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PEL is a three-year leadership development program for early- to mid-career national security professionals with the greatest potential to rise to senior positions in the U.S. government.

About the Program:

Founded in 2008, PEL shapes and supports the next generation of leaders from across the U.S. government to meet the challenges of countering weapons of mass destruction. The Program for Emerging Leaders (PEL) aims to foster a community of rising U.S. government leaders with the knowledge and skill-set to respond to the dangers of WMD. The program brings together early- to mid-career national security professionals, selected on a competitive basis from across the U.S. government, to develop and enhance awareness of the variety of WMD threats—including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons—and the full range of means, processes, and organizations for addressing them.

Since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. administration has viewed the proliferation of WMD as a top national security threat. While concerns over the potential for a full-scale conflict involving WMD have largely receded, geopolitical and technological changes have complicated efforts to prevent, deter, and defend against the acquisition and use of WMD by hostile state and non-state actors. Today’s security environment features a broad array of antagonists with a wide range of conventional and unconventional capabilities, thus increasing the risk of so-called hybrid warfare and other modes of conflict. To meet the new and emerging WMD challenges of the 21st century, the National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction initiated PEL in 2008 to develop an interagency network of future military and civilian leaders with a deeper understanding of the role of WMD in U.S. and global security.


Through education, outreach, mentorship, and debate, PEL seeks to cultivate trusting relationships among future leaders who may someday need to call upon one another to address WMD-related challenges. A unique and essential aspect of PEL is the opportunity it affords to interact with Senior Mentors who work collaboratively to support program events and help guide discussions. In addition to its mentors and experts, PEL comprises 75 talented members and an alumni network of 237 outstanding leaders. All current members are early- to mid-career civilian U.S. government employees (GS-11-13 or equivalent) or commissioned military officers (O-3 and O-4). The membership term lasts for three years with three classes running concurrently. 

If you are admitted to PEL, you must participate in the program for a full three years and complete 90 contact hours in order to receive a Certificate of Completion. The PEL Certificate recognizes the achievement of significant foundational knowledge of the threats posed by WMD, the challenges of countering WMD, and an understanding of how the U.S. government is organized to prevent, deter, and defend against possible WMD employment.

At the discretion of the PEL Director and upon completion of two written assignments, members may also opt to earn six hours of academic credit awarded by the National Defense University. Interested members must contact the Director to indicate their interest and fulfill written requirements.

Curriculum and Requirements:

To complete the program, PEL members are expected to earn at least 90 contact hours over three years. A minimum of 80 contact hours must be obtained through participation in the following core PEL activities:*

  • Summer Immersion (40 hours) – Week-long induction for all incoming PEL members providing an introduction to WMD threats, characteristics, and effects, and the U.S. government interagency process for countering them.
  • Academic Symposium (16 hours) – Two-day workshop held annually at NDU--in accordance with the CWMD Graduate Fellows Program--providing a deeper look at a specific WMD topic.
  • Site Visits (4-8 hours) – Periodic excursions offered throughout the year to various U.S. government agencies to receive briefings and site tours.
  • Leadership Dinners (2 hours) – Special hosted dinners featuring renowned national security leaders to discuss current WMD issues and lessons in effective leadership.
  • WMD Spotlight Seminar Series (1 hour) – Brownbag seminars held monthly at NDU on topical WMD issues.  
  • Annual WMD Center Symposium (12-16 hours) – Two-day symposium held annually at NDU bringing together the U.S. countering WMD community.

*Most PEL core activities are held at the U.S. SECRET level. A maximum of 10 contact hours can be obtained by attending relevant events outside NDU, subject to the PEL Director’s approval

**At least until Fall 2021, all PEL events will be virtual and unclassified.

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