UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND VP, former student body president attend National Security Forum

Forum at Air War College features discussions, simulations of threats facing U.S.

UND Vice President for Marketing & Communications Meloney Linder (left) and former Student Body President Gracie Lian attend the 2024 National Security Forum at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Contributed photo.

Last month, UND’s Vice President for Marketing & Communications Meloney Linder and former UND Student Body President Gracie Lian attended the 70th National Security Forum, for an in-depth look into the threats facing the United States and its allies.

The forum, which took place at the Air War College — headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. — consisted of security briefings from military leadership, seminar discussions and conflict simulations.

The pair were nominated to attend by Col. Timothy Monroe, commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, and personally invited by U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III. Joining Linder and Lian in attendance were 103 civilians representing 32 states, along with 218 students enrolled at the Air War College and military officers representing 48 different nations.

Attendees of the three-day forum were briefed on a multitude of national security topics, among them competition between Russia and China and threats to the international order in space.

Lian said she appreciated the highly specialized knowledge of the forum’s speakers, who outlined not only the threats facing the United States, but also the motivations of the actors perpetuating them.

“It was a really high overview of the main challenges and threats taken from a knowledgeable perspective,” Lian said. “That’s their full-time job — studying Russia, China and the Space Force, and understanding where these nations are in the international order. The speakers did such a great job of presenting and showing what the goals of these other nations are, and how we can’t assume that they are thinking the same way the United States is when considering these challenges.”

Linder agreed, adding, “They were specifically wanting to get civilians’ takes on the briefings, and then we would have a dialogue with the active-duty personnel who were in the group.”

Linder also said that discussions surrounding China’s historical narrative asserting its sovereignty over Taiwan raised comparisons to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“One of the similarities I saw between China, Russia and the two conflicts, is how it’s not just present-day, but it’s the historical perspective of Russia believing Ukraine was always part of Russia, and they want them back,” she said.

Another topic of discussion at the forum was the multi-layered calculus of space warfare.

“In some ways, that really tied everything together,” Linder said. “They talked about all the satellites, and what could happen if an entity — let’s say Russia — wanted to take them out. We could have issues with our GPS, our banking; everything could technically shut down.

“Why would Russia not do that? Because China is one of their allies, and China would have a lot to lose in the space game if Russia attacked these satellites.”

The forum’s international attendees represented a diverse group of nations, including Ukraine, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand. Some of the participants had been called to serve on the front lines of the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Lian.

Regarding the role of uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) in preventing and responding to conflict, Lian said the technology remains an important asset in defense strategy.

“UAS and what we’re doing and seeing here in Grand Forks is certainly a part of that,” she said. “The role of the Space Development Agency was discussed a lot, so it was great for Meloney and me to connect the work happening with them here in Grand Forks.”

Networking was also an important aspect of the forum, with Linder and Lian stating that contacts made will help further their work at UND and Grand Forks County, respectively.

“I think there are a lot of people whom we can reach out to now in ways that we couldn’t before,” said Linder. “There were some pretty impressive and accomplished people attending as civilians, in addition to all the active-duty personnel and others who were there.”

“They were very willing to collaborate and share best practices,” Lian added. “It might be interesting to reach out to some of the faculty and staff at the Air War College. I spoke with one individual who said he would be willing to do some sort of presentation at UND to highlight the work they’re doing and help us better understand the world we are operating in, and how Grand Forks Air Force Base and Grand Sky tie into broader national security issues.”

Attendees at the 2024 National Security Forum. Contributed photo.

Although the forum’s packed schedule did not afford much time for sightseeing, the pair were impressed by the size and historical significance of Maxwell Air Force Base.

“There’s a lot of history at Maxwell, and they did a good job during our morning breakfasts explaining it to us,” Lian said. “I think they said that during World War II — at that time it was the Army Air Force — that’s where senior officers planned the way the bombers were going to help. Today, the Air War College is where they prepare their leaders for the future, and it was interesting to observe that in action.”

The forum concluded with a briefing on the importance of “war games,” scenarios simulating responses

Meloney Linder.

to potential conflicts in regions such as Eastern Europe and the South China Sea. The exercises put into perspective the difficult work military leaders undertake in safeguarding the security of the U.S. and its allies, Linder said.

“You have strategy, but also an element of surprise, because you don’t know what your adversary is going to do,” said Linder. “Sometimes it could just be a matter of chance, which would change how they might have to respond. The exercises were very fluid; I could see how challenging they are. It helped from a strategic level to understand the complexity — there are so many layers, and it’s not just the United States. You have to work with your allies across the globe.”

Although Lian said she left the forum feeling “intimidated” by the security challenges facing the international order, the work of military leadership to stay ahead of these threats is reassuring.

“The challenges are a lot more threatening than they may seem, but I walked away feeling very reassured by the level of professionalism, talent and the wonderful individuals working in the military to ensure we are responding to and meeting challenges,” Lian said.