Cambridge, Mass.—Dr. Meghan L. O’Sullivan, a Harvard Kennedy School professor, former senior national security official, and global thought leader on the geopolitics of energy, has been appointed the Director of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced today.

O’Sullivan’s appointment as director will take effect on July 1, 2023; she will continue to serve as the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at the School. The Belfer Center, which consistently ranks as the world’s top academic think-tank, advances policy-relevant knowledge in the areas of international relations, security, technology, science, and energy and the environment.

“The Belfer Center has been the source of ideas that have changed the course of history,” said O’Sullivan. “I am honored to lead the Center and follow in the footsteps of intellectual giants like Ash Carter and Graham Allison and to work with Belfer’s phenomenal faculty, staff, and students on the world’s toughest problems. I am also grateful for the extraordinary leadership of Eric Rosenbach, who has been the backbone of the Center for many years.”

O’Sullivan will succeed the late Ash Carter and Eric Rosenbach, a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School. Carter, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, served as the Belfer Center’s director from 2017 until his death in October 2022.

“I am delighted that Professor O’Sullivan has agreed to become Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center,” said Dean Elmendorf. “She will bring to this new role extraordinary expertise and experience in global affairs as well as a deep commitment to the learning of students at the Kennedy School. I also want to express my gratitude to Eric Rosenbach for all he has done as Co-Director of the Belfer Center.”

O’Sullivan has taught at Harvard Kennedy School since 2008. Her scholarship on the impact of significant changes in the energy system—from advances in technology to extract oil and gas to the global move away from carbon-intensive fuels—has shaped how policymakers and academics alike view these issues. In addition, she has written widely about the intersection of economic markets and foreign policy in her publications on sanctions.

O’Sullivan has served in multiple senior policymaking roles and has advised national security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her public service, including the U.S. Defense Department’s highest honor for civilians (the Distinguished Public Service Medal) and the State Department’s Superior Honor Award (which she has received three times).

O’Sullivan is currently a member of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board. Between 2004 and 2007, she was special assistant to President George W. Bush and was Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan during the last two years of her tenure. At the National Security Council, she was responsible for formulating and overseeing the implementation of new policy directions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2013, O’Sullivan served as Vice Chair of the All Party Talks in Northern Ireland, which sought to resolve outstanding issues in the peace process.

The Belfer Center was led by Graham Allison from 1997 until 2017. Allison, the founding dean of the modern Kennedy School, is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the School.

Allison said, “While of course no single individual could possibly replace Ash Carter, Meghan O’Sullivan will be a great successor. Having begun in the academy, earned a PhD from Oxford, and published significant books, she is even more respected for her service at the highest levels of the U.S. government. I look forward to supporting her as she leads the Belfer Center up the mountain to the next horizon.”

The Belfer Center is the hub of Harvard Kennedy School’s research and policy outreach on international affairs, science, and technology. In 2021, the Belfer Center was named a “Center of Excellence” by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, in recognition of the Center’s sixth consecutive year as the world’s #1 university-affiliated think tank.

Professor O’Sullivan’s publications include her award-winning book Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power and Shrewd Sanctions: Statecraft and State Sponsors of Terrorism. Her most recent book, Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy that George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama, was co-edited with Steve Hadley, Peter Feaver, and Will Inboden, and was released last week.

O’Sullivan earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, a master of science in economics from Oxford University, and a doctorate in politics from Oxford University.


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James Smith