Leo Blanken, Associate Professor
Department of Defense Analysis
Naval Postgraduate School

Folk Museum, Rio
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Prof Leo BlankeLeo Blanken, Associate Professor

How do organizations respond when their legacy modes of operation no longer match their evolving strategic environment? I have worked on such topics for a number of entities across the Department of Defense. Leading teams of military officers, academics, and other experts, I have helped organizations rethink how they gather information, measure success, invest in infrastructure and - most importantly - link their daily activities to deeper strategic purpose.

I joined Defense Analysis in the summer of 2008. I have a BA from the University of San Francisco, an MA from Columbia University, and a PhD in political science from the University of California at Davis. My dissertation on patterns of imperial expansion received the best dissertation award from the Western Political Science Association, and has been published as Rational Empires: Institutional Incentives and Imperial Expansion (University of Chicago Press, 2012). I have also co-edited Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure (Georgetown University Press, 2015) and have published articles on strategy, metrics/assessment, intelligence, and emerging technology.

Department of Defense Analysis
Naval Postgraduate School
Root Hall, Room 221
589 Dyer Road
Monterey, CA 93943

Email: ljblanke [at] nps [dot] edu

Leo is a USA Boxing certified trainer and helps kids learn the basics of boxing by volunteering at Pacific Coast Boxing in Pacific Grove, CA.

He also collects and DJs rare soul and funk records from the 1960s and 1970s. He is part of the Soul Lotto crew of DJs based in England, and some of his sets can be accessed at www.soullotto.com.


My research focuses on strategy - writ large. 

Rather than limiting the concept of strategy to choices on the battlefield, my work shows how planning, investments, R&D, metrics/assessments, and political realities all need to be considered when making strategic choices.  


RationalEmpiresCover In Rational Empires, Leo J. Blanken explains imperialism through an analysis of the institutions of both the expanding state and its targets of conquest. While democratic states favoring free trade generally resort to imperialism only to preempt aggressive rivals—or when they have reason to believe another state's political institutions will not hold up when making bargains—authoritarian states tend toward imperialism because they don't stand to benefit from free trade. The result is three distinct strategies toward imperialism: actors fighting over territory, actors peaceably dividing territory among themselves, and actors refraining from seizing territory altogether. Blanken examines these dynamics through three case studies: the scramble for Africa, the unequal treaties imposed on Qing Dynasty China, and the evolution of Britain's imperial policy in India. By separating out the different types of imperialism, Blanken provides insight into its sources, as well as the potential implications of increased competition in the current international arena.

Today's protracted asymmetrical conflicts confuse efforts to measure progress, often inviting politics and wishful thinking to replace objective evaluation.

In Assessing War military historians, social scientists, and military officers explore how observers have analyzed the trajectory of war in American conflicts from the Seven Years' War through Afghanistan. Drawing on decades of acquired expertise, the contributors examine wartime assessment in both theory and practice, and through alternative dimensions of assessment such as justice and proportionality, the war of ideas, and economics. This group of distinguished authors grapples with both conventional and irregular wars and emerging aspects of conflict—such as cyberwar and nation-building—that add to the complexities of the modern threat environment. The volume ends with recommendations for practitioners on best approaches while offering sobering conclusions about the challenges of assessing war without politicization or self-delusion.

From eighteenth-century conflicts to today's, Assessing War blends focused advice and a uniquely broad set of case studies to ponder vital questions about warfare's past—and its future. The book includes a foreword by Gen. George W. Casey Jr. (USA, Ret.), former chief of staff of the US Army and former commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Technical Reports

HBOE coverRecent literature—both doctrinal and academic—points to the emergence of the "mega-city." The term is meant to imply some qualitative break with the cumulative history of the urban experience, and to hold profound implications for future military and security functions.

We find the term "mega city" of limited utility. We offer in its place a typological schema designed to assist in analyzing and planning current and future urban operations. Additionally, we provide the transparent and flexible methodology behind our analysis to allow for its bespoke tailoring by planners and analysts to utilize at varied levels of detail. Further, our approach allows for endogenizing the nature of the military operation into the characterization of the operational environment. We label this newly derived conceptual space "human built operational environments" (HBOEs).

Journal Articles

Leo J Blanken and Jason J Lepore, "Performance Measurement in Military Operations: Information versus Incentives", accepted for publication in Defence and Peace Economics.

Leo J Blanken 2012 "Reconciling Strategic Studies...with Itself: A Common Framework for Choosing among Strategies" Defense and Security Analysis 28(4): 275-287

Leo J Blanken and Jason J Lepore 2012 "Unpacking the Various Meanings of Redundancy: From Refining the Concept to Military Planning" Defense and Security Analysis 28 (4): 326-342

Leo Blanken and Justin Overbaugh. 2012. "Looking for Intel? … Or Looking for Answers? Reforming Military Intelligence for a Counterinsurgency Environment" Intelligence and National Security 27(4): 559-575.

Leo J. Blanken and Jason J. Lepore. 2011. "Slowing Down to Keep the Lead in Military Technology" Defence and Peace Economics 22(3): 317-334.

Thang Tran, Leo Blanken, and Phlip Swintek, "Getting Peace Right in Afghanistan: A Political Solution to a Military Problem," Atlantic Council Online, 31 January 2019

Stephen Rodriguez, Frank Brundtland Steder, and Leo Blanken, "To Shore Up the Defense-Industrial Base, Look to Norway," National Review, 26 December 2018

Thang Tran, Michael Oliveira, Josh Sider, and Leo Blanken, "Ignorance and Professional Military Education: The Case for Operational Engagement," War on the Rocks, 7 November 2018

Leo Blanken, Doowan Lee, and Stephen Rodriguez, "The Imperative of Waging Techno-Strategic War: Looking Back at #Technology Innovation," The Strategy Bridge, 17 August 2018

Leo Blanken and Zachary Davis, "Technology Innovation is Great, but Strategy is Better," The Strategy Bridge, 13 August 2018 

Leo Blanken, Kai Thaxton, and Michael Alexander, "Shock of the Mundane: The Dangerous Diffusion of Basic Infantry Tactics," War on the Rocks, 27 February 2018. (One of the top 20 most read articles on War on the Rocks for 2018.)

Leo Blanken, Jason Lepore, and Stephen Rodriguez, "America's Military Is Choking on Old Technology," Foreign Policy, 29 January 2018

Stephen Rodriguez, Leo Blanken, and Jason Lepore, "America Needs a New 'Dreadnought Strategy'," Foreign Policy, 28 July 2017