Provides conceptual foundations and practical policy analysis of political violence, conflict management, defense policy, military strategy, negotiation, terrorism, peacekeeping, intelligence, arms control, and related issues.


The International Security Policy (ISP) concentration promotes an understanding of fundamental issues, debates, and sources of ideas about causes of political conflict and solutions to them, and provides students with a more specific grasp of particular policy problems and strategies in regional security and major power defense policies.

Who It’s For

The ISP concentration is suited for students of any educational background interested in war, peace, and means for devising strategy to cope with them. The concentration has no prerequisites.

Career Paths

The ISP concentration prepares students for a broad range of career paths, including employment in the U.S. Intelligence Community (CIA, INR, NSA, DIA, NGA, etc.) and other professional positions in the U.S. government (Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Congressional Research Service, Congressional Budget Office, legislative staffs, etc.), as well as for their counterparts in foreign governments. ISP alumni are also employed by international/multilateral organizations (ex. the UN, NATO, ASEAN, and the EU), defense contractors, political risk consulting firms, public interest and advocacy organizations, nonprofit research institutes, media/journalism, and other areas. The SIPA Career Advancement Center (CAC) publishes Career Fact Sheets, a number of which are particularly relevant for ISP students and graduates, such as:

  • Capitol Hill
  • Cybersecurity
  • Federal Government
  • Foundations
  • Government Relations
  • Intelligence
  • International Security and Defense
  • Multilateral Organizations
  • Nonproliferation
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution
  • Political Risk Analysis
  • Science, Technology, and Public Policy
  • State and Local Government
  • Think Tanks and Research Institutes

ISP students and alumni can use their UNI credentials to access the ISP Alumni Advisors Directory, which contains the profiles of alumni both in the U.S. and abroad who have agreed to share their professional experience and advice. The ISP concentration also regularly facilitates career/networking events, both virtually and in person, which are promoted through the ISP CampusGroups listserv.

Curriculum & Courses


The curriculum is very flexible, allowing students to focus on a wide variety of subjects.

View full curriculum

Concentration Requirements

The International Security Policy (ISP) concentration requires 15 points, consisting of 5 three-point courses: three points in a foundations course; three points in course related to General Problems in International Security and Conflict Management course; three points in a course related to Use of Force; and six points of elective credit (preferably including a course on security issues in a particular country or region).

Questions about requirements may be addressed to ISP Director Stephen Biddle and/or the ISP-ICR Coordinator, Brit Felsen-Parsons


 May I count a course for ISP concentration credit if it is not listed as such?

The ISP concentration Director, Stephen Biddle, will consider such petitions after receiving and assessing the syllabus of the course.


The ISP staff communicate with students primarily through an email listserv which students can join by logging into CampusGroups using their UNI credentials and joining the ISP group.

are there student groups on campus that focus on ISP-related topics?

Yes! SIPA student groups whose activities overlap significantly with ISP-related topics include: the Progressive Security Working Group (PSWG), Women in Security and Peacebuilding, the Columbia SIPA Veterans Association (CSVA), the Conflict Resolution Working Group (CRWG), the Digital & Cyber Group (DCG), the Journal of International Affairs (JIA), the Political Risk Group, and various groups with a regional or national focus. Students can join these groups' listservs and be notified of upcoming events via CampusGroups using their UNI credentials.

what co-curricular and social activities does isp organize?

The ISP program regularly organizes co-curricular and social events, including but not limited to: a Fall Retreat for ISP students, a spring Crisis Simulation/Wargame, and regular guest lectures, workshops, and happy hours. ISP also co-hosts events with other concentrations and specializations, such as the Interdisciplinary Security Dialogues, a lecture series bringing together experts and students from different disciplines to discuss topics of shared interest. These lectures are advertised through the participating programs' listservs.

are there opportunities for part-time employment for isp students?

Yes! Full-time students at SIPA are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week, and there are a variety of part-time jobs available to students on campus. These include Program Assistant/Research Assistant positions in academic departments and research institutes; Teaching Assistant/Course Reader positions for SIPA courses; and various Assistant positions in administrative departments. Students interested in applying for PA/RA/Assistant positions should inquire directly at the department(s)/institute(s) in question; TA/Course Reader openings are usually announced via email to the entire student body once per semester. Visa restrictions and other regulations apply; international students and those already employed elsewhere should seek further guidance from the relevant offices before pursuing on-campus employment.