By Allegra Berg
Eleven undergraduate and graduate students from the School of Diplomacy had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to learn about the work of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). The excursion on February 14 was arranged by Dr. Sara Bjerg Moller, assistant professor of international security.
“One of the many strengths of the Diplomacy School are the extensive professional contacts our faculty have,” Dr. Moller said. “In this case, I was able to call on one of those contacts and arrange for the Director of the CTC to give our students a private briefing.” She added that she hopes to make it an annual opportunity for students going forward.
West Point is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes north of Seton Hall. Upon arrival, students needed to clear the Visitor Control Center to gain entry, then were escorted by a contact of Dr. Moller’s to the building housing the CTC, where they were shown to the briefing room used by senior members of the U.S. military and national security apparatus and given a briefing by Lt. Col. Bryan C. Price, the director of the CTC and an academy professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy.
After describing the mission and organizational structure of the Center, Lieutenant Colonel Price opened the floor to a lively discussion with students, who learned about the many internship and other opportunities available through the CTC. Many said they planned to take advantages of these in the future.
The CTC was established on February 20, 2003, thanks to the vision and generous support of private donors. As a privately funded institution, the CTC is unique due to its financial independence and its location in an educational institution, which allows it to “serve as a focal point and an independent voice on terrorism and counterterrorism strategy within the government as well as the academic community.”
Many students were surprised to learn that the CTC is an independent and privately funded research entity. “I expected the CTC to be a strictly military organization that focused on tactical measures to actively combat terrorism,” said Sophie Thon, a freshman.
The Center’s work revolves around its threefold mission of teaching, advising, and doing research. Trinushka Perera, a graduate student who hails from Sri Lanka, said she was surprised to learn that Sri Lanka’s history with terrorism was part of the teaching curriculum at West Point. Last summer, faculty and cadets even visited Sri Lanka to study the conclusion of its decades-long civil war.
“Living in terrorism and its fear for 18 years of my life,” Perera said, “and seeing someone witnessing it from the outside is very different, I must say.”
“The Academy gave a lot to me and I want to give back,” Lt. Col. Price said about his personal goals as director of the Center. According to him, the CTC strives to “be the national and international leader of policy-relevant terrorism research.”
The emphasis on policy relevant research was why Dr. Moller chose to visit the CTC. “Learning doesn’t just happen inside the classroom,” she said. “This trip reinforces that idea and helps students link theory and practice. The CTC is an institution that conducts rigorous policy relevant research, so in many ways it is the perfect place for our students to see how the two interact.”
After the briefing, students grabbed lunch at the West Point Club with Dr. Erica Borghard, the director of the Grand Strategy Program at the Academy. Dr. Borghard discussed her work on cybersecurity and grand strategy, as well as the cadet classroom experience.
Students left West Point curious for more information and freshly motivated to learn more about terrorism research and the counterterrorism field in general. “I was encouraged by the reach of the CTC and its work,” said Thon. ”After this visit, I am more optimistic about my future role in combating terrorism.”