South Carolina school offers new security studies degree

(MCT) – On the second floor of a training building in Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on a January night, security didn’t come from the barrel of a gun or the buzz of a Taser.

It started with rote memorization of obscure foreign capitals: Riga, Latvia, and Skopje, Macedonia, and Vaduz, Lichtenstein.

In Room 215, University of South Carolina Beaufort instructor Colin Pearce stood in front of his class and called out countries.

“Finland? Olympic Games? Nineteen-fiffteeeeee-two?” he asked.

“Helsinki?” one student blurted out.

“The Netherlands,” Pearce said, moving on. “Sin City? Where you want to go if you want to commit sins?”

“Amsterdam?” said Richard Smith, a student from Bluffton.

It was the beginning of Introduction to Security Studies, the first class in the university’s new security program, a degree designed to capitalize on the surging demand for homeland security professionals in the country following Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina. The program is the first of its kind in South Carolina and one of few nationwide.

University officials have said they hope demand for the program will flourish among the 6,000-plus military personnel at the air station and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, many of whom may be looking for work in the private sector when they leave the service.

But at its core, security studies is really history and geography, Pearce said.

“The issue is, do contemporary American students have the basic geographic knowledge of the world around them that can give them the understanding of international security, foreign conflict, all those things?” he said.

Over two hours, Pearce’s lecture skimmed hundreds of years of world history, the philosophy of democracy and relationships between world leaders. At one point, Pearce touched on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. government and its allies believe Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is covertly developing nuclear weapons in violation of an international treaty. Iranian officials claim they are simply looking to create nuclear power for electricity.

“Regime ch ange,” Pearce said. “Then you don’t have to invade, and you don’t have to worry about some crazy guy that has a bomb. … Regime change is everyone’s dream in this. But now it looks like Iran is going to have a bomb before a regime change.”

Navy Chief Petty Officer Rick Hampton, 35, said he didn’t understand how the U.S. government could attack foreign nations without officially declaring war but considers attacks on United States soil clear-cut acts of war.

“It seems like when we do it to somebody else, it’s not an act of war. But whenever some does it to us (it’s a war cry),” he said. “You wonder why people don’t like us; we go in there and bomb the crap out of their neighbors.”

“It’s the Middle East. They respect that,” Marine Staff Sgt. Jeff Bassett said, inspiring chuckles from the rest of the class.

Bassett is a prime example of who the university is aiming to serve. In July, he’ll retire from a 19-year career in the U.S. Marines.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for ex-military,” he said. “(The class) looked interesting, the concepts, the different stories. … It’s deep.”

The class is being offered at MCAS, and Donald Snow, a national security expert and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, teaches additional classes at the university’s campus in southern Beaufort County.

“Knowledge of the big, wide world out there is important,” Pearce said. “Not just for specialists in security studies but people that have to be involved in national debate and vote for their candidates.”