The Chairman’s instruction on Officer Professional Military Education Policy, issued in May 2020, went largely unnoticed outside the relatively small community of military education practitioners and specialists. But within this community, the guidance was a source of intense interest and commentary, in large part because it responded to the sharp critique of professional military education (PME) as “stagnant” and lacking in “ingenuity” leveled by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The 2020 guidance adopts a new framework based on “outcomes-based education” – a significant shift in how to conduct PME, but one whose full meaning and implications are still being worked out. While there has been a stream of commentary on how best to adapt PME writ large, far less attention has been given to what the Chairman’s guidance says about high-level policy priorities that must now be integrated across the military education system. The inclusion of these priorities does not reflect any broader debate about the fundamental purpose of military education or how best to provide it. Instead, they are included because civilian and military authorities believe that functional fluency in these topics is essential to strategic leadership of the joint force. In this article, we discuss one of these policy priorities – nuclear capabilities and concepts – and describe why and how highest-level policy deliberations have been translated into the Chairman’s guidance on officer professional military education. We then suggest why and how this process can be replicated for other emerging challenges facing the joint force. As an example, we focus on the wider set of issues that fall under Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction.
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Dr. Amy J. Nelson is a Fellow, and Mr. Paul I. Bernstein is a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for the Study of WMD at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US Government.