse career experiences, including service as a combat helicopter pilot, an artillery commander in the US Army, a senior staff director for the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, a senior investigator for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, a senior executive in a major national security-focused corporation, and recently, a member of the team overseeing investigations into the Boston Marathon Bombing. Aside from your position here at Georgetown, can you share with us what have been: (1) the most challenging; and (2) the most rewarding experiences of your career to date?

Several experiences that were both challenging and rewarding come to mind. My tour of duty in Vietnam was a significant challenge but I came out of it with a zest for life, a love for life; human life is one of the greatest things in the world. Another experience was my time as a Congressional staffer. If someone were to ask me, “I’ve been offered this Congressional staff job, should I take it?” I would immediately say, “Yes! Take it!” It is a fun position to have; it is hard but rewarding. It can be challenging with age; you can have 12-13 hour workdays and you were always on call in case of a situation such as a terrorist attack, but it is also rewarding in that you can examine the administration and the policymaking process in greater detail. A final experience was my time as Country Director for the International Republican Institute in Pakistan; it was a challenging experience but I gained a better understanding of Islamic culture.

What brought you to Georgetown, and what attracted you to join the faculty of the Security Studies Program in particular?

I met Bruce Hoffman around 2006 when I was Staff Director for the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. We got to know one another through our travels to Iraq and Afghanistan. Bruce is an expert on terrorism and after our travels we kept in touch and I invited him to regularly become a witness at our hearings; I respected his opinions re: issues of the time as well as his vast knowledge of the jihadist movement. As I was getting ready to retire from the Hill, I was talking with Bruce about what I would do next and he said why don’t I come to Georgetown and teach? I taught for two semesters as an Adjunct Professor and then Bruce asked me to come on full time.

What courses are you teaching this semester, and what key points would you like your students to take with them as they prepare for their careers?

I am teaching SEST 500 Theory & Practice of Security and SEST 546 Understanding International Terrorism and Countering Terrorists. For SEST 500, I want my students to think outside of the box, to not just accept the basics of IR theory but to really delve deep into their own opinions and their own understanding of the world we live in. For SEST 546, I want them to have a basic understanding of the jihadist movement and the existential threat it poses to our allies such as Israel and Jordan, and their governmental stability. By existential threat, I mean the elimination of borders or threatening/taking-down of a government by groups such as the Islamic State. In this regard, there is no direct existential threat to the US but an existential threat certainly exists for our allies.

As we prepare to elect a new Commander-in-Chief, our country is facing significant challenges to our national security. Could you identify one or two geographic areas and/or issues that you think will be of particular concern as our country transitions from one administration to another?

In terms of geographic areas of concern, I would say: (1) the Middle East; (2) the region of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India; and (3) Russia, particularly in its attempts to increase its sphere of influence in Ukraine and smaller countries such as Moldova.

Some SSP students are already preparing for careers in the armed forces, governmental agencies, the Intelligence Community, academia, or defense/security-related consultancy or industry, while other students are actively exploring their career options. What advice would you give students who are currently undecided in their career paths?

Take a risk. Don’t close your eyes to what’s out there, don’t close out options. Be open to ideas, and take a leap. Initially it may not turn out to be the right leap but could lead to bigger and better things down the road.

If you could sit down and have a cup of coffee with any person from history, who would it be?

For deceased figures, I would choose Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Ronald Reagan. For a living figure, I would choose King Abdullah II of Jordan; he is extremely knowledgeable about the Middle East and its threats.

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