The Defense and Strategic Studies program started in 1971 in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, under the leadership of Dr. William R. Van Cleave. The primary objective of the DSS program was and remains to provide graduate level education and training for students planning careers in national and international security affairs and policy-making, and for teaching these subjects at the university-level. The program flourished at the University of Southern California;
In 1987, it moved to Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State University) where DSS became a Department offering the specialized Master of Science degree in Defense and Strategic Studies. In 2005, the DSS program entered a new era when the University moved the Department to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, to take advantage of the many educational, financial, and employment opportunities found here.
In 2008 and 2009, DSS provided classes at the Army Management and Staff College; in 2010, DSS began an exchange program with Masaryk University in the Czech Republic; and, in 2012, DSS added the M.S. degree option in WMD Studies to its curriculum. DSS was selected by the National Defense University and the Department of Defense via a competitive process to provide the WMD degree option for up to 48 students from the National Defense University per year.
When DSS moved to Washington D.C. in 2005, it had 32 graduate students. The program had 115 graduate students enrolled in the fall 2019 semester. DSS has become one of the largest and most recognized programs of its kind offering an unparalleled graduate curriculum of study at a public university price.