Why Diversity Counts in National Security

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U.S. sailors marching in 1991 Iraq victory parade in New York City.

The reality of demographics mandates a sharp focus on creating leaders from the burgeoning Hispanic and Asian American communities.  The history of Vietnam tells us we need to keep that same focus on the African American community. Leaders are created, not born, and a particular responsibility lies with higher education to ensure a sustained flow of leaders to meet this county’s national security needs.

In my experience as a naval officer and as director of the National Security Agency, I witnessed firsthand the value of a diverse officer corps in military effectiveness and national security.

I am one of more than three dozen former senior officers and civilian leaders of the U.S. armed forces who signed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. We asked the Supreme Court to consider the military’s interests in diversity-oriented admissions policies at universities. The national security interest in officer corps diversity must not be threatened by a broad ruling against race-conscious admissions.

For example, during the Vietnam War, a nearly all-white officer corps leading enlisted soldiers heavily comprised of minorities led to pronounced racial strife resulting in hundreds of violent incidents. In 1969 and 1970 alone, 71 service members died in race-related violence.

Moreover, today we recognize that the ability to lead diverse groups of people and collaborate with people of different cultures is invaluable in environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The military promotes from within, and as a result, it is dependent on the pool of incoming officer candidates for leadership. Most of those candidates come from the service academies and the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at civilian universities such as The University of Texas at Austin. Both the academies and the civilian universities engage in minority outreach and recruiting to assure diverse enrollments.

In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court found that “In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.” That is no less true today than it was when Grutter was decided in 2003.

The military should be permitted to continue to employ race-conscious policies to educate and train a highly qualified and diverse officer corps to further the compelling governmental interest in an effective military. It also should be permitted to continue to draw from institutions of higher learning—such as The University of Texas at Austin—highly qualified minority applicants, as well as students of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment.

Eliminating race-conscious admissions at ROTC-participating colleges and universities would undermine the critical mass of highly-qualified minority students they seek to admit, and would threaten an effort that has been under way since the military was desegregated during the Truman Administration.

I and the former military leaders who signed our amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin believe that the consideration of race in university admissions is constitutional and should be upheld. Our national security depends on it.

Admiral Bobby R. Inman retired from the Navy and has served as director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the faculty of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.