Dr. Mara Karlin

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

Mara Karlin, PhD, is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Ms. Karlin started as the A/ASD for ISA on February 2, 2021. She is also the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In that role, she serves as a principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on policies relating to the Middle East, Europe (including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Russia, Eurasia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere.

Most recently, she served on the policy team for the Biden-Harris Transition and was the Director of Strategic Studies and an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution.

Previously, she served in national security roles for five U.S. secretaries of defense, advising on policies spanning strategic planning, defense policy and budgeting, future wars, and regional security affairs.  She received the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, among other honors.

She is the author of Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (2018) and The Inheritance: America’s Military After Two Decades of War (2021).

Dr. Karlin received her B.A. summa cum laude in Political Science from Tulane University, M.A. with distinction in Strategic Studies, Middle East Studies, and Economics from JHU-SAIS, and Ph.D. in International Affairs from JHU-SAIS.