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the technology that is available today in either the military or civilian spheres. Further, the pace of technological progress appears to be accelerating, not stabilizing or slowing.

Given the relatively small fraction of U.S. citizens graduating with first degrees in STEM2 and the inability to forecast the sudden increases in demand for specialized STEM workers3 to support national security needs, aligning workforce supply and demand presents a dilemma.


Two fundamental developments, ironically both driven by advancements in science and engineering, have further complicated the already complex situation described above. The first of these is the phenomenon described by Frances Cairncross: “Distance is dead.”4 Indeed, globalization means that for many human endeavors—whether they be offshoring software development or attacking targets in Afghanistan using robots operated from Nevada—distance no longer is significant. The second fundamental change is that, for the first time in history, individuals or small groups of individuals, acting alone, can profoundly impact the lives of very large groups of people.

The revolutionary change now being experienced in both civilian and military affairs does not stop with these two groundbreaking changes, however. Other lesser but still profound changes affect the DOD’s need to obtain and retain high-quality scientific and engineering talent. Several that relate to the changed national security environment in which the DOD must operate include the following:

  • A growing hazard to U.S. security is posed by failed states.5
  • The danger of nuclear proliferation is increasing.6
  • The utility of deterrence through the possession of superior military weapons is eroding, in part because deterrence is less effective both for failed states and for non-state actors.7
  • National security demands have expanded, with the threat of conventional conflicts in such areas such as Korea, the Middle East, and possibly the Arctic region remaining very real, while terrorism introduces a vastly different type of conflict.8


2National Science Board. 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators. Arlington, Va.: National Science Foundation, Figure O-8.

3The committee was made aware of an instance in which higher salaries for petroleum engineers led to an apparent increase a few years later in the number of graduates with degrees in that field, which, it should be noted, is dominated by the private sector and concentrated geographically in oil-producing regions such as the Alaskan North Slope. National Research Council. 2012. Report of a Workshop on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Needs for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Defense Industrial Base. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, p. 26.

4Frances Cairncross. 1997. The Death of Distance. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

5U.S. Department of Defense. 2010. Quadrennial Defense Review Report. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, pp. 94-95.

6The Economist. 2012. “Nuclear Security—Threat Multiplier.” Available at Accessed April 5, 2012.

7Sydney D. Drell. 2007. Nuclear Weapons, Scientists, and the Post Cold War Challenge: Selected Papers on Arms Control. Hackensack, N.J.: World Scientific Publishing Company.

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